Rohini Devasher is an artist and amateur astronomer. Her practice, spanning films, drawing and printmaking, maps the antagonism of time and space. It walks the fine line between wonder and the uncanny, foregrounding the ‘strangeness’ of encountering, observing and recording both environment and experience. Between 2021 and 2022 Rohini was Online Artist-in-Residence at the ODI as part of the Evidence and Foresight programme. During her residency she created her major new four-channel film installation One Hundred Thousand Suns, a Data as Culture commission.
“Rohini Devasher’s deep dive into a living data archive shows that it’s not just new data that is important and exciting, data with a long historical tail continues to inform and inspire us.”
– Hannah Redler-Hawes
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Artist Rohini Devasher talks to Hannah Redler-Hawes, curator and director of Data as Culture.
Q: Tell us about ‘One Hundred Thousand Suns’
I wanted to make a work that pushes slightly against the idea of data as detached, disinterested or neutral. As an amateur astronomer, I was also keen to reinforce the notion that data is not new – we’ve been collecting it forever and those histories allow us to explore the collaborative and collective nature of working with data.
Q: You were inspired by the concept of digital twinning, can you say more?
On a planetary scale, digital twinning starts with the presumption that something like the Earth is essentially knowable. It got me thinking about the nature of modelling systems, the distance between the ‘truth’ of a model and what it actually embodies. The title connects to the sense that there may be multiple truths according to the multiple means of observing and collecting data, as well as multiple readings. But the final piece is less of an alternative digital twin and more of a speculative, metaphoric assemblage of ways in which we have recorded and observed the Sun.
Q: Tell us about the 4 ‘paradigms’ explored through each separate channel
Paradigm 1 – Sun Drawings explores the notion of observation as composite using naked-eye drawings created between 1902 and 1904.
Paradigm 2 – Twin Suns considers the Sun as both knowable and unknowable. It focuses on the collections of lost, never to be repeated moments, captured using 19th century glass plate photography.
Paradigm 3 – Site features the instruments and people at the historical Kodaikanal Observatory, some of whom have been observing the Sun for four generations.
Paradigm 4 – Eclipse offers a meditation on the light from our Sun, juxtaposed with the voices of eclipse chasers who devote their lives to standing in the shadow of the Moon.
Q: How has working with ODI Data as Culture influenced your work?
Much of my work looks at the role of ‘observation’ and the ‘field’ or ‘site’. But I had never previously thought of myself as working with data. As an ODI artist in residence, I’ve realised that I do work with data of many different kinds. The ODI has helped me recognise that data is how we observe what we care about. It can be a mirror. It is not a natural phenomenon. We make decisions about what we capture and structure. I was struck that what’s most exciting is the data created not by a single person but through collaborative effort.