FRAMING VISION | For his series, Into the Underworld / Ngā Mahi Rarowhenua (2018- Ongoing), Chirag Jindal investigated an ancient network of caves, once burial grounds and war shelters. This subterranean underworld beneath the banality of Auckland’s suburbia is nowadays reduced to urban myth and fictional narratives.
Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, consider these spaces tapu (sacred), and in the past have used them as burial sites or hideaways during times of conflict. Today their existence is not common public knowledge, and they are largely ignored by the developers that destroy them. More than fifty sites have been recorded in the past, but few will remain by the end of the century. While our life at the surface is threatened by climate change, the project has transmitted knowledge, civic awareness and informed policy changes to protect the dilapidating landscape.
Over the last 3 years, Jindal operated a terrestrial 3D mapping of the caves, collaborating with speleologists, local landowners, iwi (Māori) and local council. Carrying heavy LiDAR instruments he crawled through roadside manholes and streetfront garages to record remnant sites across the city. LiDAR, an emerging form of lens-based imaging applied in archaeological surveying and criminal forensics, registers its surroundings in millions of precisely-measured points, translating the world into a digital facsimile of light and shadow. Through a process of exploring, mapping, archiving and projecting, the project takes an empirical approach to bring something fictionalised and inaccessible into the domain of public visibility, offering it as something to be recognised, preserved and managed as a shared heritage. Jindal’s dark and atmospheric images function as mysterious time-lapses distinguished from the life above the ground.
While the project is ongoing, the works have been exhibited throughout Europe, presented in books and magazines and has won several prizes including Royal Photographic Society’s Under 30’s Gold Award in 2020.
The project has been supported by Det Obelske Familiefond and the City of Copenhagen.
Chirag Jindal, based in New Zealand, works at the intersection of documentaryjournalism, new media and contemporary cartography. After graduating with his Master’s degree in Architecture at the University of Auckland in 2016, he began exploring the role of LiDAR (light detection and ranging) as a photographic medium for architectural documentation. Jindal’s developing practice seeks to document our relationship to marginalised landscapes, attempting to unravel the “hidden effects, and unseen layers, of human presence.”
Upcoming projects include studies into pre-colonial archaeological war sites, a new incurable disease destroying native tree species, and an untitled solo project to be exhibited at the Bialystok Interphoto Festival in 2021.
OPEN CALL 2021
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ARTIST’S VIDEO INTRODUCTION
“One of the key aspects of this project is that it explores the role of photographic media to index something that is not only unknown, but also falsely fictionalised, and uses the image as a form of evidence. This is particularly important as the caves remain inaccessible to the wider public. How do you foster civic stewardship for a landscape that can’t be encountered?” – Chirag Jindal on the most important thing about Into the Underworld / Ngā Mahi Rarowhenua.