He sells seashells on the seashore by Compasswallah

Address: Sitara Studio, 4A, National Engineering Compound, Garage Lane, opposite Tilak Bhavan, Kakasaheb Gadgil Marg, Dadar West, Bombay: 400025
Preview: Tuesday, October 29, 6.30-9 pm
Dates: October 30-November 18, 2013
Timings: Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 2-5 pm and otherwise by appointment

The marine clam Arctica islandica has a lifespan of more than 500 years, making it one of the longest-lived animals. Little surprise then that Compasswallah, who researches the history of science and math, was drawn to these metaphor-rich creatures whose shells present a chronometric etching of evolution.

Studies suggest that patterns found on mollusc shells—the bands on Arctica islandica, for instance—are in part occasioned by tides, which in turn are controlled by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. The temperature and chemistry of these waters acts on seashells turning them into a material archive of cosmic forces.

Extrapolating on the connectedness of outer space and deep sea, Compasswallah uses, as his starting point for this exhibition, a computer program to alter the evolutionary process with tiny speculative insurgencies in the timeline of the mollusc. He activates half a dozen variables, including planetary gravity, to generate new fictional molluscs.

On such a pursuit, few accomplices get better than Giordano Bruno. In his book On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (1584), the 16th century Italian monk, mathematician, philosopher, astrologer and astronomer, goes beyond the Copernican model in stating that the universe contains an infinity of inhabited worlds populated by other intelligent beings. While we’re still waiting for a word from those worlds, we can imagine what kind of seashells/ possibilities these infinities might harbour.

The cosmic flux of this project also echoes in the shell-space, which houses the project. A former green room and recording studio, on most nights this provisional exhibition space transforms into a DJ booth or the backroom for whatever gig is to happen next. The exhibition will be emptied out and reassembled on each such occasion, or in the very least it will have to coexist with the DJ’s console.

The emphasis on change notwithstanding, it must be pointed out that through his mollusc fictions Compasswallah will dwell on enduring conundrums, such as time and space, which continue to engage scientists, mathematicians, artists and philosophers alike.

This access to the old through the fictions of the new calls to mind the Latin expression: Eadem mutata resurgo. Literally translated it means: I rise again changed but the same. Significantly, the idiom was first used by Swiss mathematician Jakob Bernoulli (1654–1705), with reference to the perennial occurrence of logarithmic spirals in nature; the whorls of seashells being a case in point. In the exhibition, this spiral finds its way from ancient molluscs into the human cochlea via the DJ booth.

– Gitanjali Dang

A Natural History Of The Spiral

a workshop by Compasswallah

Address: What About Art? 7 Baitush Apts, 1st floor, 29th Road, near Sigdi Restaurant, Bandra West, Bombay 400 050
Date: Sunday November 10, 2013
Time: 10 am – 2 pm

“The spiral is a spiritualized circle. In the spiral form, the circle, uncoiled, has ceased to be vicious; it has been set free.” – Vladimir Nabokov in Speak, Memory

As one can guess, a really tight spiral is mathematically the same as a circle, its logical limit to one extreme. In the hands of famed geometers like Descartes, Torricelli, John Wallis, Bernoulli, and Newton – the logarithmic spiral oversaw the development of great monuments such as the calculus. It revealed some astonishing conceptual symmetries, and led to the Age of Navigation in the form of a loxodrome, thereby forging an alliance with the sailor’s Compass.

Without getting into heavy mathematical machinery, the workshop aims to acquaint the informed layman with some of the more exciting points in the long history of the spiral, such as the strange cosmology of Emanuel Swedenborg, the Japanese horror manga called Uzumaki, and the spherical spirals of artist M.C. Escher.

From ancient and medieval ideas we will arrive at modern unsolved problems related to this curve, in awe of which Jakob Bernoulli had engraved on his tombstone: eadem mutata resurgo (though transformed, I shall rise the same) heralding its status as the first fractal in history.

In other words, the logarithmic spiral will be our compass to help chart a strange path through the entire history of mathematics.


About the artist: The term compasswallah is 19th century colonial slang for British surveyors roaming the Indian countryside with telescopes and sextants. It is also the assumed identity of Rohit Gupta, an artist, writer and historian of mathematics and science. Gupta’s corpus of work from 2000-2013 includes a published collection of science-fiction, comics, a variety of essays, innovations in new media art and technology, lectures and pedagogical workshops. More on Compasswallah and his activities can be found on his blogs Kali & the Kaleidoscope and Compasswallah: Oriental Scientific Curios Estd. 2012.
Twitter handle: @fadesingh

Supported by: Sitara Studio & What About Art?

Captions/ Details: Clockwise from featured image
I)  Compasswallah, Untitled, 2013
II-V) Installation view
VI) Documentation of workshop
VII) Video documentation of exhibition