SHIFTER14 : On Certainty

Shifter 14

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This issue of Shifter was released in conjunction with a group show and series of lectures titled "On Certainty" curated by Sreshta Rit Premnath.

"Lack of clarity in philosophy is tormenting. It is felt as shameful. We feel: we do not know our way about where we should know our way about. And nevertheless it isn’t so. We can get along very well without… knowing our way about here."

"…In any serious question uncertainty extends to the very roots of the problem."

-from "Remarks on Colour," Ludwig Wittgenstein

“On Certainty” includes a group show, a new issue of the magazine Shifter (co-edited by the participating artists), and a series of public dialogues with economists, neurologists, physicists and writers. The participants contemplate the notion of certainty and its sibling, uncertainty: How and why do we constitute a unified self from which to speak and construe meaning in this world? When we say, "I know…" with certainty, what do we mean?

The title of the show, lifted from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s posthumously published book, signals our attempt not only to investigate knowledge and factuality, but furthermore, to interrogate the statement "I saw it with my own eyes." What is the position of the witness (who represents an event) and the authentic subject (who represents a group) in knowledge production?

The interdisciplinary programming of the lecture series reflects the curatorial desire to use the gallery as an intellectual commons. As Edward Said has said, specialization sometimes “means losing sight of the raw effort of constructing either art or knowledge,” and by opening up an interdisciplinary conversation we hope to investigate the “choices and decisions” that produce these knowledges, and their certainties.

The artists are: Lindsay Benedict, Joshua Hart, Abhishek Hazra, Pat Palermo, Sreshta Rit Premnath and Kiran Subbaiah.

Through film, performance, and various media Lindsay Benedict presents us with fragments and gestures that examine and question social relations. In her work, affect and raw emotion are often deployed to disrupt and destabilize any simple reading of human connections. A wide ranging temporality, from more deliberate and slowly conceived films and sewn texts to the more immediately gestural drawings allow a dense layering of material and narrative to unravel and intertwine simultaneously.

Pat Palermo‘s comic books and paintings often ruminate on the question of how and whether it is possible to communicate. Vacillating between the autobiographical subject and the object as subject we are placed within narratives and structures where the criteria for meaning production are, at best, trying. Although always at the center of artistic production, the autobiographical subject remains unsure of, and ever startled by his own position.

Like Kafka’s Josef K, Kiran Subbaiah‘s protagonists, are always caught in a narrative of paradox. Each time he (the protagonist? Subbaiah? The simulacrum presented to us on a screen?) attempts to unravel the knot of representation within which he is bound, we find that it only tightens. Ever more self-reflexively we are seduced through humor, narrative and visual trickery into this paradox of representation only to be reminded again and again: this is only a video.

In Joshua Hart‘s drawings and sculptural assemblages, forms slip and tumble down the chain of signification, constantly shifting from one thing to another – a camel becomes a soldier, a printed pattern mimics a reflection. Yet the object asserts its base materiality as if to also say, "I am only this." This mirage he draws us into not only makes his objects difficult to fix but also shakes the ground that stabilizes our view. When the body that names is itself unstable how does it go about naming?

Sreshta Premnath is engaged with forms of interrogation and representation. Often using fragments of historic material as anchors, he pieces together found or fabricated images, texts, video and film into installations. He employs strategies of negation, erasure, fracture, displacement and fiction, to explore moments of slippage – those cracks in language where meaning and representation, memory and history split.

Abhishek Hazra‘s close yet idiosyncratic study of the historiography of science has led him to examine various technologies of knowledge production and dispersion. His projects often settle on moments of technological dysfunction as nodes for narrative exploration. Taking the form of video installation, performance, prints and items for sale on ebay, his projects further complicate his questions by themselves engaging in various modes of production and dispersion of knowledge.

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March 14, 3pm
John Keene and Christopher Stackhouse

John Keene and Christopher Stackhouse presented a polyvocal performance reading with image and text projections from their collaborative book Seismosis (1913 Press). The book features drawings by Stackhouse and text by Keene in dialogic response to each other. The presentation is part performance, part lecture/reading. The audience has the opportunity to experience the drawings, text, and vocalizations of both writer and artist in this immersive setting.


Christopher Stackhouse


John Keene


John Keene & Christopher Stackhouse

March 21, 3pm
Christopher Perkins


The basic problem of looking for the unknown leads to questions regarding where to look and what to look for. New discoveries in the field of physics are based on previous discoveries but the problem remains of which leads to follow and which to abandon. Even once an avenue for further research is chosen, the scientists involved must design an experiment and decide whether or not this experiment is capable of finding what they are looking for, even before they know what they will find. All that can be done is to choose a subset of the parameter space that offers the possibility of new discovery. We will lead a discussion on the process that precedes the reporting of scientific results and how scientists believe an avenue of research is valid.


Christopher Perkins & Joshua Hart – ‘Guess and Check is Valid Math’ Pt. 1


Christopher Perkins & Joshua Hart – Guess & Check is Valid Math Pt. 2 Guess and Check is Valid Math –

March 28, 3pm
Arjun Jayadev

"We are seeing things that were 25 standard deviations moves, several days in a row". This was the comment that David Viniar, CFO of Goldman Sachs offered as his explanation for the crisis. In other words, bad luck– an awful lot of it– has brought the world to the edge of a recession.. How accurate is this statement, and what made Viniar, one of the central players in the financial system believe this to be true? How does one understand the crisis from the viewpoint of uncertainty in financial markets? And what does this mean for the future?


Uncertainty, Confidence and Crises – Arjun Jayadev, Pt 1


Uncertainty, Confidence and Crises – Arjun Jayadev, Pt 2

Uncertainty, Confidence and Crises – Arjun Jayadev, Pt 3

Saturday, April 4, 2pm-5pm
Organized by: Christopher Stackhouse

Thom Donovan
John Keene
Stuart Krimko
Katy Lederer

Thom Donovan coedits On: Contemporary Practice, a magazine for writing on one’s contemporaries, edits Wild Horses of Fire blog, curates PEACE events series and is an active participant in the Nonsite Collective. His poems, criticism, and scholarship have appeared variously.


Thom Donovan – Readings ‘On Certainty’

Stuart Krimko is the author of Not That Light (2005) and The Sweetness Of Herbert (forthcoming), both published by Sand Paper Press, Key West. In 2005 he received a grant from The Fund for Poetry.


Stuart Krimko – Readings ‘On Certainty’

John Keene is the author of the award-winning novel Annotations (New Directions, 1995), and of the poetry collection Seismosis (1913 Press, 2006), with artwork by Christopher Stackhouse. He has published his fiction, poetry, essays and translations in a wide array of journals, including African-American Review, AGNI, Encyclopedia, Gay and Lesbian Review, Hambone, Indiana Review, Kenyon Review, New American Writing, and Ploughshares.


John Keene – Readings ‘On Certainty’

Katy Lederer is the author of the poetry collection, Winter Sex (Verse Press, 2002) and the memoir Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers (Crown, 2003), which Publishers Weekly included on its list of the Best Nonfiction Books of the Year and Esquire Magazine named one of its eight Best Books of the Year. Her second poetry book, The Heaven-Sent Leaf was published by BOA Editions in the fall of 2008.


Katy Lederer – Readings ‘On Certainty’ Discussion:


Discussion ‘On Certainty’: Thom Donovan, John Keene, Stuart Krimko, Katy Lederer, Christopher Stackhouse Click here to read Thom Donovan’s statement


Discussion ‘On Certainty’ (contd.): Thom Donovan, John Keene, Stuart Krimko, Katy Lederer, Christopher Stackhouse


April 11, 3pm

Lawrence Liang
Truth technologies at the service of law from the Lie Detector to Narco-Analysis have made a sudden reappearance in the world after 9/11. In the Indian context, high profile cases including Abu Salem and Telgi’s have centered on highly performative extractions of the truth, which are often televised on television. This paper attempts to provide a philosophical and cultural history of technologies of lie detection. It looks at the ways in which truth and lies were rendered technologically accessible, and how the body simultaneously becomes the archive of the soul and in turn produces a new regime of physiological truth. Popular discourse on crime and detection are vital to the legitimacy of these technologies of truth, and in many ways lie detectors were legitimized through popular culture before the found acceptance in law. This paper will locate the re-emergence of lie detectors within the dynamics of secrets and lies in the hyper mediatised world that we live in.


Lawrence Liang – Rewiring the Soul: Technologies of the Truth (Part 1)


Lawrence Liang – Rewiring the Soul: Technologies of the Truth (Part 2)

April 18, 3pm
Kenneth Perrine (followed by discussion with Arani Bose)

In his presentation Dr. Perrine will discuss language and certainty, weaving together the questions posed by philosophers from Western (e.g., Wittgenstein, Bateson) and Eastern (Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism) traditions regarding language and subjectivity, with his research findings from performing the Wada test in which a sedative is injected into one hemisphere of the brain at a time. The effect is to shut down all functions in that hemisphere in order to evaluate the capabilities of the other, “awake” hemisphere. During this period of anesthesia he probes the neural mechanisms of memory, language and thinking in each hemisphere separately. He also performs Cortical Stimulation during awake neurosurgery to localize language and other cognitive processes by selectively disabling small (1 cm) cortical areas during cognitive testing. These procedures allow testing of hypotheses relating the neural bases of language, certainty, self-awareness and other mental functions to the questions posed by philosophers for millennia.


‘On Certainty’ Presentation #6 : The Neuroscience of Language and Certainty (Intro.)


Kenneth Perrine – The Neuroscience of Language and Certainty (Pt. 1)


Kenneth Perrine – The Neuroscience of Language and Certainty (Pt. 2)


Kenneth Perrine & Arani Bose – The Neuroscience of Language and Certainty (Discussion Pt. 1)


Arani Bose – On the difference between Animate and Inanimate reality (Discussion Pt. 2)


Kenneth Perrine & Arani Bose – The Neuroscience of Language and Certainty (Discussion Pt. 3)

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  1. Pingback: Aspect Blindness: Arnold Kemp and Sreshta Rit Premnath | Art21 Blog

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