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Sunday, March 02, 2014


The Oscars are tonight, and while the annual event is full of the usual big names and Hollywood productions, there is an architecturally interesting candidate in the Documentary Short Subject category: CaveDigger.

[Images from]

According to the film's website:
"Ra Paulette digs cathedral-like, 'eighth wonder of the world' art caves into the sandstone cliffs of Northern New Mexico. Each creation takes him years to complete, and each is a masterwork. But patrons who have commissioned caves have cut off nearly all of his projects due to artistic differences.

"Fed up, Ra has chosen to forego commissions altogether and create a massive, 10-year project, his Magnum Opus."

Or as the artist describes it on his website:
"My final and most ambitious project is both an environmental and social art project that uses solitude and the beauty of the natural world to create an experience that fosters spiritual renewal and personal well being. It is a culmination of everything I have learned and dreamed of in creating caves.

"A mile walk in the wilderness becomes a pilgrimage journey to a hand dug, elaborately sculpted cave complex illuminated by the sun through multiple tunneled windows. The cave is both a shared ecumenical shrine and an otherworldly venue for presentations and performances designed to address issues of social welfare and the art of well being."

The film was directed and produced by Jeffrey Karoff with additional help from Anghel Decca (Director of Photography), Erin Nordstrom (Editor), Pete Min (Composer), and Mitch Dorf (Sound Mixer).

Trailer from Vimeo:

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1 comment:

  1. Throughout my research on grottoes within contemporary design I have struggled to find anything that manages to grasp the truly whimsical and magical elements of the grotto. I wondered why contemporary designers steered clear from the allegory and symbolism of the Nymph, or other classical elements. Ra Paulette seems to be creating spaces that, to me, appear to pay homage to the grotto’s heritage in Renaissance architecture and beyond, whether intentional or otherwise.

    The juxtaposition of the smooth and the rough, the way the spaces allow for pools of water, and the creation of an ‘otherworldly’ environment are all things intrinsically linked to the traditional grotto. Lighting is carefully designed within the caves, creating a transient space similar to that of Rael San Fratello Architect’s ‘Sol Grotto’. The desire to foster ‘spiritual renewal,’ is another common theme within traditional grotto designs, perhaps more so in Shinto and Buddhist culture, something that Helen Hardacre looks at in her article ‘The Cave and the Womb World.’

    The craftsmanship that goes into every sculptural detail is evident, and it is this craftsmanship that often gets lost in a society that has become numb to mass production. It is this craftsmanship that reminds me of the validity of Ruskin’s desire to return to artisan design during the 1800’s. Although there is a certain validity in utilising complex mathematical and computational methods to generate grotto-like environments, Ra Paulette’s caves put forward a good argument why this need not always be the case in contemporary design.

    If you are interested in following my research on the grotto within contemporary design, please do not hesitate to follow the link below, and provide feedback, suggest other case examples, articles etc that might help me shape my future research.

    Further reading:
    Hardacre, Helen. “The Cave and the Womb World.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 10, no. 2 (1983):149-176.


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