A handful of subterranean caves near Santa Fe, New Mexico have been excavated by local artist Ra Paulette using only hand tools such as pick axes, shovels and scrapers.
The beauty of the caves comes from a combination of their natural materiality and the way Paulette channels daylight into the spaces to illuminate the smoothly curving surfaces and relief decoration.
For Paulette, the physicality of the work is part of the creative process. On his website, he states: "Manual labor is the foundation of my self-expression. To do it well, to do it beautifully, is a 'whole-person' activity, engaging mental and emotional strengths as well as physical strength."
Paulette refers to his creations as "luminous caves", which allow in natural light throughout, creating a relaxed and illuminated environment.
"The fact that the cave is underground and you feel the earth around you, yet the sun is pouring in," said Paulette in "Cavedigger", "those are the juxtapositions of the two metaphors of our life; the within and the without. It's a perceptual trick that brings out deep, expansive emotionality."
Paulette now disregards any approaches from the media but, as far as Karoff is aware, he continues to work on the project that he believes will keep him occupied for the rest of his cave-digging life. "This cave in process will probably be the last one," admits the artist towards the end of the film.
These water pools show the detail in Paulette's work. The caves also feature practical features such as staircases, windows and doors to allow for easy access.
In an effort to create a sanctuary for meditation Paulette creates quiet chambers connected by tunnels intended to support "spiritual renewal and personal well being".
Paulette refers to his work as 'social art', ultimately aimed at bringing about social change. He sees the caves as a commentary on the current state of affairs in New Mexico, where, he says, "rural communities of warm-hearted, family-oriented people from unique cultural traditions are at times plagued by crime, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, poor school performance, teen pregnancy and suicide rates near or at the top of the national surveys.
"This social context is also marred by tensions between ethnic groups in the community and an influx wealthy non locals who buy up land and increase prices. "This is the context for the social art of the Luminous Caves," says Paulette.