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Without an observer, there is no observation. Is it that the observation creates the observer or does the observation emanate from the observer?

The nuances of these complexities led to the exploration of quantum physics and eastern mysticism expressed metaphorically through a performative installation, ‘To Observe is to Change’, offering an understanding of reality in the context of the present moment.


Deshna is a visual artist with a passion for photography, writing and curation. After having graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, she moved back to India seeking to find meaningfulness and relevance of graphic design to the Indian masses through research, writing and her design practice. She works out of Mumbai and has co-founded a design and publishing initiative: Anugraha which serves as a platform to encourage and undertake collaborative practices in the field of visual art, design and research.

She truly believes that essence of everything tangible lies in the intangible; and that magic resides in the ephemeral, the elusive, the unseen, the emotive, the experiential and the subtle; which is what she aspires to express and experience through her engagement as an artist and co-curator at The Story of Light.


‘…what quantum mechanics says is that nothing is real and that we cannot say anything about what things are doing when we are not looking at them. Nothing is real unless it is observed… and we have to accept that the very act of observing a thing changed it.’
– John Gribbon

‘Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.’
– Lao Tzu

In science, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner. A commonplace example is checking the pressure in an automobile tire; this is difficult to do without letting out some of the air, thus changing the pressure. This effect can be observed in many domains of physics.

For an electron to become detectable, a photon must first interact with it, and this interaction will inevitably change the path of that electron.

In electronics, ammeters and voltmeters are usually wired in series or parallel to the circuit, and so by their very presence affect the current or the voltage they are measuring.

In thermodynamics, a standard mercury-in-glass thermometer must absorb or give up some thermal energy to record a temperature, and therefore changes the temperature of the body which it is measuring.

In quantum mechanics, too, the Observer Effect plays a large role, especially when it comes to measurement. Quantum mechanics claims that nothing is present or real unless it is observed, leading to a collapse of wave function and a subsequent conclusive observation.

wu li revive

—— culminated into ‘TO OBSERVE IS TO CHANGE’ – a performative, interactive installation exhibited at the RCA SHOW 2012.


This was further documented and led to a publication ‘A conscious contradiction’ exhibited at        Enter 12, Watermans, London.



Whats will follow in the posts to come is research stemming from the same line of thought which will lead to more installations, publications and collaborations.

In short, the principle to be assumed is that if a measurement yields no information, then the system being measured has not been disturbed.

If you learn nothing from measuring a system, then you can’t have disturbed it.

Consider the famous Schrodinger’s cat paradox, a thought experiment in which a cat in a box simultaneously exists in two states (this is known as a ‘quantum superposition’). According to quantum theory it is possible that the cat is both dead and alive – until, that is, the cat’s state of health is ‘measured’ by opening the box. When the box is opened, allowing the health of the cat to be measured, the superposition collapses and the cat ends up definitively dead or alive. The measurement has disturbed the cat.

Corsin was trying to find a general way to describe the effects of measurements on states, a problem that he found impossible to solve. In an attempt to make progress, he wrote down features that a ‘sensible’ answer should have. This property of information gain versus disturbance was on the list. He then noticed that if he imposed the property as a principle, some theories would fail.

Corsin and Stephanie are keen to point out it’s still not the whole answer to the big ‘why’ question: theories other than quantum physics, including classical physics, are compatible with the principle. But as researchers compile lists of principles that each rule out some theories to reach a set that singles out , the principle of information gain versus disturbance seems like a good one to include

(Installation view) Deshna MEHTA Visual Communication (formerly Communication Art and Design), 2012 ‘Act’ive performance, passive traces

Images on this particular post are taken by Nick Frayling. Copyright Royal College of Art. Made available under Creative Commons Licence

Ellie’s first exhibition at the RCA! Works include ‘Planet Sky’ and ‘Snake Footprints’!
produced in response ‘To Observe is to Change’ and exhibited in the lobby of the show