Shifter, A Topical Publication- Interview with Sreshta Rit Premnath

May 2017

Sreshta Rit Premnath was born 1979 in Bangalore, India. He works across multiple media, investigating systems of representation and reflecting on the process by which images become icons and events become history. Premnath is the founding editor of the publication Shifter. He completed his BFA at The Cleveland Institute of Art, got his MFA at Bard College and has attended the Whitney Independent Study Program, Skowhegan and Smack Mellon. He has received grants from Art Matters and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and was awarded the Arthur Levitt Fellowship from Williams College. He has had solo exhibitions at: Nomas Foundation, Rome; KANSAS, New York; Gallery SKE, Bangalore; The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Tony Wight Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin; Wave Hill, New York; Art Statements, Art Basel; and a forthcoming show at Ace Gallery, Los Angeles. Based in Brooklyn, Premnath is Assistant Professor at Parsons, New York.

AM: NyArtMaps/ SP: Sreshta Rit Premnath

Shifter is a topical publication that aims to illuminate and broaden our understanding of the intersections between contemporary art, politics and philosophy. Shifter remains malleable and responsive in its form and activities, and represents a diversity of positions and backgrounds in its contributors.

Shifter was originally conceived as an online magazine with the aim of using the internet as an inter-continental “commons.” We now engage in a multiplicity of formats including print publications, public dialogues and exhibitions. This has allowed for extended discourse and additional access to Shifter’s content by diverse audiences.

Shifter was first published in 2004 by its founding editor Sreshta Rit Premnath. Issues 11 to 16 were co-edited by Steven Lam, Jane Jin Kaisen & Kajsa Dahlberg, Avi Alpert, Abhishek Hazra and Warren Neidich respectively. Shifter 17 to 21 were coedited by Matthew Metzger. The two most recent publications, Shifter 22 and 23 were coedited by Avi Alpert and Thom Donovan respectively.

AM: When did you decide Shifter was a project that needed to exist?

SP: In 2004 I found myself back in India for a year. I had been studying in the US since 1998 and returned to India for a short vacation, but my visa application was rejected and I couldn’t return. It was a somewhat traumatic moment for me. I didn’t know much about the art scene in Bangalore and felt suddenly cut off from my friends and collaborators in the US. I decided to start Shifter as an free, online, topical periodical that could serve as a common platform for my friends in the US and my new artist friends in India. I was quite young and idealistic and really thought the internet was an intercontinental commons–the only space that was not policed by immigration policies and national borders.

AM: How is it similar or different to other art magazines?

SP: Shifter is an Artist Magazine rather than an Art Magazine. Gwen Allen and Clive Phillpot before her have used this term to describe periodical publications made by artists that do not serve the same function as art magazines like Art Forum or Art in America. While Art Magazines are about art and function as evaluative institutional and discursive frameworks within the art ecosystem, Artist’s Magazines are an extension of artists’ personal and communal practices. There is a long history of such publications including Zero Magazine published in the late 50’s and early 60’s by Otto Piene and Heinz Mack, Black Phoenix published by Rasheed Araeen in the late 70’s, M/E/A/N/I/N/G edited by Mira Schor and Susan Bee in the 80’s and 90’s to a proliferation of projects in the present.

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AM: What are the Shifter's future projects?

SP: Shifter has begun a series of events titled Engagements in Learning Through Unlearning that will result in a new publication. The aim is to open up a space that resists (or at least postpones) language in favor of paying attention by looking and listening. Our hope is to actively involve people who are not obvious members of the art-world or academia. For example our first event titled A Call to Gather was convened by Musakhar Butt who has created his own translation of the Koran while working as a guard at Parsons.

AM: Can you talk to us about "The Dictionary of the Possible"? We know it was a series of events/discussions that concentrated on the unfolding of a term, a key word… Can you elaborate on this series of events and how these were conceived, who participated, etc and the resulting publication?

SP: The Dictionary of the Possible edited by Avi Alpert and myself is in fact preoccupied with the impossibility of defining words, and functions as a book that opens up discussions rather than foreclosing them. The project began as a bi-weekly discussion group in which we would take up a new keyword for discussion during each session. Each gathering was led by two presenters and all attendees were invited to contribute thoughts or questions to a shared Google-doc. These group generated fragments were edited into entries for the print publication. We were very pleased with the community that formed as a result of this series and hope that Engagements in Learning Through Unlearning will garner a similar following.

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AM: We've noticed that in the logo of Shifter you emphasize the "if" part of the word by color difference. This is, as I understand it, an emphasis on the liminal or hesitating space that the magazine may position itself within the complexity of the art world and its political, social and economical impact. What can you say / tell us about this?

SP: Yes, indeed, I have been committed in my art practice and intellectual life to an ethics of uncertainty–to follow my desire to seek and ponder despite the inevitable failure at understanding. The “if” is also a marker of possibility, a positive vector that sustains this publication project that began more than a decade ago.

Read and buy The Shifter @ shifter-magazine.com

Check our Rit Premnath's work @ sreshtaritpremnath.com

 Piece by Rit Premnath at the The Drawing Center

Piece by Rit Premnath at the The Drawing Center

Bonus track

* What is your favorite art venue in NYC ?: My studio. I try to be here as much as possible.

* Your favorite artist or writer? : I have recently been thinking a lot about André Cadere’s performances, Prabhakar Barwe’s paintings and reading Tony Hillerman’s crime fiction which I was recently introduced to.