The Quest For Movement- Why We Need Artistic Criticism in Auroville

What makes a city a city? Not population, because then we’d be more of a Hamlet of Dawn than a City. Not big buildings, since Citadines, Town Hall, and Solar Kitchen are about the most imposing public structures we have, aside from the Matrimandir. No, the word ‘city’ denotes pace, it denotes movement. Auroville is a city because it’s the site of such a massive experiment because it churns out an almost disproportionate amount of important and relevant ideas about a wide variety of issues- the world of conservation, for example. Water management, plastic alternatives, eco-friendly building materials; Auroville is at the forefront when it comes to new developments in many such fields. But the purely practical side of innovation is still only one side. It’s the universally acknowledged need of these inventions that keep them being consistently produced and improved. But cities are also centers of aesthetic and intellectual discussion, constantly giving birth to new artistic and philosophical concepts due to the natural friction of people of different backgrounds rubbing up against each other.

Now Auroville has no real shortage of this friction, so why isn’t there more discussion when it comes to these subjects- visual art, music, books, poetry? Because people still feel like they live in a small town. You see the same someone on the road six or seven times a day, there’s a good chance you don’t want to criticize their work. Unfortunately, this is the responsibility of the city-dweller! Things move faster in a city, new ideas circle around like vultures, some are shot down by peers… And this is the way things grow. Art has an incalculable impact on our views and our mindset, both shaping and being shaped by it. The most common opinion to hear around these parts when it comes to a concert or an exhibition is something along the lines of “it had a lot of heart in it.” This kind of polite vagueness makes very little sense when you think about it.

Why are we all here in the first place? Because fifty-plus years ago, some crazy, wonderfully passionate people saw the end of the counterculture looming and realized that the work was far from done- so they packed up and found a place to complete it. We are still the counterculture- that is our role- and our art must reflect that in some way if it is to be valid. Sure, we can say something has a lot of “heart” in it, but not without reflecting on the why and the how. We must value experimentation, but only if it is, in fact, experimentation and not subjective posturing. If we criticize it should never be personal- only subjective- geared towards constructive debate and nothing else. When in Future Poetry Sri Aurobindo lambasts Lord Byron’s verse and exalts Walt Whitman’s, he doesn’t do so because he has a vendetta against Byron; only because he sees the greater and more vital of two creative personalities, and praises it as a reflection of his own values.
Auroville is a common dream. That’s what makes it special. But in all shared dreams, there are some aspects that are more precious to some than others. As perhaps the most concentrated melting pot in the world, I would love to see Auroville give birth to its own forms of music, its own art, its own style. I want to see the rest of the world looking here to see the newest expressions, the latest thoughts. But for this to happen, we need a deep sense of exploration wedded to a concentrated, ongoing dialogue about the nature of our creations, why we create, and above all why are our creations necessary. The sense of exploration is already a fundamental characteristic of our community; I hope we can slowly start to bring about the dialogue.
– Dhani Muniz