Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture and Film

By Chris Darke


While its title emphasises the cartographic nature of Giuliana Bruno’s remarkable book there’s also something of the art catalogue about this volume – it’s almost 500 pages long and with over 180 illustrations – but a catalogue for some impossibly voluminous exhibition taking in film, fashion, architecture, photography, a cornucopia of objets and artefacts, and seeking to map an emergent multidisciplinary area that might be called ‘space studies’. While it could be said that, as a category, ‘space’ is as conceptually capacious as they come, there’s no doubt that one of the attractions of the recent ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities is the scope it gives to disciplinary border-crossings and productive juxtapositions, as well as reinvigorating social and political analysis in the arts. In academic fields that can sometimes appear atrophied by over-specialisation, ‘space’ may well prove to be a royal road to informed and engaged generalisation of the best kind.

In Atlas of Emotion Bruno, a Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, has produced a benchmark work. Her approach is idiosyncratic and original, departing from the ‘intimate cartography’ of the 17th century, she proceeds to re-map the cultural history of spatio-visual arts placing cinema and the moving image at the centre of her geographically extensive itinerary. That she achieves this so successfully is a credit both to her superb scholarship but also to the sense, rare in academic writing, of a deep personal investment in her project. Among the many achievements of this book is a direct engagement with cinema as a form that the viewer inhabits – in paradoxically mobile and tactile, haptic ways – while also being inhabited by its regimes of image-affects through a set of relationships with surfaces other than that of the image, such as buildings, clothes and – first and last – the skin itself.

With its vast range of references – ranging from Antonioni to Gerhard Richter, from the ‘ciné-city’ to picture house architecture – Atlas reveals new vistas available for research and study. Never overwhelmed by the presiding theoretical paradigms of spatial analysis, Bruno sets the insights of key theorists such as Bachelard, Foucault, De Certeau and Lefebvre illuminatingly to work so that the reader may grasp the vitality of their concepts. Her writing is always lively and engaging and, as a beautifully designed object, Atlas is a joy to have to hand, whether to dip into for a little scholarly peregrination or to set out with on longer intellectual excursions.

Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture and Film, Giuliana Bruno (Verso, 2007, £24.99; ISBN: 978-1-85984-133-4)

Chris Darke is a prolific writer on international cinema and artists’ film and video. He is the author of a number of books.