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Jitish Kallat

Covering Letter (terranum nuncius)
10 August – 11 October 2020


Installation view of Jitish Kallat's "Covering Letter (terranum nuncius)". On left is a blue light sculpture, a speaker hangs in the middle, and there is a large round table on the right.

Sperone Westwater is pleased to present an online viewing of Jitish Kallat’s new installation Covering Letter (terranum nuncius).

On view in the artist’s solo exhibition at the Frist Art Museum, this immersive installation brings together select sounds and images from NASA’s Golden Records, originally composed for expedition into interstellar space as a planetary message to extraterrestrial life. The title comes from Galileo Galilei’s astronomical treatise Sidereus Nuncius, published in New Latin meaning "starry messenger," inverted by the artist as Terranum Nuncius or "earthly messenger."

At a time when we find ourselves in a deeply divided world, Kallat replays NASA’s missive to show us the Earth from an otherworldly point of view—images and sounds foreground a collective meditation for ourselves as joint residents of a single planet, where the “other” is an unknown “intergalactic alien.”


Covering Letter (terranum nuncius), 2018-20
116 parallax barrier multiscopic prints on plexiglass with programmed LED, circular wooden table, wooden bench, 4 horn speakers, video projection
display dimensions variable

Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) -  - Viewing Room - Sperone Westwater Viewing Room

Left: Virtual working sketch for Covering Letter
(terranum nuncius)
, courtesy Jitish Kallat, 2019.

Right: Installation view of "Jitish Kallat: Return to Sender"
at Frist Art Museum, 2020. Image courtesy of Frist Art
Museum, Nashville. Photo: John Schweikert.

Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) consists of four main components—immersive audio, illuminative transparencies installed on a large table, sculptural benches, and a solar location map projected as pulsars on the wall. Greetings to the universe in fifty-five languages permeate the gallery deployed over speakers in the form of an audio broadcast. For listening to these messages, Kallat provides a bench, which takes a distinctive shape evoking the two hands of the Doomsday Clock. This symbolic clock, maintained since 1947 by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, warns us just how close we are to global catastrophe. A diagram resembling the one on the cover of the Golden Record is projected on the wall showing our place amongst the stars, it is our return address. Placed atop a large, communal roundtable are images that range from scientific and cosmological diagrams to photographs of flora and fauna, architecture, human anatomy, and vegetation, encapsulating the world as it was in 1977. It is a history and a portrait of our planet, describing who, what, where and how we are to an unknown interstellar intelligence.

Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) -  - Viewing Room - Sperone Westwater Viewing Room

Production studio shots for Covering Letter (terranum nuncius), courtesy Jitish Kallat, 2020.

Kallat draws source material from the Golden Record, a gold-plated copper phonographic disc assembled by NASA under the direction of American astrophyscist Carl Sagan. Currently located over 13 billion miles away from planet Earth, each Golden Record was filled like a time-capsule— pictures, sounds, and voices of Earth were encoded onto these records and strapped to the unmanned space probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, with the intention to educate alien civilization about human existence. Since its launch in 1977, it the Golden Record is expected to continue its cosmic journey well beyond the probable extinction of our species and our planet.

Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) -  - Viewing Room - Sperone Westwater Viewing Room

Golden Record in its cover, attached to a Voyager space probe, USA, circa 1977.

“It is meant for an alien civilization that might one day happen across it, and it comes with instructions and tools to play it. The likelihood of another intelligent lifeform finding the record and being able to interpret its contents, however, is infinitesimally small. As many have understood from the beginning, its positive message was also aimed at humanity, its sender. Sagan, like many other scientists, was deeply troubled by the threat of nuclear war, and the Golden Record can be thought of as a wake-up call to Earth, as well as an effort to contact aliens. Recently, interest in the Golden Record has been rekindled, as its relevancy to today’s fractured world is being realized." 
– Trinita Kennedy, Curator, Frist Art Museum


Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) -  - Viewing Room - Sperone Westwater Viewing Room

Installation views of "Jitish Kallat: Return to Sender" at Frist Art Museum, 2020.
Images courtesy of Frist Art Museum, Nashville. Photos: John Schweikert.

“The designers of the discs sought to arrive at the most basic, most rudimentary means of communication, paring information down so as to be legible regardless of genetic differences, leave alone cultural conditionings… Implicit here is the assumption of mark-making as lowest common denominator for non-verbal, trans-linguistic communication and legibility. All information on the Records, including 115 images, 90 minutes of music, natural and machine sounds, and greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages, is encoded as analog audio signal. Sounds from the Golden Records are deployed by Kallat in the form of audio broadcast through the exhibition space.”
– Chaitanya Sambrani, Art Historian, Curator, Professor, Australian National University, Canberra

Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) -  - Viewing Room - Sperone Westwater Viewing Room

Detail of Covering Letter (terrarium nuncius)

Forty years after the images were first uploaded onto the Golden Record as sound files, US-based software engineer Ron Barry converted the clips back to images as if decrypted by an extraterrestrial. 

As we listen to the sounds and gaze at the images carried by the Voyager missions, we are reminded that as humans, in many ways, we have lost the vocabulary to communicate with the other, with those who may not share similar beliefs or world views. Nearly forty-three years since after their departure from earth, as the Voyagers left planet earth enter interstellar space, Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) raises a mirror for us reflect on our shared expedition as tenants of a single planet amidst all our political, social and economic differences.

Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) -  - Viewing Room - Sperone Westwater Viewing Room

Details of Covering Letter (terrarium nuncius)

Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) is on view in the exhibition "Jitish Kallat: Return to Sender" at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville through 12 October 2020. Watch the artist's video interview, artist talk and download the brochure below.



Jitish Kallat: Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) -  - Viewing Room - Sperone Westwater Viewing Room

Image courtesy of Frist Art Museum, Nashville. Photo: Emily Harper Beard.

Jitish Kallat was born in 1974 in Mumbai, the city where he continues to live and work. Kallat’s works over the last two decades reveal his continued engagement with the ideas of time, sustenance, recursion and historical recall, often interlacing the dense cosmopolis and the distant cosmos. His oeuvre traverses varying focal lengths and time-scales. From close details of the skin of a fruit or the brimming shirt-pocket of a passerby, it might expand to register dense peoplescapes, or voyage into intergalactic vistas. While some works meditate on the transient present, others invoke the past through citations of momentous historical utterances. Frequently shifting orders of magnitude, Kallat’s works can be said to move interchangeably between meditations on the self, the city–street, the nation and the cosmic horizon, viewing the ephemeral within the context of the perpetual, the everyday in juxtaposition with the historical, the microscopic alongside the telescopic.

Jitish Kallat has exhibited widely at museums and institutions including Tate Modern (London), Martin-Gropius-Bau (Berlin), Gallery of Modern Art (Brisbane), Kunstmuseum (Bern), Serpentine Galleries (London), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), BOZAR: Centre For Fine Arts (Brussels), Pirelli HangarBicocca (Milan), Busan Museum of Art, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (Oslo), ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art (Karlsruhe), Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (Oslo), Arken Museum of Modern Art (Copenhagen), Valencia Institute of Modern Art (Spain), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Museum Tinguely (Basel) and the Gemeente Museum (The Hague) among many others. Kallat’s work has been part of the Venice Biennale, Havana Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, Asia Pacific Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Asian Art Biennale, Curitiba Biennale, Guangzhou Triennale and the Kiev Biennale among others.

His solo exhibitions at museums include institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Frist Art Museum (Nashville), Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, the Ian Potter Museum of Art (Melbourne), the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya museum (Mumbai), the San Jose Museum of Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 2017, the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi) presented a mid-career survey of his work titled "Here After Here 1992–2017," curated by Catherine David.

Jitish Kallat was the curator and artistic director of Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014.

For additional works, exhibitions and press, click here.

Click here to download the brochure as a pdf.


Additional Credits
Masthead and Banner Images: Installation views of Jitish Kallat's exhibition "Terranum Nuncius" at Famous Studios, Mumbai, 9 January – 22 January 2020.