Data as Culture (DaC) the art programme of the Open Data Institute (ODI) presents a new 4-channel digital film installation by Artist in Residence Rohini Devasher. Inspired by the concept of digital twin models, 100 years of sun data and conversations with the ODI team, Devasher has created a series of what she calls ‘analogue twins of the Sun’. One Hundred Thousand Suns explores the relationships between observation and experience, information, data and truth. It is curated by DaC director Hannah Redler-Hawes.
Rohini Devasher is an international artist and amateur astronomer based in Delhi, India. Her practice spans film, drawing and printmaking, mapping the ‘antagonism’ of time and space.
One Hundred Thousand Suns is another kind of rendering of the Sun, assembled from data that is both historical and contemporary. This data is collected in the form of glass photographic plates, hand-drawn drawings and calculations from the archives of the historical Kodaikanal Solar Observatory in South India. Kodaikanal is one of only two observatories in the world that have over 120 years of continuous data on the Sun.
One Hundred Thousand Suns work explores the notion that there may be multiple readings and avatars of data depending on the site, the observer, and the mode and method of observation, collection and preservation.
These observations are further layered with data sets from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, the Solar Dynamics Observatory Science Team and the Virtual Solar Observatory. Devasher also draws on interviews she has conducted with eclipse chasers and her observations and eclipse data collected in 2009, 2019 and 2021.
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 final piece is less of an alternative digital twin and more of a speculative, metaphoric assemblage of ways in which the sun has been recorded and observed.Rohini Devasher, Artist in Residence
The work consists of 4 ‘paradigms’ explored through separate digital channels showing simultaneously over four large screens. This work will be the first publicly-accessible art installation displayed at the ODI offices at Kings Place since the pandemic started.
Paradigm 1 Sun Drawings explores the notion of observation over time using naked-eye drawings of the solar disk created between 1902 and 1904. It explores the nature of drawing when faced with an object that is not only unfamiliar but one which is in most cases difficult to understand, see and draw.
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. Devasher has layered these moments with carbon paper drawings on copper sheets. She says: “Most copper on Earth was forged in very massive stars. These supergiant stars later exploded as supernovae, catapulting the newly minted copper into space.”
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 caught in the beam of the 60-metre tunnel telescope at the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory. The voices of data of eclipse chasers who devote their lives to standing in the shadow of the Moon form the soundtrack.
Each paradigm within One Hundred Thousand Suns also contains a specific acoustic rendering of the sun, using data, voice, music and sound.
“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. 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. I wanted to make a work that pushes slightly against the idea of data as detached, disinterested or neutral. What’s most exciting is the data created not by a single person but through collaborative effort.”Rohini Devasher
The embedding of an artist into the ODI’s work is a key part of the structure of the organisation. The residency ran from July 2021 to March 2022 online, with Devasher taking part in the Open Data Institute Global Summits in 2021 and 2022.
We were attracted to Rohini Devasher’s work for its poetic beauty and fluid engagement with complexity. The moment where she visually merges traditional eclipse photographs with the pupils of our eyes reminds us that we have physically evolved precisely in relation to our position in the solar system. Our eyes have formed the way they have to receive the Sun’s light. Her interest in the processes of science and her practice as an artist and amateur astronomer means that she brings a unique approach to generating and mining ‘evidence’ in order to gain insights. One Hundred Thousand Suns takes us on a journey through the vast amounts of data held at the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory in India. It raises questions about the act of observation, how well we know our nearest star, and how knowing the wider Universe brings us closer to understanding ourselves.Hannah Redler-Hawes Director, Data as Culture
Devasher had one to one feedback and brainstorming sessions with key ODI staff including Head of Research and Development Olivier Thereaux, DaC director Hannah Redler-Hawes, Artist and ODI Art Associate Dr Julie Freeman, Head of Public Policy Dr Mahlet (Milly) Zimeta, then VP Dr Jeni Tennison, Director of Communication and Marketing Emma Thwaites and members of the wider team.
“The world of data can be a place of lofty abstraction and cold hard technology, so it has been brilliant to have Rohini as an Artist in Residence, to help us think differently about why and for whom we collect and use data. Seeing our conversations evolve into breathtaking visual material has been a treat, and I look forward to her work inspiring people for years to come.”Olivier Thereaux, Head of Research and Development at the ODI
The ODI continues to work as an influential partner across business, the public and third sectors, helping to both shape and map the data economy. Its current projects explore everything from the value of data assurance and data sharing to the scope of digital literacy, whilst also providing important insights on data regulation and space for truly open thinking.
One Hundred Thousand Suns by Rohini Devasher 6th May to Dec 2022 The Open Data Institute, 5th Floor, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG (Kings Cross), London culture.theodi.org/100000suns/
The artwork is accessible to all by appointment during office hours Monday to Friday from Friday 6 May. Email BusinessSupport@theodi.org to make an appointment.