Peering through a tourist’s lens, Spirit Level is about a search for the particularities of what makes a place sacred and the residual artifacts of a vulnerable state of being.
Filmed in Jaipur, New Delhi and Koliyak, India, during the fall of 2015, I focused on recording three locations that contained or promoted a holy site. Each place is interconnected through the substance of water: the filtered water within the swimming pool of a five star hotel in Jaipur; the collected water within the step-well of the Hazrat Nizamuddin ki Baoli in New Delhi; and the water flowing between the low and high tides of the Gulf of Khambhat, where the Nishkalank Mahadev Temple sits one-mile out at sea, approachable only during low tidal shifts.
During the assembly of the images I was inspired by the Sanskrit word Trimūrti, meaning “of three forms.” A Hindu concept of reality consisting of the functions of creation, preservation and destruction personified by the triad of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. I referenced this cyclical concept, and my observations of how during ancient cultural conquests materials and symbols were extracted from architectural structures and reused in constructing new sites, as guides to build, layer and deconstruct the images and sounds of each place I visited. This approach led me to superimposing fragmented compositions and abstracting scenes, which are at times digitally scaled in horizontal and vertical directions.
Underpinning the camera’s perspective and image assembly is the relationship between observation and interpretation, of covering and revealing, of openness and imposition. As a result, overtime, the role of camera changed from a tool that recorded interaction to one that created an engagement with the materials and people of the place. At first, the camera’s presence is less pronounced as I was inundated with a constellation of energy overlooking Jaipur’s landscape. In New Delhi at the step-well within an enclave of buildings, I was hesitant as to what boundaries the camera could cross—so the view is through the dargah marble screen, peering through the openings, wanting to observe but unsure how and why. But as the story turns to the third and final site of the Mahadev Temple, the presence of the camera is reinforced and the documentary process of filming is reversed. Visitors to the site begin to confront the camera––some performing, some staring and others asking questions. At one point a curious woman sincerely asks, ”how are you feeling now?”
Much like the air bubble in a level that is used to measure the position of an object, dependent on place, substance and perspective, the film, and perhaps in a more revealing sense, my spirit, oscillates between these three forms.
Marco G. Ferrari––Director, Producer, Camera, Sound & Editor
The University of Chicago Center in Delhi