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Art | Eye in the sky

Rohini Devasher's latest multimedia works could be photographs taken from Dr Ryan Stone's spaceship in the film 'Gravity'

Tucked away in a small room, off the warehouse spaces in Aspinwall House, the main venue of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale earlier this year, was Rohini Devasher’s seven- channel video work, Parts Unknown. In a crowd of big installations that populated the various cavernous spaces, Devasher’s quiet, seemingly modest work belied the expanse held in those small video screens.

The mythic Muziris inspired many artists at Kochi; Devasher chose to create fictive landscapes up north in Ladakh, at the site of the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) in Hanle, one of the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared and gamma-ray telescopes, that draws astronomers as much for the severe terrain as for the dramatic skies.

In Deep Time at Project 88, Devasher, an amateur astronomer and recipient of the Skoda Breakthrough Artist Award, 2013, uses Parts Unknown as the lodestone for newer works. Like the installation at Kochi, she plots the videos on a large wall drawing of the quadrant of space that is home to the star cluster Pleiades—popularly known as the Seven Sisters.

The seven videos are eerie to watch. Layering video with drawings and digital interventions, there’s slight movement over time, shifts occur in these new terrains, some with virulent green foregrounds added to a barren landscape, others indicating an immediacy of presence with raindrops hitting the camera. Shot from the ground, the stark vistas and some added stylized features convey a sense of solitude and bewilderment, as if one has been stranded in an unfolding science fiction film.

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Monographed Geographies

Monographed Geographies takes off from Parts Unknown, and further muddies the waters between real and unreal. The overlay is intensified in 12ft-long, spectacular images—there’s the grid and the stills from the video Parts Unknown that starts as the base layer. Then contour outlines, added digital images, a printout of a drawing (done while on a residency at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin in 2012) of what seems like a mutating tree form or a river system is stretched over hologram-like, and drawing is added to build up the final image. Time seems suspended; past, present, future stacked in a moment.

Reading Into the Stars is a sound piece that documents her research through interviews of amateur astronomers. This solitary, quotidian and nocturnal tryst with the skies is a personal connection, sometimes “an escape", to something that is reassuringly “always there". In a room that resonates with images and voices, emotional “deep times" are recorded—the upward gaze a “cast back to mythical figures…to create a genealogy with ancestors and progeny."

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Rohini Devasher

The quest to seek, record and document this patterning in organic systems is the thread that runs through space and geographies, each marking or heightening a subtle dig into consciousness. Devasher’s success does not lie as much in scientific revelation as it does in capturing the solitude of a passion; of the deep wonder about what makes time sparkle each night.

Deep Time is on till 11 January, 11am-7pm (Sundays and Mondays closed), at Project 88, BMP Building, NA Sawant Marg, Colaba, Mumbai. The works are for sale, priced at 2.5-10 lakh.

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