Eye in the sky

Inspired by the work of astrophysicist Carl Sagan, a new exhibition that marries the worlds of photography and printmaking to the constellations of the night sky has hit Mumbai this month. Asterism is a collaborative project by Royal College of Art alumnus and master printmaker Kristina Chan, and Mumbai-based photographer and Parsons Paris graduate Kaamna Patel. Exhibitions concerning themselves with cosmology don’t quite make the rounds of the local circuit often enough, so it’s not odd that Asterism drew a healthy crowd to the back alleys of Colaba for a sneak preview on a rainy, monsoon evening earlier this week.

The show’s starting point is imagery based on photographs sourced from what many space enthusiasts have referred to as the gift that keeps on giving: the Hubble Space Telescope. A set of photographs were then reproduced by hand and recomposed as screen prints by Chan and Patel. The final pieces of work, on display until the end of August at Project 88, have been produced as synthetic pigment prints on fibrous, Japanese washi paper, most commonly made using the bark of the ganpi tree. The work on display is vivid and arresting, even for those with only passing interests in other dimensions and such.

Both Chan and Patel obliged us with an answer on why they chose space imagery and specifically constellations as the bedrock for Asterism.

“Looking up at the night sky is synonymous with looking into our whole history; every story, fable, superstition, and journey begins there. We look to the stars for direction, orientation and explanation, and it does not matter where we come from or which stories we were brought up on,” says Chan. “In the end, the reference is there, constant as the Northern Star or the Southern Cross. My work revolves around the idea of narrative, particular those we experience out of time, those moments and sites we encounter out of date and context. For me Asterism represents the epitome of this idea.”

Patel’s interest in astrophysics grew after discovering the works of Sagan and everyone’s favourite science TV personality, the inimitable Neil Degrasse Tyson. “I am particularly interested in the dichotomy between science and pseudoscience, probably because I grew up around superstitious people (particularly prevalent in a country like India), but always questioned the authority of their beliefs,” says Patel, “ Asterism was born from these musings. The questions we asked ourselves were ‘Why these particular constellations? What patterns would we see in the stars if we were to see them for the first time today?”

As an hour went by looking at the work during the preview, my own pareidolia (psychological phenomenon that involves an image or a sound, where the mind perceives a pattern which actually doesn’t exist) had me trying to make sense of the shapes these constellations drew. In one, I saw what to me, was obvious musical context — non-sinusoidal waveforms commonly known as triangle and sawtooth waves, or what somebody with no acute interest in synthesisers might refer to simply as zig-zagging or criss-crossing.

For Chan and Patel though, viewing these from the point of view of abstraction is key to the experience. And while I may have broken that one rule, Chan says, “It was so important to go through this process without divulging what exactly it was we were seeing. It was paramount for our constellations to maintain the same amount of ambiguity, and therefore, assume authority, as the constellations before them. We wanted their myth to grow alongside the hunters and the gatherers of history. For I imagine our hopes and fears remain relatively unchanged through the ages; it is rather the forms they take that have evolved.”

It’s quite easy to get lost for a moment or two in Asterism, even more so in the stark, roomy expanse of Project 88. And while time ticks away before you realise you’ve been staring at these pieces for an hour, the exhibition’s overarching hypothesis, that of these new constellations reflecting our society today “in all its brevity, satire, beauty, and collapse” doesn’t seem so much of a reach. Even if it’s just some “space-stuff” to this member of the audience.

Asterism runs until August 30, at Project 88, Colaba

The author is a freelance journalist

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 2:41:08 AM |

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