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As a part of The Undivided Mind, Art and Science Residency, KHOJ presented The Way of Light, Part II a talk by experimental filmmaker Shumona Goel.

Shumona showcased films from the ISRO / SITE archive, as a part of her talk. The discussion was followed by a screening of Perfumed Nightmare (1979), an experimental film by Filipino director Kidlat Tahimik.

Shumona Goel’s Note:

In 1975, ISRO launched the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE). SITE was an experimental satellite communications project jointly designed by NASA and ISRO that made available informational programs to rural India. One of the main objectives of the experiment was to produce programs that would help develop a scientific atmosphere in the country.

The experiment ran for one year from 1 August 1975 to 31 July 1976, reaching more than 2500 villages in six Indian states. For the entire year, thousands of villagers gathered around TV sets to watch the shows. This phenomenal collection of vintage education films instructing village India in scientific practices of agriculture, health and nutrition, as well as family planning and primary education, represents a particular vision of modernity that promised to emancipate rural India from poverty and ‘backwardness.’

Unlike films that have been preserved and archived for their entertainment value, or films that have been maintained for their artistic value, most educational, instructional films were created to serve particular, often fleeting, research, educational, or rhetorical purposes. When their pragmatic job was done, they were tossed into the dustbin of history. As a result, the vast majority of these films were not preserved in traditional archives and records of their production, distribution, and exhibition were often seen as valueless and thus destroyed.

I believe this collection of vintage educational films is a time capsule of vanished practices, places, and points of view. It tells as much about the society that produced them as the substantive content of the films themselves. They are untapped resources for cultural study and history.

I propose to investigate the ISRO/SITE film archives, which represent an era characterized by faith in science, modernity, and progress. Through the images housed in these archives, we can glean ways of life that are engaged in an ongoing process of transformation and development – or even disappearance. Depicting the everyday life of villagers in rural India, these films reveal the tension between tradition and progress.

Some of the questions I bring to bear on this archive are: Is science inherently liberating? What cultural values does science breed? What promises does science make? What changes in the world does science guarantee? How does science affect our relationship to nature? In what ways is science future oriented? How does science create new traditions? How does science promise to transform daily life? In a country like India, has science exhausted all its possibilities or does science still have something positive to offer?

Although my research is driven by a critical temper towards science as a means of progress, I am committed to exploring the utopian impulse so powerfully expressed in the ISRO/SITE archives. Scientific and technological progress is confident in its ability to reinvent wholesale culture and consciousness. I will also explore how television was celebrated as the medium for building the nation and strengthening its moral resolve.

This research has been supported by the India Foundation for the Arts.

KHOJ received support from the Norwegian Embassy.

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