(January 14 - March 10, 2013 )
Multiple Locations, India
The Maha Kumbh Mela is one of the largest human gatherings on the planet with upwards of 70 million people attending. Hindu pilgrims from all over the world attended to bathe at the convergence of three sacred rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati. I spent five weeks in India developing a new project around this context called Source. I used the concept of ‘source’ as an investigative lens into Indian culture, the Kumbh Mela, and my process of travel and art making.
The idea of ‘source’ also extends to the relationship between Sadhu ascetic practices and live-art (performance art) practices. There are many correlations between the two communities: how they travel, their separation from normative social society, and the rites they enact through their art and religion. The mind-body investigation through physical acts, which illustrate the spiritual power of the sadhus, is also a critical investigation for artists who use their bodies and actions as their medium. I explored some of the parallels between these two communities through my process of artistic research and practice.
I started at the Maha Kumbh Mela and resided on site for eight days. After attending the festival I traveled by bus, car, motorcycle, and foot along the route of the Ganges from the site of the Mela towards its glacial source in the Himalayas. Throughout this five-week period I engaged with the culture, photographed, wrote, and created new work that responded to both the discrete sites and the route traveled. Source is an example of a multi-faceted expedition project where the conceptual structure was influenced by the route set.
Source- Start Location:
Excerpt (above) from Source project- Walking away from the River- Maha Kumbh Mela, Mauni Snan, 2013
Photographic Experiments: I engaged in an intensive process of self-inquiry lead by a Sadhu in Haridwar, before, during, and after traveling to Gangotri. I was deeply focused on questions of the self and consciousness. I spent 36 hours in discourse with two different teachers and several hours each day in personal reflection and contemplation. Twelve sessions of one-on-one instruction investigated the questions: What is the Self? What is I? What is the intellect? What are the relationships between the mind and the body, the mind and the Intellect, and the intellect and consciousness?
As an artistic experiment, I woke up every morning before dawn (for 8 days) and went to the Ganges river to try and capture images / portraits that would be visual representations of these concepts related to self-inquiry. The two photographs below are examples of this process:
Source - End Destination (Gangotri)
Gangotri is considered the spiritual source of the Ganges and is one of the last outposts before the glacial trek to the geological source. It was closed to visitors during the time I went there. However, I was lucky enough to have a guide who obtained access through his persistence in dealing with local authorities. Only the care-takers of the temples and ashrams stay during this time. Tavel past Gangotri was prohibited due to the danger of attempting the glacial trek in the winter.
Source, video excerpt, 2013, Bhagirathi River (headstream of the Ganges)