There is a hypnagogic quality to Balarama Heller’s photographs. The New York-based artist conjures images of unseen worlds that suspend the viewer in a visceral territory that feels more like a subconscious state than anything tangible. The photographs are like meditative mysteries.
Heller had a nomadic upbringing, moving between Hare Krishna communities with his mother across the United States. The specific branch of Hinduism, steeped in transcendent rituals and elaborate mythology that refers to demigods and celestial battles, was just the beginning of a long fascination with spiritual practices. Heller went on to live with orthodox Christian monks in Romania, practised with Sufis in Istanbul and spent time in different monasteries worldwide.
“The form of spirituality I began to have an affinity with wasn’t hinged on geography, history or religion, but a search for transcendent states outside the confines of the institution,” he says. In Sacred Place, from 2019, he traces the boundaries between the material and spiritual world through a series of sensorial encounters. Made in the Northern Indian town of Vrindavan, a place of historical and spiritual significance for the Hare Krishna, Heller embarked on a self-initiated residency emulating the pilgrim’s path to temple every morning between 3am and 6am for six weeks.