Many hands make light work

Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together. – John Ruskin
How hard is it to build a wall seamlessly flat? If you ask a skilled tradesman, they might respond with “why are you even asking me…”; if you ask an average white collar employee with relatively no understanding of building walls, they may be stumped at ‘how hard is it to build a wall…’.
If say, we succeeded to build a wall perfectly straight to the human’s eye, one would be happily content; and if that wall was constructed without the guidance of today’s modern technology of prefabricated materials and guided machines; would that not be an immensely proud feat of one’s skill.

As an architecture student, passionate about forms of aesthetic beauty and spirit of place, and intricate responsive textures that respond in context, I came to Auroville to learn of architecture that has identity in human scale; it echoes the world which provides us life and benefits the community we live in.

Our first task, to sieve six bags of dirt into a fine dust, at this point in time I did not know why or for what use, however we did the task. In the screaming hot sun and uncomfortable humid breeze that swept across the sparse bush-land of Sacred Groves in the weeks before monsoon season came, we shoveled and piled, we tried and perspired. When six bags had been flattened, the sieved pile was high, and a sense of satisfaction and achievement was imminent, but what was there to be proud of in a pile of dirt?

Later we used that dirt to mix a mud plaster with our hands and feet, combined with fine earth and cow dung. We troweled the textured sand coloured mixture onto hand packed cob wall that had more bumps than a dirt roads leading to site. Pushing and scraping, filling and cutting, our wall eventually looked charmingly nostalgic in its imperfections. It was far from a flawlessly flat wall, but it was made with care and hard work, and it was visually perfect in context.

In our exhaustion from relentless heat and physical labour the day was called, the team despised anything that looked like a hammer or shovel, but a happy smile lingered in all faces covered with dirt and sweat.

Our physical contact with land gave everyone an enthusiasm that shone bright through hazed eyes. Our hands and feet had touched the elements of the earth, our minds had consumed the knowledge that is taken from personal involvement, oiled with perspiration and grit; our hearts grew stronger with the satisfaction of knowing that as a team we built with a purpose, we built with our hands, and the result had more vibrancy and comfort than any machine could deliver; it was a fine art.

As a newcomer to Sacred Groves it became clear to me that there is no ‘I, me, my or mine’ in this place we all gather to work; there is us, there is family, there is community and there is a helping hand in everyone.
At Sacred Groves, putting a hand up and getting dirty is the only way to achieve perfection, the human touch polishes the final coat and moulds the curve of each wall. From pushing wet mud plaster over thick earth walls with bare hands to mixing mortar and aggregates with heels and toes, putting your body in the middle; by far the most rewarding experience. A satisfaction that should be experienced by everyone.

A reflection of initial thoughts whilst volunteering with Sacred Groves, Auroville.
Callan Green | 19/05/2017

One Reply to “Many hands make light work”

  1. Very inspiring! I would like very much to be a part of this creative process of building and conservation at the same time. It sounds so satisfying in spite of the hard work and exhaustion.

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