Following her graduation from Shanghai Jiaotong University with a degree in architecture in 2010, artist Pan Ge spent a year traveling in Tibet, Xinjiang, Nepal, India, Cambodia, and Thailand to explore architectural ruins before she came to New York. While in India, she met many travelers on their own journeys who suggested that she go to Hampi in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka.
Today, Hampi may not have the recognition of other places like Angkor Wat, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site was a village and temple town in Vijayanagara Empire which in its prime in the 14th – 16th centuries, its capital city was one of the richest and largest cities in the world, second only to Beijing. Though its glory days are in the past, its presence and spirit has been an inspiration to Pan.
As she approached Hampi by bus, Pan marveled at enormous red boulders that jutted from the ground and formed mountains with their piles. The famed ruins could be seen from the side of the road and appeared to emerge from the rocky landscape. Up close, unlike the ornate buildings in northern India, the palaces and temples at Hampi proffered a simple geometry that Pan described as “super strong” under the harsh sunlight in southern India.
Pan considers her photographs of the historical ruins, taken with a basic digital camera with a slightly broken lens, to be a record that presents a specific side of the architecture she saw. The structures, of course, were there long before Pan visited and will continue existing there long after her, but a connection between the two has been made. “They kind of fade away every day; so, for the camera to capture that specific day is quiet poetic,” she says, referring to day 217 of her trip.
In the week she spent at Hampi, she got up early in the morning, explored the vast area by herself, chatted with other travelers, and sometimes slept outdoors atop boulders until sunrise. The photos show none of these human activities but instead ruminate over the timeless persistence of the past. The contrast between the man-made structures and the surrounding environs is clear, but they appear to be and perhaps have become a natural part of the landscape.
The stay in Hampi happened just after the halfway point of her year-long expedition which she says was “tough, both physically and psychologically”. Yet, it was worthwhile. For her as an artist, Pan’s trans-Asia travels reminded her of the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical travel novel On the Road and encouraged her to explore the intersections of architecture, media, and fine art.
Beyond expanding her artistic interests, the experience was liberating on a personal level. Even after settling in New York to spend the past few years earning an MFA at Pratt Institute and despite losing about a third of her daily diary entries and photographs while traveling, Pan plans to write a book about her trip: “I think the trip is very important for me. When I was on the road, I really had the feeling of being ‘absolutely free’ several times, which I’ve never experienced before or after that.”
Lead image: All the Way to the West: Day 217, 2011. Digital photo.