Centre d'Art Contemporain
Geneva, Switzerland
25 October – 7 November 2007

within the context of the group exhibition
'Wouldn't it be Nice'
curated by Emily King and Katya García-Antón
25 October – 16 December 2007

within the context of the citywide project
AC/DC etc. etc.

See http://www.centre.ch


(Dexter Sinister is the compound name of David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey. Operating from the basement of 38 Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side in New York City, they run a print workshop and occasional book store along the lines of a ‘just-in-time’ production model, together with a third member, Sarah Crowner. Their intention is to counter the norms of large-scale publishing, promoting thrift and flexibility above waste and overproduction.)

EK: Why are you planning to produce an issue of Dot Dot Dot from the show?

DS: Since moving the journal officially, meaning both where we pay taxes and store boxes, from the Netherlands to the USA, we're no longer eligible for the intermittent government arts funding that sustained us, off and on, until now. As there isn't any equivalent of state support in the USA, and as DDD isn't a commercial product in any meaningful sense, we have to find new ways of supporting ourselves. At the moment this plays out on an issue-to-issue basis.

Funnily enough, this seems interesting and useful rather than annoying or troubling. Recently DDD has become more 'demonstrative', by which we mean that certain contributions demonstrate something in the way they're articulated or formed rather than simply describing something. The house typeface Mitim, for example, which, 'writes about' issues of type design and history in a more active way than, say, some of the pieces that we've published on the same subject. Exploring the mechanics of publishing and dispersion at a wider scale seems a logical development. Of course this only becomes evident after or during the event. It’s never a plan, as such.

EK: Would you describe it as performative publishing?

DS: Why not? Like most things we do it's simply a very reflexive way of working. Sometimes annoyingly so. It attempts to mirror its conditions.

EK: How did the house face Mitim come about?

DS: Like a lot of these things, Mitim started as a joke with Peter Bilak [the previous co-editor of DDD with Stuart Bailey]. During the making of every issue we would search for a typeface that might match the tone of the magazine, or what it should be: fundamentally triangular, angular, black, sharp … bucolic even. We never found a satisfactory one, so always settled for second best, semibolds like Plantin, Palatino, Blado etc. At the same time, we were becoming interested in standardising DDD's appearance. It had begun to seem pointless redesigning the magazine every time, even though that was already within quite restricted parameters. We were interested in finding a 'perfect' - or maybe better to say workable and durable - form in terms of typeface and layout. A consistent template that would free us up to focus on wider issues.

This was all around issue X, which was a kind of watershed. Peter and I have quite opposite tastes, graphically speaking. He’s a type designer, whereas I think 10 typefaces in the world is about five too many, so we had to find a middle ground, which we found in Radim Pesko, a friend whose simultaneous interest and ambivalence matched our own. Radim was only interested in making something within definite limitations, preferably provided from outside (tellingly, he'd previously made one based on Sol LeWitt's geometric structures) so we offered him a ridiculous brief, asking him to combine characteristics of three different sources, and the result was 'perfect'. The idea is that the typeface is a living set of characters, developing from issue to issue. We add parts of the family, as it seems appropriate. For issue 11 we only had the Roman version to work with; for issue 12 we added the italic; for issue 13 we made an eccentric symbol font together with Louis Lüthi, drawing obscure symbols from literature, mathematics and other, more esoteric sources; and for the most recent issue, 14, we made a font of shadow capitals in connection with a general theme of shadowing related to a series of interviews with Gilles Deleuze.

EK: Going back to issue of DDD you are planning to produce in Geneva…

DS: So we recently managed to fund DDD14, the first one produced completely in the U.S., through a combination of two lucky and unexpected occurrences: first through the slight and surprising profits from the bookstore aspect of Dexter Sinister, the basement workshop in NY we started a year ago; second through selling our only complete set of back issues for a reasonable sum of money to a collector. Around the same time we were asked to participate in this exhibition, so it seemed interesting to try and produce the next issue, DDD15, by engaging with the situation. The idea is to take the budget, time and space offered and allow this to directly influence how the issue is produced. The whole thing is played out in public; it's crucial that the content reflects the situation and vice versa.

For a while we've been talking with the writer Jan Verwoert about developing his thesis on the momentum and exhaustion inherent in current modes of art production, the relentless series of invitations and deadlines. This ties in with what Dexter Sinister was thinking about during the failed Manifesta school project: overproduction, the 'just-in-time' model, and so on. We invited Jan to come to Geneva and develop the piece with us in the same place as we're planning to do all the editing, proofing and printing. In short, we’ll be working within an extreme version of the conditions he's writing about.

The issue will be printed on two very particular machines transported from a arts community centre called Extrapool in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. They are portable, cheap, and we can operate them ourselves in the space. It’s a very explicit, visible example of collapsing all aspects of production into one time and space. The idea is that one group makes everything and everyone has equal responsibility and interest.

EK: What is behind the idea of the just-in-time model?

DS: The curators of Manifesta 6 planned to set up a temporary (possibly permanent) art school, in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, during the fall of 2006. The project was intended to question models of the art school using the various resources usually allocated for the more regular drop-on-a-city exhibition. Dexter Sinister proposed to establish a print workshop as part of the school, which would explore existing modes of art publishing and possibly suggest new ones. We were particularly interested in adopting general models such as Toyota's 'just-in time' production process, as opposed to Ford's 'assembly line' one, both of which are old news, economically, but completely pertinent to our thinking through aspect of publishing. The idea was to set up a transparent publishing vitrine in an open shop in Nicosia's old town in which all aspects of print production would be collapsed into one space. We would have acted in the same way as a photocopying secretary does at a certain kind of high school, making copies on demand for specific numbers of people (30) for a specific purpose (a German class) at a certain time (tomorrow afternoon). The plan was to apply this logic to the more general Manifesta publications, the equivalents of the usual catalogues etc.

In the end the Manifesta ran into political problems so serious that it was cancelled. Around the same time we'd found the basement space on the Lower East Side in New York and more or less transposed the idea there. Naturally it took on a different form in the new context, distributing and selling publications we were directly and indirectly involved in being more practical than printing and production.

EK: You suggested that negotiating the budget, working out what you could and couldn't do within the funds, was part of the piece. Can you elaborate on this?

DS: From experience, it's clear that with any kind of commissioned project it's important to try to work as close to the source as possible: to understand the power structure, to deal with the people who make the decisions, to know what can actually be made available etc. The better you can negotiate the situation, the more likely you are to make good work. This is blindingly obvious, but at the same it's getting increasingly difficult because of the tendency of institutions to delegate, to postpone, to blur and dilute language.

To reclaim responsibility from the institutional monster, in the case of Geneva we asked for the whole budget, including the transport to and from the city and where and how we sleep and eat and so on, as well as the production of the magazine. This allows us to decide if we put three people in a hotel room rather than one, or get a car to pick up people from different cities to share the journey. This kind of economy might mean we can print an extra colour, or an extra 500 copies. It automatically encourages a lot of good things: community, thriftiness, ingenuity, interest.

This problem is that most institutions aren't set up for this kind of thing. Their only option is to give out as little money as possible to get what they (think they) desire. When we come along and say, ‘just give us this amount and we'll make everything work’, they assume they're being tricked, that they're losing out somehow, but it's actually the opposite. If we have to sort out the arrangements ourselves, flights and hotels and so on, it’s in our interests to sort it out efficiently and cheaply. So everyone wins! It's to the credit of the Centre of Contemporary Art in Geneva that they agreed. Now it's our responsibility to make it work, meaning to make a good product and to make the process interesting for the audience and ourselves.

EK: Is what you are doing real or representative: are you simply making a magazine in front of an audience or are you demonstrating something more general about the state of publishing?

DS: Both at once, of course. In most cases of magazine publishing there is a difference between these activities, but in ours combining them is part of the credo. DDD isn't necessarily ABOUT design but it is certainly OF design, which - if you take 'designing' to mean 'thinking' - means being conscious and questioning, or in the best sense of the word 'critical', considering, being considerate.

EK: Are you creating a model of how things should be, or are you simply dealing with how they are?

DS: We're only a model in the sense that we're trying to work something out in public. There only didactic element of what we do is to suggest that there are modes of production other than the dominant ones. We prefer to think of them as parallel rather than antagonistic. There's a great piece of work by Steven Willats we've been thinking about a lot lately, a diagram called 'The world as it is and the world as it could be'. Dexter Sinister is more like a diagram than a model. Again the answer to your question is both at once. How could it be otherwise?

EK: Why did you launch DDD in the first place? How did it develop over the first 13 issues?

DS: Without meaning to sound flippant, DDD was an accident, although maybe an accident waiting to happen. It was started by four graphic designers not particularly convinced by existing publications in their field, but without any real idea of an alternative. At first it developed haphazardly, but, oddly, seeming to get better rather than worse. Issues 1 to 3 were made under quite unhappy conditions of unsatisfactory collaboration; issues 4 to 9 were made under happier conditions of working something out, including a community of contributors, while becoming less and less interested in the subject that originally triggered it; and issues 11 until now have become increasingly confident, outside any sense of a primary discipline, perhaps most concerned with language, sociology and philosophy.

EK: Where does it go from here, what would be nice?

DS: It would be nice to maintain the paradox: the paradox of courting tricky situations that lead to inherently more engaging solutions, while at the same not wanting the difficulties to become so extreme that they completely stifle production. That could play out in being completely itinerant, or alternatively, by being officially related to - and subsidised by - a single institution. Both would create issues to be worked through. It’s an odd, precarious state to be in. With DDD it always feels like we should smash up the format when it becomes too comfortable. And we do, but in the end the violence is very gradual rather than spectacular.

See http://www.dextersinister.org

Posted 9 October 2007 12:00:40


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