Rohini Devasher


“Things are ok here for us at least. We're well into the second lockdown and we are far better off than many many others. The day goes in a blur of online school, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and sometimes work. It is a strange strange new world which has made so much clear, not just the air and skies but also the prejudice, indifference and privilege that we try (sometimes) to hide…I would be delighted to participate in a possible online exhibition. It feels more important than ever to reach out and celebrate communities and solidarities!” email correspondence 4/27/2020

Rohini Devasher

“Things are ok here for us at least. We're well into the second lockdown and we are far better off than many many others. The day goes in a blur of online school, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and sometimes work. It is a strange strange new world which has made so much clear, not just the air and skies but also the prejudice, indifference and privilege that we try (sometimes) to hide…I would be delighted to participate in a possible online exhibition. It feels more important than ever to reach out and celebrate communities and solidarities!” email correspondence 4/27/2020


Artist statement


“To express hope for another kind of world, one that is unimaginable at present, is a political action, and it remains so even in the face of exhaustion and despair.” Sara Ahmed

Ten years ago, I began a project with amateur astronomers in Delhi—a patient chronicle of this obsessive group of people whose lives have been transformed by the night sky. As this work developed, I became increasingly conscious of the role of “observation” and the “field” or “site” in my own practice. Over time I have engaged with the field both as a series of physical sites— skies, sea forts, observatories, telescopes, etc.—and also as a methodology, a space for investigation that allows one to explore something unfamiliar, an opportunity to observe relationships between the human and non-human.

In the summer of 2018, I spent 26 days on board an oil tanker called the High Trust as part of an artist’s residency program called the “Owners Cabin.” The voyage, which went from Suva (Fiji) to Singapore, via Samoa, brought into sharp focus something I have been engaged with for some time. How do we construct the environment and how does the environment construct us? 

Over the past few months I have been working on various readings in the categories of object and site and how they might open up ways of thinking about time, motion, and the space of humanity within the solar system. The history of observation is also a history of methods of imagining and understanding time. 

Three bodies of work—The Mirrored Sky (series of cyanotypes), Observations (drawings), and Parallax (drawing)—are an expression of what specific sites, both on and off the ship, might tell us about the nature and complexities of human meaning-making.


The Mirrored Sky


The field is many things. It is the extent of the observable world that is seen at any given moment. In astronomy, the field of view is usually expressed as an area viewed by an instrument, so the field of view is sight, resolution and measurement all at once. This series of cyanotypes explores the sky through both these prisms. Bringing together my interest in contemporary observational sciences and early scientific observational instruments, the sky appears as a physical field but also as a field of collection and a form of collective perception. 

The Mirrored Sky is a series of 12 cyanotypes produced while on board the ship. Each is a map of the sky from the latitudes of 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 60, and 75 degrees. They were produced using as their base a device called the Southern Hemisphere Star Finder and Identifier. The instrument consists of a rigid white disk with 57 navigational stars on it called the 'star base' or 'white disk' and a set of 9 transparent templates. These templates are placed onto the star base to plot the height and directions of stars and other celestial bodies to help in navigation. The 9 templates are labelled according to the latitude of the observer.


Rohini Devasher, born 1978, New Delhi, India

The Mirrored Sky, 2017,
12 cyanotypes on paper, each 6.9 x 4.9 in. (17 x 12.5 cm)

The field is many things. It is the extent of the observable world that is seen at any given moment. In astronomy, the field of view is usually expressed as an area viewed by an instrument, so the field of view is sight, resolution and measurement all at once. This series of cyanotypes explores the sky through both these prisms. Bringing together my interest in contemporary observational sciences and early scientific observational instruments, the sky appears as a physical field but also as a field of collection and a form of collective perception. 

The Mirrored Sky is a series of 12 cyanotypes produced while on board the ship. Each is a map of the sky from the latitudes of 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 60, and 75 degrees. They were produced using as their base a device called the Southern Hemisphere Star Finder and Identifier. The instrument consists of a rigid white disk with 57 navigational stars on it called the 'star base' or 'white disk' and a set of 9 transparent templates. These templates are placed onto the star base to plot the height and directions of stars and other celestial bodies to help in navigation. The 9 templates are labelled according to the latitude of the observer.


Observations


Much of my work looks at the history of observation and the methods and materials that have been employed in the field, both in the past and today. In particular I have been looking at the work of historian of science Omar W. Nasim whose book Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century (2014), delves specifically into the relationship between the observer, the object, and the instrument used to record, which in this case was the hand. Nasim states:

“Observation is not about looking harder or more transparently. Neither is it only a matter of looking with the eyes alone. It also a matter of recording, ordering, processing, and preparing. Certain practices of recording—namely sketching by hand— helped observers see more and differently. The hand was central to observation, not only for recording but also for tinkering with and adjusting the instruments by which something was observed. When we think about scientific observation, we must keep an eye on the hand.”

May and June are Milky Way season in the Southern Hemisphere. My voyage on the Pacific Ocean during this time meant that every night the Milky Way arched overhead. Added to this was the fact that by international shipping rules all vessels operate in complete darkness. The result is zero light pollution and the best viewing conditions for an amateur astronomer. Every night I documented the night sky. 

The development of photography has meant astronomers, amateur and professional alike, no longer need to draw to represent what they observe, and as Nasim points out in his book, few do today as part of their everyday research. He notes that this does not mean they no longer deal with images or image-making. For me, these Observations are a way to look deeper, to also allow new vocabularies of mark-making and possibly meaning emerge. Marked with signs and unclear coordinates, these are alternative maps of the sky as I saw them.


Rohini Devasher, born 1978, New Delhi, India

Observation 1, 2020,
dry pastel, pan pastel, colour pencil, graphite pencil on Somerset Paper, 22.05 X 14.76 in. (56 x 37.5 cm)

Much of my work looks at the history of observation and the methods and materials that have been employed in the field, both in the past and today. In particular I have been looking at the work of historian of science Omar W. Nasim whose book Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century (2014), delves specifically into the relationship between the observer, the object, and the instrument used to record, which in this case was the hand. Nasim states:

“Observation is not about looking harder or more transparently. Neither is it only a matter of looking with the eyes alone. It also a matter of recording, ordering, processing, and preparing. Certain practices of recording—namely sketching by hand— helped observers see more and differently. The hand was central to observation, not only for recording but also for tinkering with and adjusting the instruments by which something was observed. When we think about scientific observation, we must keep an eye on the hand.”

May and June are Milky Way season in the Southern Hemisphere. My voyage on the Pacific Ocean during this time meant that every night the Milky Way arched overhead. Added to this was the fact that by international shipping rules all vessels operate in complete darkness. The result is zero light pollution and the best viewing conditions for an amateur astronomer. Every night I documented the night sky. 

The development of photography has meant astronomers, amateur and professional alike, no longer need to draw to represent what they observe, and as Nasim points out in his book, few do today as part of their everyday research. He notes that this does not mean they no longer deal with images or image-making. For me, these Observations are a way to look deeper, to also allow new vocabularies of mark-making and possibly meaning emerge. Marked with signs and unclear coordinates, these are alternative maps of the sky as she saw them.


Rohini Devasher, born 1978, New Delhi, India

Observation 2, 2020,
dry pastel, pan pastel, colour pencil, graphite pencil on Somerset Paper, 22.05 X 14.76 in. (56 x 37.5 cm)

Much of my work looks at the history of observation and the methods and materials that have been employed in the field, both in the past and today. In particular I have been looking at the work of historian of science Omar W. Nasim whose book Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century (2014), delves specifically into the relationship between the observer, the object, and the instrument used to record, which in this case was the hand. Nasim states:

“Observation is not about looking harder or more transparently. Neither is it only a matter of looking with the eyes alone. It also a matter of recording, ordering, processing, and preparing. Certain practices of recording—namely sketching by hand— helped observers see more and differently. The hand was central to observation, not only for recording but also for tinkering with and adjusting the instruments by which something was observed. When we think about scientific observation, we must keep an eye on the hand.”

May and June are Milky Way season in the Southern Hemisphere. My voyage on the Pacific Ocean during this time meant that every night the Milky Way arched overhead. Added to this was the fact that by international shipping rules all vessels operate in complete darkness. The result is zero light pollution and the best viewing conditions for an amateur astronomer. Every night I documented the night sky. 

The development of photography has meant astronomers, amateur and professional alike, no longer need to draw to represent what they observe, and as Nasim points out in his book, few do today as part of their everyday research. He notes that this does not mean they no longer deal with images or image-making. For me, these Observations are a way to look deeper, to also allow new vocabularies of mark-making and possibly meaning emerge. Marked with signs and unclear coordinates, these are alternative maps of the sky as she saw them.


Rohini Devasher, born 1978, New Delhi, India

Observation 3, 2020,
dry pastel, pan pastel, colour pencil, graphite pencil on Somerset Paper, 22.05 X 14.76 in. (56 x 37.5 cm)

Much of my work looks at the history of observation and the methods and materials that have been employed in the field, both in the past and today. In particular I have been looking at the work of historian of science Omar W. Nasim whose book Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century (2014), delves specifically into the relationship between the observer, the object, and the instrument used to record, which in this case was the hand. Nasim states:

“Observation is not about looking harder or more transparently. Neither is it only a matter of looking with the eyes alone. It also a matter of recording, ordering, processing, and preparing. Certain practices of recording—namely sketching by hand— helped observers see more and differently. The hand was central to observation, not only for recording but also for tinkering with and adjusting the instruments by which something was observed. When we think about scientific observation, we must keep an eye on the hand.”

May and June are Milky Way season in the Southern Hemisphere. My voyage on the Pacific Ocean during this time meant that every night the Milky Way arched overhead. Added to this was the fact that by international shipping rules all vessels operate in complete darkness. The result is zero light pollution and the best viewing conditions for an amateur astronomer. Every night I documented the night sky. 

The development of photography has meant astronomers, amateur and professional alike, no longer need to draw to represent what they observe, and as Nasim points out in his book, few do today as part of their everyday research. He notes that this does not mean they no longer deal with images or image-making. For me, these Observations are a way to look deeper, to also allow new vocabularies of mark-making and possibly meaning emerge. Marked with signs and unclear coordinates, these are alternative maps of the sky as she saw them.


Rohini Devasher, born 1978

Observation 4, 2020,
dry pastel, pan pastel, colour pencil, graphite pencil on Somerset Paper, 22.05 X 14.76 in. (56 x 37.5 cm)

Much of my work looks at the history of observation and the methods and materials that have been employed in the field, both in the past and today. In particular I have been looking at the work of historian of science Omar W. Nasim whose book Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century (2014), delves specifically into the relationship between the observer, the object, and the instrument used to record, which in this case was the hand. Nasim states:

“Observation is not about looking harder or more transparently. Neither is it only a matter of looking with the eyes alone. It also a matter of recording, ordering, processing, and preparing. Certain practices of recording—namely sketching by hand— helped observers see more and differently. The hand was central to observation, not only for recording but also for tinkering with and adjusting the instruments by which something was observed. When we think about scientific observation, we must keep an eye on the hand.”

May and June are Milky Way season in the Southern Hemisphere. My voyage on the Pacific Ocean during this time meant that every night the Milky Way arched overhead. Added to this was the fact that by international shipping rules all vessels operate in complete darkness. The result is zero light pollution and the best viewing conditions for an amateur astronomer. Every night I documented the night sky. 

The development of photography has meant astronomers, amateur and professional alike, no longer need to draw to represent what they observe, and as Nasim points out in his book, few do today as part of their everyday research. He notes that this does not mean they no longer deal with images or image-making. For me, these Observations are a way to look deeper, to also allow new vocabularies of mark-making and possibly meaning emerge. Marked with signs and unclear coordinates, these are alternative maps of the sky as she saw them.


Parallax


Parallax is the perceived change in position of an object seen from two different places. In essence, parallax is the perceived shifting phenomenon that occurs when an object is viewed from different positions.

My time on the High Trust was spent literally between the spheres of blue above and below. Through the 26-day voyage I recorded images of both spheres. This large drawing mirrors that dual perspective. One pointed at the zenith looks up and out, recording the movement of the Milky Way across the skies of the Southern Hemisphere. The second looks down at the depths of the Pacific Ocean where the blue is so deep it is almost black, the ocean at 4,500 meters.


Rohini Devasher, born 1978, New Delhi, India

Parallax, 2020,
dry pastel, pan pastel, colour pencil, graphite pencil, glass, marker on drafting paper, 51.8 x 31.4 in. (130 x 80 cm)

Parallax is the perceived change in position of an object seen from two different places. In essence, parallax is the perceived shifting phenomenon that occurs when an object is viewed from different positions.

My time on the High Trust was spent literally between the spheres of blue above and below. Through the 26-day voyage I recorded images of both spheres. This large drawing mirrors that dual perspective. One pointed at the zenith looks up and out, recording the movement of the Milky Way across the skies of the Southern Hemisphere. The second looks down at the depths of the Pacific Ocean where the blue is so deep it is almost black, the ocean at 4,500 meters.


Artist bio


Rohini Devasher lives and works in Noida, a satellite city of Delhi, India. She completed her BFA in painting at the College of Art, New Delhi, in 2001 and her MFA in printmaking at the Winchester School of Art in the UK in 2004. She has trained as a painter and printmaker and works in a variety of media including video, prints, and large site-specific drawings. Her practice explores the natural world, combining the study of what we know, what we imagine, and what we hope. In 2016, she spent three weeks in residence at the Spencer Museum as part of the exhibition Temporal Turn: Art & Speculation in Contemporary Asia. During her residency Devasher created an installation that covered an entire wall of the Museum’s Perkins Central Court. The largescale mural, Parts Unknown: Making the Familiar Strange, meticulously charted a quadrant of the cosmos upon which slow moving images were projected. In 2018, Devasher returned to the Spencer Museum to participate in the conference held in conjunction with Big Botany: Conversations with the Plant World, which also featured her work. Recently, the Mumbai-based gallery Project 88 showcased Devasher’s work in a virtual viewing room for the 2020 edition of the Frieze Art Fair.