Of astronomical proportion

Rohini Devasher’s project looks at unravelling the hidden world of amateur astronomers in Delhi.

Published: 09th October 2013 12:09 PM  |   Last Updated: 09th October 2013 12:10 PM   |  A+A-


The science of astronomy and the practice of visual art may seem like a strange combination but 35-year-old artist Rohini Devasher has successfully blended the two in her upcoming solo show titled ‘Deep Time’ at Khoj Studios in New Delhi. Deep Time is part of an ongoing project that looks to map common points between astronomy and art practice, through the lens of metaphor.

Two years ago, Devasher began a project that looked at unravelling the hidden world of amateur astronomers in Delhi. Beginning as a form of collective investigation with ‘astro-nomads’ or amateur astronomers in Delhi, stories, conversations and histories came together in a slowly building chronicle of the almost obsessive group of people whose lives have been transformed by the night sky.

Says Devasher, “Where did I position myself within the project, or perhaps where did astronomy position itself within my practice? Beginning in July 2009 and through to August 2010, I travelled back and forth across the country with amateur astronomers as part of the process, each trip focused on a stellar event or site.”

The works in the show, Monographed Geographies, Parts Unknown and Surface Tracking are maps of new terrains and fictions. Parts Unknown is a suite of seven videos which act like a window to a strangely mythic landscape, populated by instruments of both fiction and fact, gazing up and out, transforming our imagination of remote objects as physical places in the imagination.

Each frame implicates Man, but whether man’s deeds long past or present is unclear. They take on a mythic, fictional character. We are not quite sure who has placed these cameras here, the small format and the proximity required from the viewer to see the detail lends a quality of footage captured by a planetary rover, the space exploration vehicle designed to move across the surface of a planet or other astronomical body.

Her Monographed Geographies are a series of three hybrid print and drawing works that examine different frames set in astronomical observatories in India. Devasher explains, “This particular image is set in the high latitude desert of Ladakh at an altitude of 14,500 feet, home to the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) at Hanle, one of the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared and gamma ray telescopes. The last collect gamma rays, one of the most enigmatic and energetic forms of light in the universe, created by celestial events such as supernova explosions, the creation of black holes and the decay of radioactive material in space. Hanle exists today as a site of pilgrimage for astronomers across India, amateurs and professionals alike, drawn as much by the spectacular skies as by the stark landscape. My interest in these ‘alternative maps’ is to try and create a descriptive map of new terrains and fictions, created through the layering of photographs with satellite images of the other spaces on the Earth, completed by drawing once the image is printed.”

Surface Tracking is a body of 12 hand drawn maps which are aerial views of one of the most important observatories in India, the Giant Meterwave Radio Telescope Array (GMRT) just outside the city of Pune.

(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)

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