[2017 - ongoing]
This land was an impenetrable forest, once upon a time. Then the colonists came and ravaged it to build their cities. Summer dried the soil and the water ran off. Many years later, men and women journeyed here, from the ends of the earth, people for whom ordinary life wasn't enough anymore, and they planted acacia trees to shelter themselves from the burning sun, and found meaning in their worlds once again. The acacia covered half the soil from the sun and the thorniest plants began to grow in their shade.
Now, the jungle is a womb. The air in the tropics is like warm honey, viscous, sticky, filling the ears until the sounds of the outside world fade. In the still light of the afternoons, the trees stand sentinel while the hours pass like days.
But every year, the summer comes, and with it, the memory of when there was nothing.
The city of Auroville was built on barren land outside Pondicherry in 1968, a 'city of the future' based on the ideas of the philosopher Sri Aurobino and his partner, the French-born Mirra Alfassa, known as the Mother. The idea was to form a new utopia where human beings of all nationalities, religions, and races lived together toward the advent of the new species.
The first priority, however, was shade.
The landscape of Auroville has played a significant role in its mythologies and identity. Many Aurovillians will describe the landscape as it looked when they first arrived -- nothing, nowhere.
A landscape is a historical artefact, steeped in cultural and sociological implications. Yet it can also play a role in perpetuating the myth of the untouched.
What does it mean to act upon (or inhabit) an untouched space? And what landscape is ever untouched? Where is nowhere? The very act of photographing a place is to acknowledge its 'somehwereness.' The looking for an untouched place becomes then more a metaphorical exercise than a search for an actual geographical location.
Black and white images courtesy of the Auroville Archives. With special thanks to Kent Klich, Aviram Rozin, Gilles, Lotta Schwarz, Maria Mäki, Linda Thompson & Jon Lowinstein.