Parts Unknown – Making the Familiar Strange

seven channel video installation| wall drawing | dimensions variable | 2012

“the infinite universe is above all a universe of new modes of comportment and deportment. The imagination becomes an organ of quite unprecedented positivity, when, in the open horizon of the not-impossible, the unexpected has become precisely what can be expected at all times.”

Blumenberg, Hans. Paradigms for a Metaphorology. Translated by Robert Ian Savage. Cornell University Press, 2010.

Parts Unknown - image credit Ryan Waggoner, courtesy Spencer Museum of Art (9)

Parts Unknown – image credit Ryan Waggoner, courtesy Spencer Museum of Art 2016


P a r t s   U n k n o w n, Installation view at Project 88 | seven channel video with sound | wall drawing | 2013


Two years ago, I began a project that looked at unravelling the hidden world of amateur astronomers in Delhi. Beginning  as a form of collective investigation with ‘astro-nomads’ or amateur astronomers in Delhi,  stories, conversations and histories… came together in a slowly building chronicle of the almost obsessive group of people whose lives have been transformed by the night sky. Who were these individuals who watched the stars and invested their resources in the activity? Why did they continue to chase eclipses and other celestial phenomena across the country and sometimes the world? What drew them to the night sky? What did they see when they gazed at it night after night?  What were the landscapes where such encounters took place?  As an amateur astronomer and an artist, the project was also an exercise in self reflexivity.  Where did I position myself within the project, or perhaps where did astronomy position itself within my practice?  Beginning in July 2009 through to August 2010, I traveled back and forth across the country with amateur astronomers as part of the process, each trip focused on a stellar event or site.
Parts Unknown is part of an ongoing project that looks to map common points between astronomy and art practice, through the lens of metaphor.

When trying to imagine the unimaginable we are forced to rely on the powers of projection, the imagination which recycles past impressions and memories, projecting them onto the strange to render them conceivable. Yet one way of gaining new perspectives on a situation is to juxtapose it with something completely unrelated, thereby making the familiar…. strange.


Set in the high latitude desert of ladakh at an altitude of 14,500 feet, the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) at Hanle, is one of the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared and gamma-ray telescopes. The latter collect gamma rays, one of the most enigmatic and energetic forms of light in the universe, created by celestial events such as supernova explosions, the creation of black holes and the decay of radioactive material in space. Hanle exists today as a site of pilgrimage for astronomers across India, amateurs and professionals alike, drawn as much by the spectacular skies as by the stark landscape.

Parts Unknown, a suite of seven videos is a window to a strangely mythic landscape, populated by instruments of both fiction and fact, gazing up and out, transforming our imagination of remote objects as physical places in the imagination.  From machines they are transformed into a species of ‘chimera’. They are one thing, standing in for something else, pushing the limits of the known and the imagined. Plotted  against the quadrant of space home to the Pleiades open star cluster the piece offers us seven perspectives of new terrains and fictions, created through the layering of video with drawings and satellite images of the Earth. An alternative hybridized world, once familiar and now strange.

So slow as to seem still, the frames remain static with just the sunlight moving across the landscape, the clouds moving across the mountains, or the rain drops falling on the screen. Each frame implicates Man. But whether of man’s deeds long past or present is unclear.

They take on a mythic, fictional character. We are not quite sure who has placed these cameras here, the small format and the proximity required from the viewer to see the detail lends a quality of footage captured by a planetary rover, the space exploration vehicle designed to move across the surface of a planet or other astronomical body.


Parts Unknown video files





With special thanks to the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO), run by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore.