Into the Underworld
Into the Underworld is a self-initiated project that follows 18 months working with landowners and speleologists to capture ancient lava caves hidden under New Zealand’s largest urban city. The title of the work refers to the stigma surrounding the neglected landscape, which has become degraded into trash heaps and wastewater dumps by the overwhelming need for housing and infrastructure over the last two centuries. Their entrances - now hidden behind street-front garages, backyard grottos and roadside manholes - have become material for legends, myths and rumours, and the sites are no longer common knowledge to the wider public. The work is an attempt to open dialogue on the caves’ rich cultural history and significance in the city’s rapidly changing landscape, as well as an attempt to bridge the gap between the theory (the myths) and the actual experience of the caves. Focusing on these embellished narratives, I began by looking at dioramic art - both classical and contemporary - for its ability to portray fiction and erode the boundaries between the real and the fantastical. In particular, I found influence in Louis Daguerre’s hyperrealistic dioramas, which depicted landscapes and historical city views through large-scale backlit panoramas. Daguerre’s curved paintings were meticulously crafted to seduce the viewer into constructed worlds, places and realities, revealing purpose in the grotesque and otherworldliness in the mundane. With 'Into the Underworld', the point of difference - and irony - comes from the scientific instruments used in mapping the sites and creating the underlying imagery. Unlike the artifice of constructed dioramas, the cave scenes are rendered with an uncanny but undeniable truth. The viewer is not only invited to project themselves into the space, but is also prompted to consider how an aversion to the unknown can result in missing the mysteriously beautiful aspects of our reality.