Linking a causal chain of events together in an attempt to understand the origins of my existence is a task with no obvious starting point. One must draw clear boundaries, set parameters and definitions otherwise it is “turtles all the way down”.

On a macro scale we can start with simply being a child of the American 1970’s counter culture. My mother, who ran away from her suburban Long Island home at 17, joined a silent hippie commune in the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado. On Sundays, they came down from the mountain to eat the free vegetarian feast at the Hare Krishna temple. There she was exposed to the philosophy of self realization, which deeply resonated with her lifelong seeking of connection to a higher power or God. Months passed and one day her commune all dropped acid. At the height of the trip, their de facto leader broke his vow of silence and said these words. “To be free, you must die”. She interpreted this as, “the ego must die”. The next day she left the commune, walked down the mountain and into town where she joined the Hare Krishnas. Robed with makeshift saris that were simply saffron dyed bed sheets, she and her new spiritual family hit the streets of Boulder, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and selling Back To Godhead Magazine for a quarter.

She took the initiation vows from the guru, the founder of the modern Hare Krishna movement, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada who had arrived from India to NYC in 1965. Soon after she had an arranged marriage, according to Vedic tradition. She adopted an infant boy whose mother was in no position to care for the child. They were then instructed to go help establish a self sufficient farm community in rural West Virginia. There, they lived in an abandoned school bus, while my father built a house equipped only with two oxen and an ax.

Things at the community quickly deteriorated as their leader, Kīrtanānanda Swami, revealed himself to be a violent megalomaniac, racketeer, and child abuser among other things. My parents, who now had two other children, left to start a farm in upstate New York, where I was born. Kīrtanānanda Swami was eventually involved in murder and drug trafficking all of which landed him in prision. He and the entire West Virginia community were excommunicated. I have often tried to fathom the impact he and Prabhupada had on my life. Prabhupada arrived in NYC in the 70’s, with no money and no support. He had a mission to spread the spiritual teachings of Bhakti Yoga to the West. His strategy was simple, he would sit down under the large tree at the center of Tompkins Sq Park and chant Hare Krishna. People began to gather, soon he had a small following which grew to a global movement of thousands in less than 5 years. There is a city plaque next to the spot he used to sit, enshrining it as “The Hare Krishna Tree”. This unlikely place has become a site of pilgrimage for devotees of the faith. On most days you can still find flower offerings and incense burning under the tree, paying homage to Prabhupada. There is no astounding epiphany here, only the plain strangeness that this tree is like a cosmic navel around which my very existence in this world revolves.

While my mother was in Boulder and in West Virginia, my grandfather who was a self identified secular atheist Jew, took a supportive, loving and anthropological view on my mothers choices. While visiting her, he made 36 minutes of super 8mm film of her activities and wedding. This is a short compilation of those films. I present the films as a meditation on young idealism which speaks to my mother as an individual, and the culture as a whole.

Balarama Heller lives and works in New York City. His practice reimagines archetypal symbols found in the natural world. He explores primal symbols and patterns, both real and imagined, working towards a visual language of preverbal awareness. These symbols interact in a ceaseless cycle of creation and destruction, referencing the cosmological, mythological, and atomic scales.

Recent exhibitions include Sacred Place with Aperture Foundation / Artsy. Recent group shows include Maelstrom, at 303 Gallery, New York, You Can’t Win, Jack Black’s America curated by Randy Kennedy at Fortnight Institute, What’s Outside the Window at ReadingRoom, Melbourne AU, Agnes B New York, New Artists at Red Hook Labs and the 2015 Aperture Summer Open. In 2014, he published his first artist book, Into and Through. Zero at the Bone received 1st place for the 2017 Center Awards Editor’s Choice and runner-up for the 2017 Aperture Portfolio Prize. His 2019 project Sacred Place was featured in Aperture Magazine issue 241, with text by Pico Iyer.