NASHVILLE — Photographer and video artist Christine Rogers didn’t intend to end up in India on a Fulbright Scholarship searching for a folkloric “heaven on earth” known as the Switzerland of India. It’s just that fate dropped her down there. And as the adage goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, or in this instance, when in India, do as the Indians do and search for this idealized surrogate landscape — an imitation of an imitation.
In her project Switzerland of India, Rogers considers how the idea of this northern Indian landscape — which has been romanticized through tourism, marketing, Bollywood filmmaking, and the mythos of the Swiss Alps — exists as an integral aspect of the cultural imagination. Putting theory into practice, Rogers and her assistant Laura traveled throughout northern India for one year, locating these romanticized landscapes and actually talking with people there about why each has become the Switzerland of India. Of course, there is no single Switzerland of India, yet depending on whom you speak with and where, they will tell you otherwise. Rogers kept a blog while in India, and also finished the journey with an exhibition at 1 Shanthi Road Gallery in Bangalore this past June. Now back in Nashville, where she is an assistant professor at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film, Rogers is continuing to exhibit her project in the United States.
“I am interested in the cultural and pictorial significance of visiting one place for the vista while imagining another far away landscape,” says Rogers, whose interest in this project was sparked by a similar experience in Switzerland a few years prior for her project The Promise of Real Estate, wherein she searched for the heavenly, idealized landscape that her family, Swiss in origin, had mythologized and become obsessed with. While searching for this surrogate landscape for “heaven on earth” and, as she describes it, “a symbol for regret over leaving for America,” she noticed many Indian tourists visiting the same mountains and making similar comments about this “paradise.” Rogers set aside this observation for a few years and then returned to it when she began researching why there were so many Indian tourists in Switzerland, which led the way into this project.
Before leaving for India, Rogers researched and watched Bollywood films via YouTube (remarkably, she notes that almost every classic Bollywood film is available). After arriving in India, the journeying to the various “heaven on Earth” locations began. Together with her assistant, Rogers traveled to the most romantic parts of the country, stopped at places like Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, or Honeymoon Point, waited for the lovers to arrive, and then asked them questions such as: “Why do love stories take place here?”, “Where do the greatest love stories take place — in the mountains or in the plains?” “What is it about the mountains?” “Why did you come here?” and “Where do the honeymooners go?”
“In that way I embraced my role as an outsider even more and was happy to allow it to feel funny or performative at times,” she says. But this project is not about being an outsider, an American, or even a visitor to India.
“I think what my work is trying to do really is tell a very complicated story, about the history, use, and function of an expansive idea of a landscape rather than one landscape in particular,” says Rogers. “Landscape itself is a constructed term, it’s a painters term, and has very little to do with the land itself.”
See documentation and postings about Christine Rogers’s project Switzerland of India on her blog.