Jitish Kallat showcases ‘Terranum Nuncius’, an immersive solo exhibit in Mumbai

The contemporary Indian artist’s new show at the Famous Studios in Mumbai constitutes two significant works that revolve around the theme of the unknown and alien.

by Rahul Kumar Published on : Jan 15, 2020

The latest show by Jitish Kallat, co-presented by Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte at the Famous Studios in Mumbai, consists of two monumental works: an interpretation of message for aliens, and a 60-feet long painting. Terranum Nuncius, the title of the show and that of one of the works, draws from NASA’s ‘Golden Records’ launched into space in 1977, and Ellipsis is an abstracted rendition of the unknown. “While the works are independent of each other, one talks to the unknown and other is my conversation with the unknown other,” says Kallat in an interview with STIR on the eve of his solo exhibition with which he returns to his home city after a gap of five years.

Ellipsis - a mixed media painting on linen spanning approximately 60 feet | Terranum Nuncius | Jitish Kallat | STIRworld
Ellipsis - a mixed media painting on linen spanning approximately 60 feetImage Credit: Courtesy of Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte

Rahul Kumar (RK): Why do you choose to use Latin for the title of your show?

Jitish Kallat (JK): I like the fact that Latin titles are legible to most of us, but not entirely. The title draws from Galileo Galilei’s astronomical treatise Sidereus Nuncius (meaning starry messenger) published in New Latin, and simply inverts it as Terranum Nuncius (earthly messenger).

RK: In the work titled  Terranum Nuncius, how have you sourced the contents of the letter/sounds addressed to outer space; and what is your objective to translate these back into images for your viewers?

JK: I have drawn the sounds and images in Covering Letter from the two Golden Records that were hoisted onto the legendary Voyager 1 and 2 space probes launched by NASA in 1977. These are now over 13 billion miles away from the planet Earth. I often think of them as ‘time capsule’, including greetings to the universe in 55 languages and a range of images that summaries our life on earth. Placed on a large round table, these images were decoded by Ron Barry, a US-based software engineer, from images that were encrypted as sound onto the Golden Record.

At a time when we have lost the vocabulary to communicate with the other, with someone who may not share our beliefs or worldviews, the contents of the Golden Records reflect a compelling effort to search for a vocabulary to reach out to a distant and mysterious ‘other’, an unknown alien.

Terranum Nuncius – a photographic and sound installation | Terranum Nuncius | Jitish Kallat | STIRworld
Terranum Nuncius – a photographic and sound installation Image Credit: Courtesy of Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte

JK: Is this your desire to raise awareness of a possible doomsday? As the viewer of the works, what is the intended experience?

JK: I do not have a singular intended ‘viewerly’ experience, as the work can be approached in many different ways. I have been very interested in these images, the only artefacts made by our species which are now on the outskirts of the solar system…it is most likely to keep going beyond our species, our sun, or perhaps even after the predicted collision of our Milky Way galaxy with Andromeda in 4.5 billion years. At a time when we find ourselves divided by all kinds of separatist propaganda and ideological differences, the contents of the Golden Record can serve as a meditation of our shared origins and our impending extinction. The Doomsday Clock-shaped benches, with their cautionary message, only alert us about how we might like to re-calibrate our lives.

For ‘Ellipsis’ the artist find forms and imagery that go beyond his own perception | Terranum Nuncius | Jitish Kallat | STIRworld
For ‘Ellipsis’ the artist find forms and imagery that go beyond his own perception Image Credit: Courtesy of Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte
For ‘Ellipsis’ the artist find forms and imagery that go beyond his own perception | Terranum Nuncius | Jitish Kallat | STIRworld
For ‘Ellipsis’ the artist find forms and imagery that go beyond his own perception Image Credit: Courtesy of Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte

RK: How does the mega-scale format of Ellipsis, a painting, juxta poses with Terranum Nuncius?

JK: Both these works evolved in their own individual orbits, but they have been parallel processes in the studio. If Terranum Nuncius is about the known aspects of our life recited to an unknown recipient, I would say that the painting Ellipsis is possibly about the unknown, an attempt to have a go at forms that point to some of the mysterious aspects of our reality and let them emerge through pigment and abstraction.

In Terranum Nuncius, Kallat draws from the two phonographic Golden Records that were hoisted onto the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes launched by NASA (1977) | Terranum Nuncius | Jitish Kallat | STIRworld
In Terranum Nuncius, Kallat draws from the two phonographic Golden Records that were hoisted onto the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes launched by NASA (1977) Image Credit: Courtesy of Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte

RK: Degeneration and extinction are part of evolution. Do you believe, then, the human race should fight climate change? Or, for the sake of argument, our eradication and a ‘reboot’ of the planet is probable destiny for a new form of life (or not) over next several hundred years? 

JK: Extinction is indeed one of the vital properties of the evolutionary process and the earth will indeed blossom without our human species and the pressures of its progressively unsustainable consumption patterns. That said, isn’t the human race and its wonderful intelligence an incredible trophy of evolution? Shouldn’t this intelligence and its capacity to self-reflect or course-correct be tapped, so that this amazing specie does not become the cause of planetary annihilation of all life-forms?

The artist in his studio with his work Ellipsis in the background | Ellipsis | Jitish Kallat | STIRworld
The artist in his studio with his work Ellipsis in the background Image Credit: Courtesy of Chemould Prescott Road and Nature Morte

Terranum Nuncius, a solo exhibition by Jitish Kallat, is on display at the Famous Studios from January 10, 2020-January 21, 2020.

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About Author

Rahul Kumar

Rahul Kumar

Rahul has written for various publications and leading journals like Arts Illustrated and Mint-Lounge. He led an art venture for NDTV and was involved in its television programming. He is a Fulbright scholar and a practising artist. Rahul retired from mainstream corporate roles and as an Editor for STIR, he is responsible for curating the Art section.

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