Cram Spotlight – New York Kills Artists

March 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last month I was invited to a gallery by a good friend to Loft 594, where the art team New York Kills Artists presented their show “Burnt Reynolds”. While sipping on a whiskey/cider combination, trying my best to solve a crossword puzzle of female artists,  I examined the pieces made by the collective. Here are some of the images from the show:

The team’s bio is eerily similar to the one Cindy and I came up with when we created Cram:

Evolving from an experimental website joining invisible artists with academic criticism and theory, Underwrite Art has recently morphed into the more active curatorial experiments of the team known as New York Kills Artists. In short, our basic goal is to put on a series of shows, that have been somewhat reverse curated, by presenting a stable of artists with an overarching theme. The basic idea is that by presenting a theme to a group of artists and challenging them to create work specifically for the show, we might be able to more easily perceive what each theme might mean to them. The culmination is one night events where each artist exhibits their work as an active exploration of artistic processes and the vast differences in what a single idea can mean to a collective of artists working independently of each other.

Our biggest influence in deciding to structure shows in this way was the lack of critical communities open to artists after they leave art school. An easy comparison is that it is similar to getting a homework assignment from an art professor and weeks later coming together, pinning it to a wall, and having an open dialogue about how so many solutions could come from one problem.

We try not to take ourselves too seriously while seriously trying to open up some sort of community that we feel has been pushed out by the commercialization of art and the weird idea that an artist must be independent and fully realized, fully able to carry a solo show, and fully able to sell upon completion of their degrees. We have been exploring the idea that an artist should always be working and changing, and how important seeing differences in other artists ideas and perceptions can be to that process.

IMG_4665Ali Printz is a member of New York Kills Artists.  She is a figurative painter and printmaker based out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where she currently does private commissions and is preparing a larger body of work. Her work is historically based and deals with media imagery and manipulation from the 19th and 20th centuries. Her most recent work is from found photograph, usually on eBay,randomly on the internet, or something that she buys at a flea market. She reinterprets her findings, transforming them into something wildly different through the use of color and contortion of the imagery.

“If I work on something historically based, I try and create something visually interesting enough that the person viewing it will go and do some research on their own about whatever I’m painting,” She told me in an email. “So I guess the goal is the make the imagery “haunting.”” You can read more of her bio on her about page.

Ali’s partner in NYKA is Jenna Gard. She is a photographer and illustrator and she also did the pipeline piece and the two collaborate on everything including the ‘zines, curating, writing, etc. NYKA has staple artists, as well as some that are features in specific shows and exhibitions. Two that have been in previous shows include Sofia Palacios Blanco and James Eggleston.

Your Monday Cram – 7/25/11

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment


Norway attacks: when a nation lost its innocence at the crack of gunfire

Knut Olav Åmås , op-ed/culture editor for Norway’s Aftenposten,  reflects on the July 22 bombing a shootout in Oslo and Utoya in a moving piece (above cartoon provided by Martin Rowson for the Guardian)

Improv Everywhere: The MP3 Experiment/

The above video is the eight installment of a project where thousands of participants listen to the same MP3 and follow the instructions told to them. This is one of many public missions created by Improv Everywhere, a prank collective from NYC.


Caltech-Led Astronomers Discover the Largest and Most Distant Reservoir of Water Yet

Caltech astronomers and scientists have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. It is a mass of water vapor at least 140 trillion times that of all the water in the world’s oceans combined, and 100,000 times more massive than the sun.

Deducing a Fateful Existence

June 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

By Phillip Schmitte

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there is no such thing as free will. Choice is an illusion and every move you make is predictable. Now with that unpleasant business out of the way, allow me to elaborate as to why I believe this to be the case. The idea of a fateful existence arises naturally out of the concept of determinism.

Wikipedia has provided us with this helpful definition:
“Determinism is the concept that events within a given paradigm are bound by causality in such a way that any state (of an object or event) is completely or at least to some large degree, determined by prior states. In physics, this is the cause-and-effect principle. Determinism is also the name of a broader philosophical view, which conjectures that every type of event, including human cognition (behavior, decision, and action) is causally determined by previous events.

It is the later definition that I am concerned with here, as it highlights what I would consider the greatest point of contention. I suspect that most people know and accept the principle of cause-and-effect. However, many of these same people will fail to make the connection that humans must also adhere to this principle. This is merely special pleading and an appeal to the supernatural. To propose that humans have some sort of power to violate natural laws is to posit a supernatural explanation.

I first reached the conclusion that there was no free will while learning about chaos theory. This theory states that even seemingly chaotic systems are indeed deterministic, despite the difficulties one might have in predicting them. I think that if you simply extrapolate on this concept you must inevitably conclude that all systems are deterministic, even the human mind. After all, the brain is matter that adheres to the same laws as everything else. Denying this means favoring the dualistic view that the mind is somehow separate from the brain.

If human behavior is deterministic, there should be physical consequences because of thought. We do have evidence that this is true coming from fields like neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Brain mapping has shown us that the brain becomes active while performing mental tasks. We have also had the rare opportunity to study cases in which a modification of the brain has lead to a modification of the mind. The most famous of these case studies is that of Phineas Gage. Gage survived a construction accident in which shot an iron rod through his head. The rod dealt significant damage to his left frontal lobe. After the injury, there was reportedly a major shift in Gage’s behavior.

Another thing we would expect to be able to do if determinism is true is create an artificial mind that is indistinguishable from a human mind. Since the mind arises from material processes then it should be possible to replicate that process. One of the foremost fields dedicated to this task is artificial intelligence. The people in this field and others have made great strides in creating systems that can learn. AI systems are able to assess their success in performing tasks and make adjustments in order to perform future tasks better.

However, we are still very far from creating human level intelligence. The brain is a complex machine and we have really only scratched the surface. To be fair, humans do not exactly start out very smart. Our brains are composed of a network of neurons that modifies over our life spans. AI systems modify themselves in a similar fashion, although for a much smaller set of tasks. The brain is also not something we necessarily want to replicate; it is a mess of short cuts and inefficiencies. This is to be expected, seeing as evolutionary processes formed the brain as it is now. It also takes short cuts to process information, which yields faster results when making decisions. The brain is imperfect because it is not designed; it was modified over generations.

I think the reason that some people fail to accept determinism is that the idea of choice is so culturally ingrained. There may also be a fear associated with the loss of purpose in life. Some people even go so far as to attack determinism because it would promote nihilism. Regardless of whether or not that is true, it has no impact on the veracity of determinism.

In the same vein, there is the idea that belief in determinism will create a society that is unable to punish wrong-doing. The defendant will be able to say he had no choice, since he has no free will. You will note that this argument says nothing about whether or not determinism is true, only the consequences of its application. As such, I do not take this argument very seriously. Whether or not we would like determinism to be true has no impact on whether or not it is true.

The study of probabilities has likely given people the false impression that there are random occurrences. I think people have a glorious misunderstanding of probability. In reality, probability is a shortcut. It is the approximation of the unknown. We calculate the probability of an event when we have an ignorance of all the variables in operation. However, once an event occurs, the probability of that event having occurred is 100%. There is no real chance or luck.

There are some obstacles to determinism. For example, there is no clear mechanism established to link the brain to the mind. There is evidence that suggests there is a correlation, but without a mechanism, I do not think we can definitively say that the brain causes the mind.

The current theories of quantum mechanics also have the potential to prove the deterministic worldview false. The problem comes from the theory of quantum indeterminacy. There is an apparent inability in accurately measuring a system. As a result, there is a probability distribution on a set of possible outcomes. This may lead one to believe that there are indeed random occurrences, which of course falsifies determinism. However, I do not believe that this is necessarily the case. The reason that a system cannot be accurately measured is because measuring a property introduces energy. This makes measurement of a second property different then it would have been had it been measured first. I believe this to be a limitation in predicting the outcomes of a system, and not necessarily that there can be multiple outcomes.

I feel that the stock I put in determinism and my denial of free will gives me a bit of a niche as a skeptic. I have found that in my discussions on the subject of free will my opposition will agree with determinism, to a point. However, they fail to follow it to its logical conclusion. What it all comes down to is that the world is consistent and predictable. Postulating that we have some sort of power to break that consistency and forge our own path is tantamount to invoking the supernatural. If we suppose that forces exist that can break that mold, then all  scientific enterprise is worthless. However, it is not; science makes great predictions because the world is predictable, no exceptions. Even if that thought makes us uncomfortable.

Phillip Schmitte is a software engineer in Rochester NY who spends some of his spare time advocating for truth. You can check out some of his other ideas on his blog.

Breaking the Fourth Wall in Rwanda

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Elise Webb

Soon the sound system blares lively music such as Shakira’s “This Time for Africa” and the actors dance vibrantly in a circle. That’s when the spectators start. They sit.They stand. They shoo others to get out of their way. A dance contest literally pulls people into the circle. After a winner is selected the actors move on to the real business for the day, playing four typical scenes of conflict from around the Ngororero District. The people watch attentively, leaning in, wrinkling their faces with concern, releasing their tension with bursts of laughter. One scene is so funny to the crowd; you can see a woman with tears streaming down her face. They know these conflicts; they have met these fictional characters every day.

Read the rest from the The Common Ground Blog  here.

First Impressions of Kigali

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

By Elise Webb, for Common Ground Blog

After an Ethiopian Airlines flight squished between a snoring ex-pat and a lovely woman who smelled of stale pepper, I arrived a bit dazed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Two more plane stops and I was in Kigali, Rwanda being greeted by an enthusiastic man holding a SFCG sign and wearing a grin.

I was hurried into a taxi, where the driver sat on the right and then drove on the right too, a confusing prospect for an American with a steady diet of British movies. We careened around corners, flew past pedestrians who were strangely in the street next to the sidewalk, and zoomed by “Saloons” offering “Pedicures and Manicures.” I was entranced.

See the rest of the article here.

A temporary transplant to Africa, Elise Webb, is getting her masters in Global Comparative Sociology from Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. She’ll be spending her summer in Rwanda as an international intern for SFCG, studying the Participatory Theatre program and assisting our staff with building more online avenues for conflict transformation. She was a one-time actress, current social researcher, and new blogger.

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