Notes on Blocks
On Surface Duetting Space
This piece came out of a new event series called “Are.na Walkthroughs” in which we ask people to take us through a particular channel, the blocks and ideas held within, and the ways those ideas may have evolved as the channel has grown and accumulated. Our second one was on April 23 over Zoom, and it featured Dodi King, Rohan Chaurasia, Cedric Payne, and Francis Tseng. Here, Rohan shares some of what he talked about while walking us through his channel Surface Duetting Space.”
Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled.
My channel Surface Duetting Space is an ongoing exploration on how surfaces interact with, or “duet,” the spaces they inhabit. I’m interested in the unapparent meanings they create, and the vestiges they leave behind. I use the term duet as I’m thinking about how surface and space can collaborate like a duo of musicians, creating arrangements or compositions to ultimately deliver a performance of the past or present. I also think about the definition of duet on TikTok, where videos respond to and build upon one another, creating remixes of an original. This channel stems from my broader interest in images and objects that live in public settings. As many others do, I often photograph these things in passing. I find myself documenting surfaces most frequently, discovering their continually changing interactions with space.
In this diptych, the first image presents a tree standing in front of a wide, photo-printed forest, designed to conceal a construction site living behind it. I came across this outside a government building in Bangkok. The second image presents the same situation in the film 24 City by Jia Zhangke, which I’d watched a few days after. I’m both intrigued and amused by how these artificial forest planes mirror what’s in front of them, in order to hide what’s behind, ultimately creating a simulation.
If surface begins a duet, by emerging and singing the first verse, we can imagine space singing back, with a response manifesting through surface’s appearance. I’m most drawn to when photographic surfaces are affected by spatial forces like sunlight. The loud voice of the Sun overpowers that of the photographic surface. This causes the image to fade, and sometimes turn blue, creating an everyday cyanotype. This is often seen in print ads, like this image of a promotional pillar standing at a pier on the outskirts of Bangkok. These faded ads remind me of faded paintings on the walls of temples and caves. Both surfaces represent communicable myths; they visualize narratives through images that were once legible, but are now gently decaying.
These are some Tibetan prayer flags I photographed in Ladakh a couple years ago. They’re often hung high along mountain trails, with each color signifying a different element and direction. Their surfaces are adorned with woodblock printed images and mantras, which slowly disappear as the flags are exposed to wind and weathering. Faded prayer flags are considered auspicious. They signify prayers that have been dispersed into the surrounding space, bringing good fortune to the community. The intangible impact of these flags makes me view them as nodes of energy, activated by space. I wonder what similar forms of spiritual infrastructure exist in other places.
This is a corkboard that hung in my childhood bedroom for several years. The darker shapes represent various pinned up memorabilia, while the lighter surrounding areas represent uncovered parts of the surface exposed to the sun. Layered over these rectangles lies a constellation of pin holes. I like how these remnants merge to create an abstract assemblage of the past. The composition reminds me of works by two artists I love—Nasreen Mohamedi and Hélio Oiticica.
I’ve grown to pay closer attention to surfaces displaying absence, often unintentionally. This lightbox on a pavement in Bangkok is missing its usual designed veneer, opting for silence instead of corporate messaging. It seems to embody Locke’s idea of tabula rasa—a “blank slate” anticipating new ideas to come. I’m curious about how images (or lack thereof) on the lightbox take on varying intensities, depending on the lights in the enclosed space behind the glass.
Rohan Chaurasia is an artist and designer, living and working between New York and Bangkok. He received his BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2019.
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