Father knew best

Father knew best

Nora Bateson presents film about anthropologist father Gregory Bateson at Art Center

By Carl Kozlowski 11/01/2012

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Every child would like to think the world of her father. Nora Bateson certainly did. But unlike most, Bateson has found people all across the globe who share her opinion of her famous father, renowned anthropologist and theorist Gregory Bateson.
She became aware of that fact after making the documentary “An Ecology of Mind” about her father’s extensive work across many complex academic disciplines, including the Englishman’s efforts as a philosopher, author, naturalist, systems theorist and filmmaker. 
While she’s bringing the film to Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design for a screening Monday night, she’s already taken her work to hundreds of showings all over the planet, including strings of sold out shows in England and Italy. 
“The way I chose this timing was that there was the centennial of my dad’s birth, and my sister said there was no audio-visual of dad. I was in the media business, so I was the perfect person to step in,” says Bateson. “His work was so relevant to what we are facing now in terms of both the smaller ‘we’ and in terms of each of our family issues these days and the larger question of how do we make change in the geopolitical sphere and what is a healthy system and how do we achieve that? It was very timely and it was great material.”
Indeed, Gregory Bateson’s specialty focused on his unique way of perceiving the structure of complex living systems. In analyzing psychology, that complex living system is an individual or a family, but in studying ecology it could be a rainforest or an ocean. Extending further, Bateson explored city planning in terms of the dynamics found in a complex urban environment, all the way through its economics and culture, weaving in idea from ianthropology. 
Thus, the demand for the film lies in the fact that so many different types of people have an interest in at least some aspect of Gregory Bateson’s work. 
“My father was looking for those patterns of inter-relationality, and for him that was a form of inquiry in which things were definitively not separated, so there’s an irony and a loss in the idea that his ideas got divided into these disciplines,” says Bateson. “Now we’ve come to another moment where the world is ripe in asking where do we go from here? When I’m meeting all these audiences, I’m finding that designers, economists, ecologists and academics are asking the same question: How do we go further in what we do? The answer is integration with other perceptions.”
For his part, Art Center faculty member Claude Willey — who invited Nora to screen the film — feels “An Ecology of Mind” could not only inform people of Bateson’s life, but perhaps inspire a new generation to continue his work. 
“I feel that there are many people in this day and age, especially in the US, who don’t know who Bateson was,” says Willey, who is also an urban studies and planning professor at California State University, Northridge. “I guess the key message that came out in a lot of his research was how humans relate to everything else in the latter part of the 20th century. A lot of our concerns of sustainability are business-minded and one-dimensional, but he was looking at it from many levels. All these boundaries and borders are set up between fields and he disregarded them and wove them together. It’s surprising that we don’t see more people like him today.”  

Nora Bateson will screen and discuss her film “An Ecology of Mind” at 7 p.m. Monday at Art Center College of Design, Hillside Campus-Los Angeles Times Media Center, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 396-2200 or visit anecologyofmind.com. 

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