Auroville from Above by Om & Julie

When in 2017, Om and Julie decided to buy a drone, they didn’t imagine how much it was going to change their lives.

“Earth from above” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, with its pictures taken from a helicopter, comes out in 1999, bringing about in photographers the desire to defy gravity.

Drones, without matching the capacities of a plane or helicopter, free the photographers by offering them radically novel points of view.

Dronemania has since then invaded the whole world.

Auroville is no exception. But drone owners who want to get authorisations for filming or taking pictures in Auroville, usually limit themselves to the Matrimandir in order to make spectacular postcards.

What Om and Julie are looking for is much more ambitious.

Their aim is to show Auroville like no one ever did before.

After the first pictures and the progressive mastering of the camera, they realise their tool’s enormous potential and decide to document Auroville in its integrality. Their approach, however, is not in any way documentary but artistic and creative: it is to reveal the landscape’s unique beauty, always offered to us in a horizontal way, in a partial manner, because of the forest’s omnipresence. The zenithal view reveals, in the midst of the greenery, precious gems like crimped diamonds: the geometry of constructions, clearings, watercourses, a landscape as surprising as a newly discovered planet.

Om and Julie, sky explorers, take hundreds of pictures, undergoing a metamorphosis, becoming full time professional photographers.

In 2018, the idea imposes itself: it must be made into a book. The project starts in 2019 with the support of SAIIER.

“We tried organising our work – Om tells us – starting from the Matrimandir, progressively enlarging the operative field, dividing the territory into zones, forests, schools, communities, etc…, then enlarging again, Kuyilapalayam, the farms, the green belt… In fact, following a method is almost impossible because we can’t predict anything, everything changes depending on the time, the light, the weather. What we were trying to show was sometimes difficult to achieve, and not always up to our expectations.

On the other hand there were surprises, places so beautiful, seen from above, that we could only go back to, during seasonal changes for example. A little bit of rain can completely remodel a landscape.”

The experience acquired over time allows them to interpret certain signs, anticipate perceptions, as if sight was no longer only the prerogative of the eye but of all senses, as if they had the power, in the same way their flying device does, to propel themselves in the air and embrace the horizon from 360 degrees.

They learn to conjugate skies and lands, to become fluid and shifting.

After some time, the material is so abundant that it becomes obvious: the book is not enough.

That is when they decide to hold an exhibition.

“The book and exhibition are indissociable, one is only the extension of the other – says Julie – in fact, the book will be presented on the opening day.’’

The exhibition is a day, from dawn to dusk, a fragment of astronomical revolution, an inner journey much like the one these two artists when through.

Auroville – as promised – like you have never seen it. The infrastructure, roads, sports grounds, edifices and electric lines emerge from the forest like Aztec remains, the architecture, dusty or saturated with the life of an omnivorous nature, the perfection of dawn of time waters and skies, minuscule humans and their shadows cast through the evening’s gold.

The pictures are accompanied by quotes from the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, that tell us about what originated Auroville’s creation, like a comment that isn’t one, but rather a question as if the images themselves were asking: are we living up to the dream?

Without answers, without judgment. Just a vision.

                               Dominique Jacques/Centre d’Art Citadines, Nov 2020

 “There is the night and there is the sun, again the night, many nights; but one must cling to this will to surrender, cling to it as in a tempest, and give up everything into the hands of the supreme Lord, until the day when the sun will come for ever, the total victory.”

                              The Mother, Words of the Mother 1954