AS-AP

Interview with David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey, Co-Founders, Dexter Sinister

Posted October 29, 2010 by Anonymous
Interviewer: 
Bartholomew Ryan, Assistant Curator, Walker Art Center
Interview Date: 
Monday, April 19, 2010
Person Interviewed: 
David Reinfurt, Co-Founder, Dexter Sinister
Stuart Bailey, Co-Founder, Dexter Sinister
Place of Interview: 
Dexter Sinister, 38 Ludlow Street, New York, NY

Preface

The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey on April 19, 2010. The interview took place in New York, NY and was conducted by Bartholomew Ryan. This interview was funded by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).


David Reinfurt, Stuart Bailey and Bartholomew Ryan have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

 

Interview

Entrance to Dexter Sinister, 38 Ludlow Street, (basement, south), New York. The rail is tagged with the muted posthorn symbol from Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.
Photo by Stuart Bailey

BARTHOLOMEW RYAN:  This is an interview with David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey of Dexter Sinister, on the 30th of April 2010, at the Dexter Sinister space on 38 Ludlow Street. The following interview is made on behalf of Art Spaces Archives Project, for the CCS Bard archives, and the person conducting the interview is Bartholomew Ryan. Okay. Let’s start with how Dexter Sinister was formed?

 

STUART BAILEY: We could start with two very brief pre-histories, which is that David had a company called ORG, which was a much more standard-looking design studio, but underneath, wasn’t quite as straightforward as that, which was up in the fashion district in New York, that he’d organized and ran since the year 2000, since leaving Yale. And that studio was set up intentionally to have other people pass through it, and was modeled very much on the idea of assuming the guise of a corporation. On the other side, I’d set up Dot Dot Dot Magazine in the same year, after studying at Reading in England and the Werkplaats Typographie in Holland, and had basically met David through that project. We were introduced to each other over a number of years, through me coming to New York. I eventually moved here in 2005. Around the time of moving, I was asked to propose something for the Manifesta Biennial, which was due to take place in Cyprus at the end of 2006. That was, I guess, initially thought to be something along the lines of what would regularly be produced by a designer for a biennial, which would be a giant catalog and some identity. And, that was pretty much the sort of thing that I was trying to get out of by moving to New York. So the initial reaction was to say no, I’m not really interested in doing that, and to suggest a few other people that might be interested to do that. Then I was told by one of the curators, Mai Abu El Dahab, who we’ve worked with quite a lot since, that their idea curatorially was to make a speculative art school, rather than a regular biennial. To try and circumvent some of the perceived problems of how biennials usually work, in terms of being giant art machine that lands on a city for three months and then leave again, without any real involvement or engagement with the given; to do something that tried to be both more engaged with the location and in terms of what it could offer as a project. At that point, I became more interested, and started talking to David about it; and then in spite of ourselves, we ended up making a proposal for it. Which maybe you want to talk about.

 

DAVID REINFURT:  Yeah. Well, the proposal was an excuse to put down on paper some of the ideas that we’d been talking about anyway, over a period of time. Stuart was describing our background before, and we are both involved in doing lots of— a good bit of work for arts institutions, primarily arts institutions. And many times, catalogs for exhibitions or books with artists or those kinds of things. One project that I had worked on a little bit before Stuart came to New York was to design an exhibition catalog for Terminal 5, which was a planned exhibition of, oh, about twenty contemporary artists, to be held at the Eero Saarinen TWA terminal at JFK. It was organized by a young and ambitious curator who managed to get the mayor and the city and various corporate sponsors to all play along with this idea of inhabiting an empty landmark of twentieth century architecture out at the airport, to repurpose it for a contemporary art show. There was lots of momentum and ambition running through the project. And she came to me, together with my wife Sarah Gephart, and asked us to make an exhibition catalog for the show, which we agreed to do, right? However, she came with the idea, right upfront, that the catalog should be— She literally said, “It should be 296 pages. It should be this format. It should be four-color throughout. And it’s got to be there on the first day of the show.” This is not unheard of at all. This is a cartoon version of it, but lots of times, curators or institutions would say the same thing: it needs to be there on the opening day, and it needs to  include all the artists in the show. As soon as you think about, even for two seconds—something Stuart and I had talked about a bit for sure— was that there’s a logical contradiction there. You can’t show the work in the show before the show opens, because the work is being installed and the lead time between printing— I mean, it’s absurd. It’s a patent absurdity. Obviously, those decisions are taken by marketing, and not by any desire to actually publish something that would be meaningful to an audience coming to the show. Or, at least there may be that intention, but it’s so severely compromised by the demands of marketing the exhibition that it seems a very silly situation. And, in fact, in Terminal 5, Sarah and I had worked on the catalog very intensely over the course of the summer, poured hours and hours into this thing, and ended up taking on many of the roles of editing it and collecting and producing the entire publication. It wasprinted on time. And by the time the show opened, after the fourth opening party, which lasted all through September of that year, by the final opening party, in fact, the book had arrived.

 

The Terminal 5 catalogue
Photo by David Reinfurt

The party was advertised widely and attracted a rowdy crowd. People made a mess of the proceedings, which ended up getting the show cancelled, closed that night by Port Authority. So as a result, the catalogs were stuck in customs out at JFK, in between Belgium, where they were printed, and the US, where they were to be imported. Nobody had paid for that importing. Then the Port Authority had closed down the show. All of a sudden all those finances were completely in disarray. In fact, the printer got stiffed on a €40,000 bill. That Belgian printer went out of business a couple years later. The catalogs ended up in that gray zone. I ended up getting a logistics company to get them out of the thing and bring them to ORG, where they sat on the shelf making two towers of books in the corner of the studio. When Stuart showed up here, they were  these bunch of books that nobody wanted. You couldn’t give them— I tried to give them away or sell them, even. It wasn’t possible. So they sat there as this reminder,  Okay, no more of that work. No more producing something for the wrong reasons. All those decisions should be questioned.

The Terminal 5 catalogues stored at ORG
Photo by David Reinfurt

When you’re hands-on producing the work, then you’re in the best position to questions those assumptions. And this is something we’d been talking about. A biennial is also an extreme situation, where typically the catalog is based mostly on that of the last biennial. The assumptions that go into how it’s produced are all taken from there; therefore, the budget to do with printing it and to do with distributing it in the world is all made for the wrong reasons. We thought, It makes sense to question those assumptions.  We were to put together a proposal, back to Manifesta, as to what to do for graphic design for this biennial, for this biennial that was being reframed as a six-month art school. We took the proposal quite seriously.  Thinking that in making a proposal that was a concerted piece of work, so it didn’t matter whether it was accepted or not, we would’ve made this thing that was a thinking through of the problems that we were talking about. We proposed back to the curators to do something very similar to what they had suggested for the exhibition as a whole. To take the whole budget for the catalog, for printing, distributing, advertising, for all of these things, and to let us rearrange the production circumstances to have the actual printed material and the things that were made be more directly responsive to the context, and to be actually produced in the numbers that they needed to be produced. If it’s a temporary art school with invited artists, both teachers and students —for instance, there was one science fiction writing seminar that was to be taken there which might meet a handful of times and have a handful of students— you don’t need a 296-page glossy catalog to document that process, of course.

 

We proposed to them, Let’s take the whole budget, let’s set up a space, a production space in Nicosia in the old part of the city where the school was to happen. In that production space, Stuart and I would work, probably together with helpers, to produce the materials in one space, with the people involved, and in the numbers and quantities that they actually needed to be produced. We would borrow or make use of local, less expensive modes of printing— it could be a Xerox, but also an offset press or a letterpress, et cetera, but things borrowed from around there; and that the storefront would absolutely be a glass storefront, so that this whole thing could happen with a public face to it. And in that, what we called a workshop, we would work together during the course of the exhibition to make the things, literally with the person who needs to have them. You have this collapse of roles as to who’s doing what: who’s printing it and who’s writing it, who’s editing it, and who’s designing it, who is doing all these things? That was something we were finding de facto in our work anyway: a lack of distinctions between doing the design, doing the editing, doing everything else. We proposed back to Manifesta that we would make a bigger deal out of that, or do that more explicitly: do it publicly. It was a practical proposal, as well. We simply thought, This will work for what it needs to be. But it was as much gesture towards, This is the way that these things should be; you should question these decisions and you should work in directly responsive ways and consider each thing from the start, and afresh.

 

BAILEY:  There’s a double aspect to that that’s worth mentioning. And that is that over the past couple of decades at least, tied up with the advent of desktop publishing and the ubiquity and availability of software and hardware and those tendencies, things like proofreading and editing had typically defaulted to people like us as the traditional structures of publishing houses started to be dismantled, right? This is very particular, or very pronounced, I think, in arts publishing, as opposed to regular literary publishing. Which is to say that certain job roles have become indistinct or  disappeared. Where there would’ve been a set of standards before, those things have eroded and defaulted to other people. People take on two or three jobs or roles, where they would’ve previously had one. And so, over the ten, fifteen, twenty years we’ve been working in this  field we’ve accommodated this by default, because we’re one of the typical roles that  get saddled with that work.

 

REINFURT:  And you’re the last person touching it, often.

 

BAILEY:  Right. On the one hand, there’s another angle to that, which is that we’ve always, by inclination or interest, been involved in writing and proofing and editing, as much as designing in a typical form-giving sense. Often producing and often distributing, in one way or another. We’re already engaged in that. I think this combination of those two things, the default and the interest, mixed at that point. We wanted to try and reclaim that position or that moment as a positive thing. And turn it around, so it’s not the default crap that we get saddled with, and actually claim the responsibility for that and work with it and model it, at the same time.

 

REINFURT:  It’s worth saying here that when we made this proposal to them we couched it in the language of ‘just-in-time’ production, though a misuse of this notion also.  In the classic American large-scale manufacturing assembly line, there’s a large amount of capital needed to set up this machinery and production facility, where a product passes down the line from one specialized worker to the next, to the next, to the next, in a coordinated chain of command and control, and everything is tailored and made as efficient as it possibly can be. Of course, the Model T automobile is a very clear example of it. What you get at the end is you get a bunch of products that are absolutely identical. You know, a commodity, right? Precisely the same each time. Model T’s come in black, and that’s what you get. Everything is coordinated, this dance of activities, one then the next. It was an extremely efficient production system, of course. We saw a parallel between that and the way that publishing was happening, or publishing had happened in the past, which is an explicitly linear model, where a project starts with a writer, who pitches it to a publisher, maybe; and the publisher takes it, provides the editing services and the proofreading and prepares the manuscript; who sends it out to a typesetter, who sets it all in type; and perhaps a designer, who gives form to the whole project. Then that is all packaged up and given next to the printer, who regurgitates it into a proof; and then the proof is approved; and then many, many copies of exactly the same book are produced and printed.

 

We’re seeing a parallel from that assembly line, or we were couching the proposal in a parallel between that assembly line mode of production and the way that publishing has happened in the past. ‘Just-in-time’ production, in relation to automobiles, let’s say, Toyota pioneered in the mid-fifties. It was based on the fact that in Japan Toyota couldn’t afford the massive warehouse space that you needed in the assembly-line production mode. Because since you were producing many, many copies of exactly the same thing, you also needed to store all these things. You needed to store inventories for the parts, you needed to store everything all at one place so never could the line shut down; production always moved forward. The ‘just-in-time’ model said instead, that by the middle of the Twentieth Century, communication channels had gotten a lot more fluid, easy and quick. Reasonably, your parts supplier could know when you were running low on parts through a simple phone call or a letter that says, Okay, we’re low on this part and we need refills. That could happen much more quickly than it could fifty years prior, because it was easier to coordinate these farther out production trees. As a result, Toyota also took apart the assembly line a bit and made it so that each position on the line was not so tied to a specific worker and a specialized task. Each job on the line was written out as a recipe so anybody could come and fill in and do that job. The workers move around, place to place. You have a de-specialization of the worker, which has its own benefits. But, most importantly, through not having to keep so many parts in inventory—or keep so many cars when your finished because the dealer can tell you when they need more, and so you don’t need to keep nearly as many cars—all of a sudden you have this major surplus of cash and increased efficiency of production, because you don’t need to store all these things because communication makes it easier for these de-specialized roles. We saw a parallel between that ‘just-in-time’ mode of automobile production and another way of thinking about doing publishing, one which already was in effect, which is, as Stuart was describing, the roles blur one into the other.

 

RYAN: What’s interesting about that model and how you both worked with it are the divergences, also. Because if you think about Toyota, the back end is the just-in-time and the front end is a lot of cars. Whereas with you, it is an approach that effects the back end and front end. You don’t produce in large numbers…

 

BAILEY:  Yeah, and you know, it’s probably worth emphasizing this —it was taken half seriously and half as a  frame through which to push a proposal.

 

RYAN:  You use this for your Manifesta 6 proposal?

 

REINFURT:  Yes, the Manifesta 6 proposal.

 

RYAN:  Because I know you used it for the opening of Dexter Sinister.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  That was around the same time —we’ll get to that. I wanted to add that I think how it played out, particularly with us, rather than in any sense of quantities, was much more in terms of the specificity of the products, rather than being a bland, single product.  I don’t think this was that clear at the start of that proposal, but the school was to be divided into three departments, each of which was run by a different curator. Those curators were vastly different personalities. It became quite clear that the specificities of producing with each of these particular people that would be asking for a particular print or online form of publication would be very different. It would allow for those differences in personality and intention to come out. I think the specificity was the most important projected outcome of that thing. To continue the story, basically in the end, the whole project didn’t happen.

 

REINFURT:  Wait, you skipped a little bit. [laughs]

 

BAILEY:  Sorry. Go on.

 

REINFURT:  I would say it’s worth saying that they accepted the proposal, which was shocking to us. They actually took that proposal.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah, and also I wanted to say that the way in which that proposal mimicked their proposal…I don’t think was that clear to us until…

 

RYAN:  Later.

 

BAILEY:  …afterwards. And a lot of this is the same way. It usually seems important, in doing talks and things with students or classes, to say a lot of this is retrospectively realized or narrativized. That was definitely the case with this.  I remember at the proposal that we presented to them, which ended up being  a text that couched the proposal in the terms of just-in-time economy and gave some examples of that. There was also a section, about 70 or 80% that was a reader miscellany that we’d collected over the months when we were doing the proposal. We basically offered that and didn’t do much talking about it. It was something which had to be read and devoured. It wasn’t that big or heavy, but it was definitely in the reading that the idea would be got at. I remember talking about that during the proposal, they ended up with the usual reaction to that sort of thing, which is, let’s say, more of an attitude or a set of principles, which is, Okay, we get it, we get you, but what does it look like? And, we couldn’t really answer that at that point. I heard from them afterwards, the reason that they decided to do our project is because they came to the conclusion of all of them sitting around talking afterwards and saying, “Well, I still don’t understand visually or graphically, what that would be.” And then one of them saying, “Well, of course, this is exactly what we’resaying to Manifesta, ‘We’re not going to tell you a list of artists or a list of venues; we’re  going to tell you about the reframing of the biennial and why we’re doing that, and provide a structure. And the content of the structure will develop later.’” I think that’s why it matched and why it was strong, or why it was accepted.

 

RYAN:  You produced with them the Notes for an Art School book, which is something of an icon at this stage. Was that something that you were really into doing from the beginning? Or was it almost a fop, so that they would get a tangible publication?

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, I mean it came out of a certain very specific situation. But, to backtrack for one second and then get to that. The proposal that we made, we also produced. It was a collection of texts that all circulate around this idea of ‘just-in-time’, and which took a good bit of commitment to get through the reading of. The way we produced the proposal was to photocopy it through a thermal fax machine that was in the studio. It gave it a very particular quality. Our proposal was, in part, that things we produced in Cyprus would look like the way that they were made. That was basically our idea. The proposal had a mimeographed sheet on the cover. Making it that way —laser printing or photocopying and then running it through the fax machine in order to actually make the print— gave the whole thing some specific form that carried as much communication as what was actually in it, which is very much the whole thing that we were talking about.

 

BAILEY:  Because there was no particular up-front capital to print with, the idea was to expect we could reasonably beg, borrow and steal technology from the locality. Having been out to Cyprus, it immediately seemed like that would be very possible. There were a lot of existing printers or print shops that seemed to have a lot of technology that we could borrow that wasn’t particularly new, so it was a generation old. Including whole printing shops that were shut down and empty, dilapidated factories. The general atmosphere of people being willing and able to support that project seemed to match, seemed to fit very well.

 

REINFURT:  There’s something in making the proposal that way, the absurdity of running to the fax machine or whatever to get a specific quality, that has a demonstrative aspect to it, in terms of, This is the way that we want to work or whatever. You were asking about Notes for an Art School, the book, which was made for a conference that was held eight months in advance of when the biennial was to open.

 

RYAN:  January?

 

REINFURT:  January. The conference was to be a weekend of a group of invited curators, artists, different people, who were to speak about what an art school would be, what it could be, what an art school in general should be like. It was organized around a series of panel discussions happening in various places throughout Nicosia, both on the Greek half of the city and on the Turkish half of the city. Leading up to that, there was an idea to make a publication that would collect a series of essays that were commissioned for the publication and for the weekend, which would talk about what an art school should be like. For that publication, Manifesta said immediately,  “Okay, we need 2,000 copies of it. You know, that’s how many we need. And well, take it and design it, and you know, make it for us.” We came back to them and said, Of course, that we were going to make this in the way that we were suggesting making the rest of the materials, but we didn’t have the workshop set up in Nicosia yet so that wasn’t possible. But we would still work with a very specific way of printing and  specific scenario for how to give form to the book.

 

BAILEY:  I think it was also definitely, Let us use this to show you what we mean by the proposal. This is going to be the demonstration…

 

REINFURT:  Exactly, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  ...that we couldn’t give you three months ago, when we met to give you this reader.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  It was definitely taken on in that spirit. We happened to know of a place with a very particular technology, which is called a stencil printer, which we had used in various contexts beforehand, but never in such a big way. It’s a technology, a bunch of machines that belong to a place called Knust, which is part of a bigger community center in a place called Nijmegen, in Holland. They’ve been using this technology for twenty, twenty-five years. It’s a technology whose main market is Third World countries, particularly schools, because the technology is very cheap to run and reliable. It is something that looks more or less like a Xerox machine, but it’s a different actual technology that is used to print the surface. This community center is very experimental, very open, very nice people to work with. Because that technology produces such a specific look and is so limited in its formats and implications for production, we thought that would be a good machinery or technology to use to demonstrate a lot of things we were talking about. Whereas in Cyprus we weren’t particularly anticipating any particular technology— It could well have been, let’s say, very recent Apple Macs or lithographic printing machines, as much as it could’ve been mimeographs or fax machines. The reason for using the mimeograph or the fax, in terms of the proposal, was  that they demonstrate very clearly the trace of the technology. But it didn’t necessarily have to be that; there wasn’t really any expectation. So with this stencil printer, it was something which was both contemporary—I mean, they use it, it exists—and something which we knew would speak to that idea, that would demonstrate it very, very clearly.

 

RYAN: A level of autonomy within production, where you are normally dependent on—

 

BAILEY:  Well, it immediately looks slightly off. One way of suggesting that is  that it has the appearance of something more like a screenprint than a lithographic print, because of the way the ink is saturated into the paper. Knust also make their own ink, so that has a very specific look to it. It would provide a signal that there’s something slightly off about this.

 

RYAN:  The paper stock was—

 

BAILEY:  The paper’s uncoated paper, it’s a specific thing that they can print on. They can’t print particularly well on coated paper. So there are a lot of things that come from them and come from their experience over twenty, twenty-five years. The machine is also limited, in terms of how big a sheet of paper you can put through it; and further limited by how the area that you can print on that sheet of paper— [cell phone rings]

 

REINFURT:  Sorry, I need to go feed the meter.

 

BAILEY:  Oh, yes. [audio file stops, re-starts]

 

RYAN: So we were at Knust.

 

BAILEY:  I was saying that it has a very specific paper format that it could take, which is more or less tabloid format in the US, but slightly longer. Or it can be, effectively, as long as you want, but it can only print a certain area on that sheet. So it’s not a typical leave half an inch around the edge; there’s a funny, skewed area that you can print on. Our idea was to take all the potential— all the limitations that the machine forced you into working within and to play directly to them. We’d print on exactly the amount of area that the sheet would allow or the machine would allow. You could print two colors at once, for example, so the book is in two colors. One last thing is you could fold the sheet twice to make an eight-page section, rather than— most books are made in a sixteen-page section. If you had folded that one more time, it would’ve been a significantly smaller book. All those things seemed to design the book itself, if you let them play out in their most logical and extreme way. That’s how that book ended up as a book which was almost a sample swatch of, This is what this machine can do. And in the same way that the thermal fax machine shows a particular process, this was trying to do the same thing, but in a more concerted way.

 

RYAN:  And in a sense here, up to a point, it’s the conventional model— the biennial meets the designer…

 

REINFURT:  Right, yeah.

 

RYAN:  And the designer does not produce the content. In Notes for an Art School, you don’t have any actual essays…

 

REINFURT:  Right.

 

RYAN:  Even though you both had plenty to say on the subject of pedagogy. But, within the form of the book, you’re expressing this content-like function—

 

REINFURT:  Right. Yes, absolutely, but— There’re a couple of things. One is, first, that yes, it comes through the form; but actually, it comes more prominently through the working method. It was saying, This is a chance to demonstrate what we’re talking about for the whole thing. I think the stakes are a bit higher there, when you’re talking about the way of working. Because we thought, well, you don’t need 2,000 copies; you more likely need a thousand. In fact, this particular way of printing doesn’t have an economy of scale built into it, or not nearly as severe as an offset press. So you could print a thousand copies and then go back and print another thousand copies, and not really pay a penalty for doing that. In fact, printing a thousand would be half of printing 2,000. Whereas with an offset press, printing a thousand would be 7/8ths of printing 2,000, at least. Choosing to work with Knust had more consequences than simply what the final publication looked like. We worked with them in a little bit more of improvisational way, or a responsive, direct way. Determining the format was all Stuart having conversations with Joyce, who’s the printer there, back and forth and back and forth, about exactly what the limits were, where the machine could reach; and then consequently, a decision that comes out of that to leave the bottom edge of the pages untrimmed, or bottom and right edges of the pages untrimmed. We even wanted to run the book from the first page to the last page, through a gradation of ink from red to blue, because that’s something they could do and mix in the thing and it would give it a very specific result. Joyce made— or Knust made a proof of the entire book, and they proofed it on the actual machine they print it on. They sent it, and that proof arrived to Stuart in Los Angeles, and it was red and blue. They said, “Okay, to do what you’re talking about, we’d have to mix the drum. We don’t want to mess it up yet,” you know? “But we will when we do the actual book. In the meantime, we  made this one, where the alternating sides of the sheet are red or blue.” As you go through, because of the way a book is constructed from signatures, not every other page is red or blue, but it goes through some other weird meter— We liked that so much we decided, Okay, we’ll print the book exactly the way that you’ve made the proof. I think those things have formal results; but I think the choice of greater consequence is to work through a method and be open and respond to those specifics each time along the way, so that it gets somewhere else. It’s really much more to do with the method than the way the form expresses that. Although I’ll speak out of both sides of my mouth because certainly, the formal consequences of working that way are what’s legible to somebody when they get the thing.

 

Notes for an Art School cover, interior and back cover
Photo by Stuart Bailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, it’s true we didn’t write an essay in the book. Although we did—and something we haven’t talked about yet—we did include a piece of writing that we did, which is on the inside back cover. And that piece of writing was called “We would like to share a few thoughts on a…

 

BAILEY:  Possible—

 

REINFURT:  … “possible school badge.” That was the proposal for what their logo, the school’s identity marker thing would look like. We had had the idea from the beginning that we were proposing a fairly loose idea for how to make all the graphics for the show or printed materials or whatever, so we should counter that with something very rock solid and substantial, graphically.

 

BAILEY:  And play it totally straight.

 

REINFURT:  Play it totally straight up. If it’s a school, it should have something that makes it feel like a school, and schools have coats of arms. 

Research for the Manifesta 6 coat of arms
Photo by David Reinfurt

We would do well to give them a straight coat of arms. But to use that as an excuse for looking into heraldic design, which is the design of coats of arms, and really engage that at some level— which is both serious, but also absolutely absurd. When you start looking into the very rich history of what it means to design coats of arms and to follow the rules of heraldic design, you discover that any heraldic form, a coat of arms, has a written form that describes it and that comes first, and that’s more important than the visual form. That written form is called a blazon. That blazon can be rendered in any number of different ways, and that blazon is the thing that is the form. It’s not quite concrete, but it’s definitely a literal form that has a visual consequence. But it’s not quite instructions, either. It’s in this weird limbo. That was completely compelling to us and after the fact, feels like a way of understanding a lot of things that we’ve done since then.

 

BAILEY:  As well as the straightness, it also echoes the looseness of the proposal, because the way I usually describe it is like a game I remember from school, where the teacher gives you all a blank sheet of paper and says, “Okay, I’m going to describe something and you all draw it.”

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

BAILEY:  In terms of heraldry, it’s like saying, Okay, everyone draw a shield; everyone draw a lion’s head in the top left-hand corner; everybody draw a horizontal line that divides the top from the bottom; and then draw…

 

REINFURT:  Draw a unicorn.

 

BAILEY:  [laughs] …the horn of a unicorn in the top right, and three shells in the bottom. Of course, you’ll get twenty different versions of the same thing. The important point is none of those are right. None of those are the right one. Only the text is the master, if you like. There was definitely an idea that with our badge, it would be the same process. There would be space for that to be drawn and redrawn in different ways, and that would, hopefully, echo the nature of the school, rather than a fixed badge. It’s both using that tradition and those conventions, but playing with them or shifting them or twisting them a little bit.

 

RYAN:  Each word functions as a structure, like ‘party’ means ‘blank’?

 

BAILEY:  It’s a specific grammar.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

BAILEY: What we ended up doing is this badge that has a diagonal line through it. And the diagonal line, for us, is as much a forward slash as anything else. It comes directly from a piece that a writer called Steve Rushton had written for a very early Dot Dot Dot, which we only remembered or realized halfway through the whole compilation of that original reader proposal, where he’s writing about how the forward slash is a representation of a lot of roles in the arts today. The idea of a curator-slash-designer-slash-proofreader-slash-distributor-slash artist. Not in a particularly positive sense, or not really one way or the other, but discussing it as a representation of a moment or an approach. He has a very nice line that we’ve repeated a few times of, “Imagine it swinging like a cat flap, back and forth, allowing access both ways.”

 

REINFURT: Between categories.

 

BAILEY: Between categories. So after we proposed doing a badge itself and using heraldry, there was a whole three or four-month period where then we had to make the badge. We ended up trying a few different things —For example, trying to represent “Cyprus” in a visual emblem, plus “school” in a visual emblem, plus the number “six”, and tie all those together and make quite a straight badge. And none of that, for whatever reason, seemed quite right. At some point, we came back to the idea of having this shield with a line through it, and that would be it.

 

REINFURT:  Choosing the blazon for what it sounds like and its linguistic formal qualities, both what it sounds like and what it looks like and what it means, even though those words are in a coded language already; but all of those things together—(Party) per bend sinister– “party” being in parentheses, which means “split it”; “bend” being “diagonal”; and “sinister” meaning “from the top right to the bottom left”. Choosing that, and then its corresponding form being that which all of us see on the wall right now.

 

RYAN:  Oh, it’s still there. I was looking for it. It’s off. [laughs]

 

REINFURT:  Again, it is more— it’s a combination of a way of working, plus it’s like a side effect or whatever happens as a result.

 

RYAN:  I should say— Because when I was reading my oral history notes, it said, “If someone points at something, describe it.” David pointed at a neon iteration of the heraldic symbol, which has been here since you’ve opened, more or less.

Neon rendering of the Manifesta 6 coat of arms
Photo by David Reinfurt

 

REINFURT:  Yes.

 

RYAN:  I’m not sure the same version, but it’s—

 

REINFURT:  In fact, it was made for a book launch for Notes for an Art School.

 

RYAN:  At the Swiss Institute.

 

REINFURT:  Yes.

 

RYAN:  I was at that launch. It was interesting. So okay…

Notes for an Art School book launch Swiss Institute, New York Friday, February 17, 2006
In attendance, among others, were Martin Beck , Boris Groys, Liam Gillick, Walid Raad, Martha Rosler, Dexter Sinister, and Anton Vidokle.
Photo by David Reinfurt

 

REINFURT: We got to all of this in describing that the proposal for that badge was on the front cover of the book. But then maybe in a similar way that we’ve tended to work before then, during then, since then, it had a companion text that was equal in status. We fussed over the text at least as much as over the visual thing. “We would like to propose a possible badge, school badge.” Sorry. [laughs]

 

BAILEY:  “We’d like to share.”

 

REINFURT:  “We’d like to share...” That text, then, laid out what we found interesting about heraldry, why we thought it resonated. And that text was given a highly specific labored form that we worked on back and forth together. And that was printed on the inside back cover. The badge is printed on the front cover of the book. Then, as well, on the title page of the book it says that it’s published by Dexter Sinister, and then the city, Nicosia, more or less. “Dexter Sinister”, which also comes from that same coded language of heraldry—“dexter” meaning “right” and “sinister” meaning “left”—however, also like quite a lovely thing, which comes back in other work, is that both the left and right refer to the eye of the viewer. No, rather, not the eye of the viewer, but to the person holding the shield. To their left or right. It’s a bit like stage left and stage right. It’s just like that. And so the—

 

RYAN:  So, if it runs from the top left all the way to the bottom right, that’s “sinister”?

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  So it’s always mirrored, basically.

 

REINFURT:  It’s always mirrored.

 

BAILEY:  The more, of course, we got into heraldry, as with other things we’re interested in, the more we came across resonant things like that, or phrases. One other thing that seemed to emerge from that whole use of heraldry is the idea of the blazon versus the emblazon being the abstract versus the representational, right? In terms of an art school, that seems interesting. Or that seems rich and resonant.

 

RYAN:  Also schools tend to have their motto, which is always in Latin.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. Yeah.

 

RYAN:  So this is a very literalist—

 

REINFURT:  A funny thing, we got them to, you know— For all their emails, when they’re sending them out, they always said, (Party) per bend sinister at the end. As if someone  were to receive that and draw the badge or something. As if you can fit a badge through the email pipe.

 

RYAN:  Let’s keep talking about Manifesta a little bit more, because whenever I read interviews with you both, it’s like, Then it was cancelled. And it’s on to the next thing. Let’s get very Diane Sawyer and I can ask you, Where were you when you found out it was cancelled? [they laugh]

 

BAILEY:  Watching the Obama Inauguration. [they laugh]

 

REINFURT:  It was slow—

 

BAILEY:  Yeah, it was a very slow death.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, it was a slow death.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

REINFURT:  That inevitable death of—

 

BAILEY:  But by that January, when the book was produced and the conference took place, by that point, there were at least a hundred people, I guess, involved in quite an advanced, concerted way.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, we worked on it a year and a half, substantially, worked on it constantly.

 

BAILEY:  And between then and probably the summer before it was due to take place, it died in that spring, somehow. We did two trips to Cyprus. The first to scout it out and the second to look at the prospective venues and start to install the badge at different places. For example, on the second trip, we actually did a painted version of the badge over the door of the office. And then on the night before we left, after everyone had gone, we spray painted or graffitied the “(Party) per bend sinisteron the opposite wall. As a first setup of that duality that was—

 

REINFURT:  But without them knowing.

 

BAILEY:  Without them knowing.

 

REINFURT:  It happened to be an area where there was lots of spray painting on the walls, so it fit in architecturally.

 

RYAN:  You took a photograph of that.

 

REINFURT:  Which appeared on the back cover of the book itself.

 

BAILEY:  So you have the badge on the front and the text on the back.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

BAILEY:  From the start, it was like the identity isn’t this or this, it’s both of those things at once. And that seemed increasingly important to what it was trying to do, as well. So we’d  been there to instigate all that and have meetings with various people. And on the last night that we were there, we were having a conversation in the hotel bar where we were saying, you know, we should really think about where these things are going to be physically distributed in Cyprus. Not particularly elsewhere in the world that they might get shipped to, but maybe there should be a shop aspect to the workshop. This was one of many conversations around the whole thing we were having while we were there. 

Chauffeur waiting for Dexter Sinister at Nicosia International Airport
2006 Photo by David Reinfurt

Then we started talking about, well, maybe it should be at a separate location, so there’s a division of the labor and the sales. We were probably saying, maybe that should be divided between the two halves of the city. Nicosia is one of the last divided cities: it has a UN neutral no man’s land between the Turkish side and the Greek side.  Given that the workshop is going to be on the Greek side, maybe the outlet part should be on the Turkish side. Then, as we  were finishing that conversation, staggering up to our hotel rooms, then I think David said, “You know where that outlet should be is New York, and not Cyprus at all.” So it should be literally be on the other side of the world. Then during that gradual collapse, we’d also been looking to move out of David’s studio, and had found this space.

 

RYAN:  You were already in this studio, at that stage, working on—

 

BAILEY:  The whole Manifesta…

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  …thing was done while we were still working from ORG.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  We’d found this space. Maybe you want to talk about that, in terms of changing the studio.

 

REINFURT:  Sure, yeah. Between January and— I guess we moved into the space in— well, we took the lease in March…

 

BAILEY:  March, April.

 

REINFURT:  …and moved in in April, probably. And so January, we were in Nicosia for the Notes for an Art School weekend. And, my wife, Sarah, was pregnant at the time and my daughter Eden was on the way.  I’d run ORG for six years and was increasingly finding that I was tired of running a bigger studio that had people come in and work occasionally, and had too many things going on. I was finding that, for example with Manifesta, working in a smaller, more direct way was certainly where I was headed and what I wanted to do. You realize really quickly that all the work can happen on a laptop and can happen anywhere and that kind of thing. But, also that being hands on doing the work was always what was important to me. I wanted to make sure the situation was going to facilitate that as I kept on working. I had decided that I would get rid of the studio space on 39th Street, which had a little bit bigger rent—not much bigger, but a little bit bigger rent and more things circling around it. I wanted to take a space that was going to be closer to home, on account of my daughter being born soon. I wanted to have a studio really close to home because I knew in the first six months, for example, I’d be at home a lot.  I was also traveling more and realized that I wanted to keep the practice really, really tight. Stuart and I also had been talking, we wanted to get a space, share a studio space together and do this. We found this space and it was very inexpensive this basement space that we’re in right now, didn’t look particularly hospitable: the ceilings were so low and it was a strange space; but the price was so right and the location, close to my house, was so right, as well, so we took it. It seemed quite specific. We had a steel door on it; didn’t look very much like it does now at all.  In closing down ORG –the whole ORG project had been completely self-conscious in the way that it had organized itself and behaved or whatever— So, I organized a party, which I called the Demise Party, which happened to be after a similar party that was held at the Whole Earth Catalog. I had an evening where I invited a number of people who had—you know, anybody who wanted to come— but a bunch of people had come to things before at ORG, because there’d always been events—to give away everything that was in the studio: the computers, the tables and books and whatever. So people came and took. Did you come? I can’t remember.

 

RYAN:  Yeah. I got a postcard from Experimental Jetset that they had sent you for something.

 

REINFURT:  Oh, yeah?

 

BAILEY:  What were you doing? Some people got computers!

 

RYAN: I came late.

 

REINFURT:  You didn’t take something else? [they laugh] You got screwed.

 

RYAN:  Right, I know. Oh well.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, monitors, computers, everything.

 

RYAN:  Really?

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, everything.

 

RYAN: I remember it being a pile of stuff on the floor.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, you must’ve come late.

 

RYAN:  Yeah.

 

REINFURT:  I mean, it was a magical — It was a great thing. And it emptied it out, but with the idea of doing that in a somewhat performative, gestural way. We brought what was left, or what was kept intentionally, and moved it into this space down here.

 

ORG Event: The Demise Party
315 West 39th Street (911)
March 2006 Photo by David Reinfurt

BAILEY:  Which wasn’t much at all.

 

REINFURT:  Which wasn’t much. Flat files, That was it.

 

BAILEY:  The idea was very much that this place would be hollowed out.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, just nothing.

 

BAILEY:  It would be back to zero, in a way.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

RYAN:  Let’s describe this place we’re in. Where are we?

 

REINFURT:  We’re in Dexter Sinister, at 38 Ludlow Street. It’s a basement. It’s between Hester Street and Grand Street on the Lower East Side of New York. The ceilings are six and a half feet high, or two meters. So they’re very short ceilings. It’s a tiny space, less than 300 square feet total. It feels mostly like a shoebox. But I think has these qualities— the floor is concrete, the walls are painted white, the door now is a glass door.

 

BAILEY:  There’s a strange sense that whenever you describe it to someone, then it sounds horrible. And when people come down here, they go, Ah.

Interior Dexter Sinister circa 2007
Photo by Stuart Bailey

 

REINFURT: Ah. [same time as Bailey].

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

BAILEY:  Unless they’re very tall. [They laugh]

 

REINFURT:  In which case, they hit the door.

 

BAILEY:  It has a very funny proportion that somehow feels right, I think.

 

RYAN:  There are a few bookcases in here.

 

REINFURT: Now the space is rather filled. When we first took it, as Stuart was saying, it was absolutely the idea to pare it down to nothing. That required all sorts of relentless throwing away of stuff, as at ORG.

 

BAILEY:  Lots of stuff that we then needed again.

 

REINFURT:  Right.

 

BAILEY: But, that seemed important at the time. Then, given that we’d spent the last six months or a year thinking about all the stuff to do with the Manifesta proposal, almost by   osmosis of that stuff bleeding over here, then we ended up using a lot of the ideas or working a lot of those ideas out in this space rather than the Cyprus space. This was immediate and workshop-like, in terms of how it felt, and as rough as that Cyprus place would have been.  Without really thinking about it too much, the idea became to try and perform the model version of a studio or workshop –to play out some of the ideas that we’d written about in Cyprus— here rather than there. Still with this idea of being a machine within a vitrine, right? In Cyprus, as David described, there would’ve been a full, high window. It would have been an open box, a viewing box. The glass door that we put on at the bottom of the stairs here lets some daylight in, but it was also a gesture to say, We’re open.

 

 

REINFURT:  We’re public. A lot of what we want to do isn’t closed, it’s to be seen. What I think is most interesting about that switch that we usually talk about is how in Cyprus, the whole plan was based very much around what we expected to happen within that locality. I was saying earlier about begging, borrowing, stealing machinery. And very much the main focus, if not thefocus of the point in Cyprus was to produce from the same space as designing. Because by that time, the editing, proofreading, designing aspect, all the enclosed work, or work that is done on a laptop, wasn’t that unusual or significant. But, the idea of producing in the same space—where all that is thought about and designed and distributed from the same space—that was a little more unusual. Whereas that was a big point of the idea in Cyprus, here it didn’t seem like it needed to play out in the same way because technologies aren’t that— unused technologies or older generation technologies aren’t that ubiquitous around here. People aren’t as kind as they were in Cyprus. I mean, people generally want to make money rather than lend you anything.

 

BAILEY:  There isn’t a great deal of storage space to store that kind of thing. There didn’t seem to be the same opportunity that there would have been in Cyprus. What winded up happening is rather than producing from the space, we distributed from the space. Which is to say we turned the space, at some point, into a shop. That’s how the shop aspect for Dexter Sinister happened, we said, let’s distribute the things we’re involved in producing from here. That happened first by having the printer of Dot Dot Dot send boxes of Dot Dot Dot. Then we reasonably thought, We have enough of a circle to announce that and sell it from here, rather than through the regular channels. That was a way in itself of combating a problem that had been more apparent since I’d moved here. Dot Dot Dot was started when I lived in Amsterdam. We have an American distributor, but it always took anything up to four months for it to actually get here and get in the shop and be available to anybody. That was becoming more apparent and pronounced to me, of course, when I moved here, and more annoying. Rather than rely on that regular channel, the idea was to circumvent that, to get the printer to send us boxes and distribute it from here. That, along with a couple of other things like Notes for an Art School, because that had recently come out, and maybe two or three other books we had been involved in. When we opened the space —and we did so quite consciously, with a card that had the text on it, that was more or less a statement of intent of what this place would be, relating back to the just-in-time stuff that we’d been writing for Manifesta—the opening of this also started with the shop aspect. From there, we had the shop open twelve till six every Saturday. And we’ve done that pretty much since, only closing for a couple of months during the summer every year.

 

RYAN: In the summer you close.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

RYAN:  When it gets really hot.

 

BAILEY:   Because there’s barely anyone in town who would come here anyway.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

REINFURT:  Exactly.

 

RYAN: At this stage you have control of the production, to a certain degree, of content to a certain degree, well, depending on the project, I guess. And now you have a distributing mechanism through the shop. How did people find out about the shop?

 

REINFURT:  Well, it’s a funny thing —which I was going to mention anyway, as Stuart was describing this— when Manifesta was cancelled and we decided Dexter Sinister would be here rather than there, we decided we’d call this space that and take those ideas and resituate them here. Then immediately we had some idea that some degree of printing might happen here or some production might happen here. But, as soon as you announce yourself as a “just-in-time workshop and occasional bookstore”, do that publicly, people overlay their own expectations onto that very, very quickly. You were asking about this space, and we’re probably hearing on the recording that banging of drums outside. Next door, they’re collecting the fat from roasting ducks in the backyard and there’s all sorts of making of food happening right near the space here. So you announce yourself, you’re in a basement on the Lower East Side and you’re a workshop and whatever, and people immediately think, Oh, you’re printing zines or you’re the Lower East Side print shop or you’re something else. There was a desire that it would be some sort of printing and manufacturing facility that it never was going to be. We never intended that to be here. It’s useful or instructive to understand how other people will lay on their ideas to that as soon as you make it a public thing. When we decided, Okay, we’ll have a bookshop and it’ll be three shelves and it will mostly be Dot Dot Dot and some other things that we were involved in— At the beginning, anyway, that’s how it started out. As soon as we said, We’re a bookshop, then everybody else says, You’re a bookshop. It’s amazing the powerful— the strength of a frame such as saying, announcing, initiating yourself into a category that already exists, like “bookshops”. You say you’re a bookshop, you’re open one day a week and you have a small number of books, that part doesn’t matter. In fact, the idea to do a bookshop was practical, but it was at least as much a gesture towards, Hey, let’s have a bookshop; that would be— And so we started getting solicitations from people who wanted us to carry their books, including— It was very surprising right way, MIT Press said, “You’re a bookstore. Why do you not carry our books?” That was frankly shocking. We were like, What? Just a matter of invoking it through the name, through calling it that. Which we’ve picked up on a lot of times since then.

 

RYAN:  Do you carry much MIT stuff?

 

REINFURT:  No. We had the Bauhaus Bible, at first.

 

BAILEY: What happened within those first three or four months is that it worked in a way which we didn’t really anticipate, in that people bought books and it started to…

 

REINFURT:  It was pretty shocking.

 

BAILEY:  …generate the rent. I mean, we made enough money to pay the rent, more or less. And, by virtue of that, and the fact that it suddenly seemed interesting to make a shop— I mean, we hadn’t really thought it through, and then that aspect seemed to take precedent over a lot of other things—  we started increasing the numbers of books on the shelves. Right now, it’s probably developed quite organically to some sort of balance. Maybe what’s on there is 70-75% things that we’re directly involved with, but not necessarily designing. Also, maybe there’s something we’ve written in one of those books, or we’ve helped to republish or funded somehow. Let’s say maybe a third of it is Dot Dot Dot; a third of it is other books that we’re directly involved in; and a third of it is other books that seem to make sense to have in here, that are mostly produced by colleagues of ours; and very rarely, a few books that are either secondhand or new copies that we buy from other bookstores or other distributors or publishers. That equilibrium changes a little bit over time, but that’s more or less how it’s ended up.

 

RYAN:  Looking now, I can see Shannon Ebner’s book in the corner, with the yellow asterisk on top; Hey Hey Glossolalia the Mark Beasely curated exhibition ‘before’ and ‘after’ catalogues; A number of issues of Dot Dot Dot. I was at the opening for this pink book. What is it?

 

REINFURTFrozen Tears.

 

RYAN:  Were you involved in producing it?

 

REINFURT:  Oh, no, we were not involved in producing it, we were involved in the opening.

 

RYAN:  In the opening. Right. And there’s about six shelves, and then another crate down on the end, with a bunch of books sitting on it.

 

BAILEY:  And eleven boxes of the latest issue of Dot Dot Dot.

 

RYAN:  Oh, really? Is that what they are?

 

REINFURT:  And, a whole back room of nothing but books, stacked floor to ceiling.

 

RYAN: So the just-in-time philosophy works, but there’s still some—

 

REINFURT:  Warehousing needs.

 

BAILEY:  It’s probably worth pointing out as part of the description that there’s maybe never more than fifty or sixty different books at any given time on those shelves, but there’re a lot of copies of the same book.

 

RYAN:  Right, but it doesn’t look like many books at all.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah.

 

REINFURT:  No.

 

RYAN:  That’s one thing that’s always struck me about coming in here is this  economy of means. Your mind always feels reasonably clear when you’re looking at the books, unlike when you go in St. Marks bookstore or Spoonbill or whatever, where you can feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of information

 

 REINFURT: I think that’s an important point. Which is that there’s some degree of a welcoming into the books, or some degree of hospitality, to let you calmly look at these collection of titles. Lots of people like very small— Well, not lots of people. Some people like small collections of books in a bookstore because then you can go in and see the things you want to see, and have some room and space to engage with them in a more meaningful way, rather the way a typical bookstore that’s driven to simply make a profit and make the rent, et cetera, then has all sorts of displays and ways of driving you from one book to the other. If we had set up the shop with the idea of, Oh, we should have a shop so it’ll pay the rent— If we’d done it that way around, we’d make other choices. We’d have more books, we’d do this, we’d do that. It’s really important to, in the same way we were talking about a method or way of working being more important than its consequences, often— If you approach it with the right spirit and you say, We want to have a shop because it’d be a nice gesture to have a small bookshop and it might speak something about small bookshops and bookshops in general right now, et cetera, and you do it simply— and it’d be nice to see the people who are actually buying Dot Dot Dot, to have conversations— You approach it with that clear intention and  spirit, and then the consequences of it actually paying the rent become a productive byproduct of the first thing. But it’s critically important that you work in the way I’m describing, rather than imagining what’s going to result at the end.

 

BAILEY:  In the same way that the Notes for an Art School book got developed and bears the mark of being open to changes such as David was suggesting when Joyce sent the book from Knust and it wasn’t printed exactly— It was like at a halfway stage but we decided to keep that— how the bookstore has ended up doubling its number of shelves and having a certain amount of books is also just the result of the practical response to how much time we find ourselves spending on the bookstore aspect of the shop, right? When you become a shopkeeper, even if it’s only a six-hour-a-week shopkeeper, you’re devoting a certain amount of time to making sure that there’s always books here, making sure you’re paying distributors or being paid by them for different things. At a certain point, you tip over the balance of, We’re doing that far too much and not enough of the other stuff that we do or want to do. It’s ended up at a point which is  bouncing between when those things become too much or not enough.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

RYAN:  And now do you feel like it’s at a constant, where you’ve figured it out?

 

REINFURT:  No.

 

RYAN:  No.

 

BAILEY:  Never. [They laugh]

 

REINFURT:  No, but it would never feel that way, I don’t think. I mean, as I’m sitting here, I’m thinking, Oh, damn, we still need to order these Lulu books, they changed the paper instead of the spine width changing, so I have to go track the files to change them.

 

RYAN:  Oh, wow.

 

REINFURT:  Just things like this. It will take a little while to do that and I haven’t made the time to do it. And I’m sitting here thinking that’s been needing to occur for six months and I’m upset they’re not on the shelves right now. But—

 

RYAN:  For what books?

 

REINFURT:  Oh, for the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, for a small book called Philip, a science fiction novel and a few other books that are of a specific format. It  would take a little bit of time to do this; and I have not done it yet. As Stuart’s saying, the balance between how much time you spend on the bookstore versus how much time you spend on other things, it’s always something that  takes a little…

 

BAILEY:  Yeah. If this were the only thing we did, it would be a far…

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  …different thing.

 

RYAN: I hope it’s not an impertinent question to ask, but so the bookstore’s open one day a week, and I don’t know how much your rent is, but would you say that it breaks even with the rent or that it actually helps sustain other aspects of your own practice?

 

REINFURT:  Well, the raw sales pay the rent, for sure. I mean, it’s worthwhile to say. The rent is a thousand dollars now; it was less than that, it was maybe 800 when we started. As it started to pay for itself, which was shocking, it was about $200 a week-ish. But that’s not that we sell $200 worth of books on a Saturday; it’s more likely that there’s some large order from an institution who maybe wants to buy a box of Dot Dot Dot, and that takes care of half the rent right there. Or things like this. And so it’s the raw sales that would pay the rent. It definitely doesn’t make money above and beyond that, really.

 

BAILEY:  But that’s definitely an aggregate. Like, if you take—

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  Sitting in here on a Saturday, it’s the most unpredictable thing…

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, you could make…

 

BAILEY:  …as to who or why…

 

REINFURT:  …fifteen bucks or…

 

BAILEY:  comes in.

 

REINFURT:  …a lot of—

 

BAILEY:  And at first, it seemed to be seasonal. But even that doesn’t really hold anymore.

 

REINFURT:  Now it is what it is.

 

RYAN: Something like Dot Dot Dot obviously manifests a community over time;  magazines or journals have the power to do that.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

RYAN:  And spaces have that capacity, too One of the things that has  interested me about Dexter Sinister since the beginning is a location; the fact that there is a location. And I know this oral history project is ostensibly about alternative art spaces and so on, but there’s so many aspects to the collective practice of Dexter Sinister that go beyond a particular space. Nevertheless, I think about an organization like Franklin Furnace, who actually went totally online in the nineties and gave up their space— You know, there was this  moment where people thought, Well, that’s all in the past, you know? Yet, many of the  choices that Dexter Sinister has made, are at some  relationship to place, to objecthood, to various quotidian things like that.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah. I mean, not very consciously, again. You know, it’s definitely not as contrived as that could sound. But you know, we were talking about, or briefly mentioned the Werkplaats, the school that I went to recently. I’m just stunned by how that has this  weird mythical  presence in the  collective consciousness of a certain strain of the  art-design community. Of course, it’s because it’s super-provincial. No one’s ever really been there. It has very few, or I was going to say few documents, but actually there’s a lot of documents, but they’re all very opaque documents. There’s no straight presentation of it.  I think part of why this place has something of that quality—I’m not sure whether I like it or not, but whatever; it exists—is because there isn’t really one thing that it does very distinctly, but a lot of things that it does indistinctly. There’s a quote, which is a couple sentences, that I often try and remember when I’m describing this, which is someone describing the band The Red Crayola, where they’re talking about the different personnel and the stops and starts, and the gaps between releasing anything, and the instability of this band that isn’t really a band. What that amounts to is that whenever someone is talking about Dexter Sinister as a critic or a writer or to each other—I mean, anybody talking about it—is that they have to deal with it on the specific terms of the moment or the product or the event of one specific point, right? Rather than being able to level it out into an aggregate of different things. I think it has bypassed that , “Oh, it’s just a  local fan zine shop,” by virtue of the fact that there is so much that is  indistinct about it.

 

REINFURT:  And the fact that it doesn’t sit clearly in a category of what you can say it is --it’s a bookstore, and that’s a clear category, you get a bunch of weight from identifying yourself as such; but it’s also an event space and an office and a number of other things. Because it doesn’t sit in any of those categories, then as Stuart’s saying, you have to deal with the specifics of any one thing that you’re talking about here. But it also gives lots of room to operate in between those existing, known ways of classifying. You asked about the space, and I think the space is a very interesting thing to think about, for me. This space, but also other spaces you work in. I always felt like anyplace where you do work, any space maps back onto the work itself. I think for sure, that’s the case, in ways that you can never quite quantify, certainly. Or point at, even, in the finished work. A space like this, which is tiny, which is quite small, the quality of it is that it’s specific. And I think that’s what we both felt when we walked in. We were like, Wow, there’s not another place that’s like this exactly. It definitely has some— it feels good, for some reason. Can’t point to why it is. I mean, it’s a basement: it’s a basement without windows. It’s not really what you’re out there searching for, for sure. When we saw the listing, we didn’t know what it was. The picture didn’t look like what it was, on Craigslist. But the space has a— it’s different from other places.

Interior Dexter Sinister Late 2005
Photo by unknown

That comes back into whatever it is that we do here, but in practical ways. So an event, you can’t have more than thirty people in here without it being absolutely packed. Immediately, the consequence of this specific space, the size and whatever, none of which was calculated—then sets up a dynamic whereby the events that you have in here have thirty people who really care about being here. Typically, anyway. It’s not like an open call. It’s not a big corner space with a glass window, that’s serving wine and picks up anybody who comes. You have to commit to wanting to be here. That intensity of focus and commitment and engagement is already something we were very interested in. But then the space maps back to facilitate that, as well. That’s a funny thing you don’t really plan, but it’s just you’re drawn to taking a space like this because I guess you know in the back of your mind that smallness is what you’re after. But it’s not why you do it. You don’t, like say, Oh—

 

BAILEY:  But then that has a knock-on effect of the types of events you can put in there.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  For example, how you advertise or don’t advertise those things. We’re very careful, in a way, to not publicize those things. Not because there’s any degree of elitism, but because we simply couldn’t fit a bigger number of people. If you trace that back to the idea of that Terminal 5 catalog and those kinds of publications…

 

REINFURT:  The opposite of that.

 

BAILEY:  …being made mainly because other people do that— Right? You can see how other art spaces, galleries and whatever do things based on certain expectations. In the same way that if we’d have tried to make a shop, as David said, it wouldn’t have ended up like this. So that thing we usually talk about as a backwards way of this space realizing itself is in the same way as the projects, as the hard matter of publications or—

 

RYAN:  What I’m hearing is a very specific or key aspect of Dexter Sinister, it seems to me. You have Dot Dot Dot, you have this journal that has a very dedicated readership and is certainly accessible in a lot of ways; but it can often be, you know, very inside its own world and inside its own set of references. The more you spend time with them, the more they open themselves to you, right? And then you have Dexter Sinister, which is a public place with a storefront, but it’s in a basement and you can hardly see it. So it’s there, but it’s not there. Or it’s available but it’s not advertising its availability. And finally, we’ll probably get to the “muted post horn”, in terms of the Whitney Biennial later, although I don’t know when exactly, but let’s hope so. But, you’ve used the muted post horn, a symbol from Thomas Pynchon’s 1962 novel The Crying of Lot 49, as a sign that relates to your work. And I know I’ve talked to you about this before, David, the idea of something that strikes out its own sound, but still makes the sound, or the invitation or whatever you want to call it. So what is this relationship to the public or to ideas of a public?

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

RYAN:  Or maybe I should rephrase that.

 

REINFURT:  I think this is key. I mean, I think this is key. Of course, you don’t know it until—You work intuitively as you work, and this is the way it comes out. But to do with being public, the idea of this being a public space, but then also canceling out its public nature, has to do with gesturing towards it being public. It models a public rather than actually physically facilitates it. Right? This isn’t an open space where anybody can come and do their thing and, Hey, will you carry my book? Sure, I’ll carry it. I mean, those places are great, but that’s not at all what this is about. Or not at all what we want to do or are coming from. That was certainly one wave of the way a space like this might’ve worked before. Now, I mean, literally, it’s so small that it models an approach that’s like that, and it’s neither. But it works as a space, as well. It’s between those two ways of speaking about how spaces like this might work. Somewhere halfway in between those two things is really what it’s doing or what it’s after. I think that halfway between modeling something and actually enacting it is present in a lot of the things you were just talking about. Like the way that Dot Dot Dot, once you initiate yourself into it, then it offers up a lot more than it does at the beginning. Or the way the muted post horn stands as a symbol for that same thing, to really call out to the world, but as well, be aware that you’re not really calling out to the world. It’s a self-awareness of the limitations of any act like that, and a way of thinking about the way these things work.

 

RYAN:  Are you getting tired, by the way?

 

BAILEY:  I’m okay.

 

RYAN:   Would you like to respond to that?

 

BAILEY: The way I’ve responded to it before in writing was through an accusation— I mean, a deliberate provocation by Jan Verwoert, where he was asking , What’s the relationship between the simultaneous transparency and apparent opacity of Dot Dot Dot? Which is a— It’s  difficult, in a way. It doesn’t put its cards on the table; there isn’t really any editorial framing of any of the pieces. It’s something that’s quite slow. There are things that try to happen across issues, rather than within issues— There are not a lot of flags or hooks or placeholders for a reader. That’s about as deliberate as anything else is. It’s something that we’ve come to be comfortable with doing. But it would be too strong to say that it’s planned as such, right? It’s more an extension of other stuff that we’re interested in, or a sensibility or a temperament or whatever. And the answer was, again, typically reversible. It’s a  two-in-one answer, which is that I think it stands for a certain transparency, in terms of how it talks about work, in terms of what its  ethos towards design is, in the sense that we publish it. We print 3,000 copies that go out in the world, right? So it’s public in that sense. It’s available. And it’s not trying to hide, it’s not trying to be hidden under other magazines on the shelf. I’d love it to be as far and wide and in as many copies as possible. At the same time, its difficulty, if there is any, is simply the means in which it’s trying to engage people in the same way. That could be— Jan would write about it in terms of a code, right? That if work is codified in some way, if it’s not absolutely apparent and digestible and didactic, then it’s often an attempt to draw someone in, to engage somebody, in the same way a front cover of something does. And, that can be done by being totally clear; it can also be done in being totally mystical. Of course, that’s how a lot of subcultures, for example, work, is by operating on a very specific set of codes. I think we flail between those two extremes and they work themselves out in different ways, that are then complicated by the conditions and the people involved, and a number of different interests and vested interests and whatever. The outcome is various mixes of the two.

 

REINFURT: If you’d had organized the shop in order to pay the rent, you’d make all sorts of different choices. It occurs to me— And this speaks to many other different choices that we make along the way, too, that is not second guessing how someone will receive something, but doing it the way that you think it should be done and letting it find an audience. I think that distinction’s crucial because you think of something like a catalog for an exhibition, driven by marketing, that’s all to do with imagining how someone will respond to it.  I have many friends who are curators, but it’s taken me a long time to understand how— I mean, I understand how they think, but then how they might think about an exhibition was a mystery to me. It is becoming increasingly mystical to me how that works [they laugh] because there’s some degree of also thinking about how the viewer’s receiving the thing. That, to me, was never a consideration until understanding it through that lens. I think in a way— I mean, good curators are working at both poles at the same time, of course. I think with many of these things, like with Dot Dot Dot, you don’t guess how somebody will receive it, you do it as directly and honestly and—

 

BAILEY:  Well, you try and do it according to the specific pieces or the specific issue.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. And then it finds an audience.

 

BAILEY:  I could compare two issues, like Number 16, which comes out of a lot of things we were doing in relation to the thing we did for the Whitney Biennial. That’s a very opaque thing. It’s guest curated, guest edited by Raimundas Malasauskas. There are a lot of allusions in there, there’s a lot of  play with the idea of mirroring and gaps and parallels and secrecy, in a way. And there’s not much explanation about it. In a way, there are a lot of in jokes in it. But, I wouldn’t say that is something that is in every Dot Dot Dot. The most recent one, the newspaper, is pretty clearly flagged in terms of what the project is, what it’s about. There’s a certain uniformity to the subject matter. Within those two extremes is the range of what is in Dot Dot Dot. It’s sometimes clear, sometimes not clear. But, that comes from the nature of what is being written or talked about.

 

REINFURT:  You still orient yourself one way. You might say, Oh, well, maybe that’s getting a little bit too opaque, and you are drawn to do something that speaks more directly, but you’d never do that because you think an audience isn’t getting it…

 

BAILEY: The great thing about doing a magazine or periodical is that it’s sculptural. Right? You can change the next one in relation to the last one. And so there’s some bigger time scale, where it’s more like an oeuvre or something that you’re working with.

 

RYAN:  It’s the accumulation that provides the—

 

BAILEY: It’s a real luxury to have that as a constant. That’s why this shop is a congealing of anything that we’ve been interested in over the past five, six years.

 

REINFURT: Can we pause for a moment. [audio file stops, restarts].

 

RYAN: There’s two things that should happen in the next hour, I think. One is we should talk in more concrete, banal details about your day-to-day lives as Dexter Sinisterites, because that’s not the  stuff you ever really get asked about. The other thing I was thinking is that rather than talk about every exhibition you’ve been involved with, every issue of Dot Dot Dot that was interesting—I mean, they’re all interesting—is to say something about ones that seem particularly significant at this juncture. Can you list the events you’ve had at Dexter Sinister since it opened, from memory? Or, are there too many? And, could you talk about one or two that you find very memorable?

 

BAILEY:  There’s not that many.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. We’ve had regular events here in the basement from the beginning. That’s trailed off in the last year. But certainly, for the first three years, there was an event here every two months, or an event— Sometimes they didn’t happen here, but something that we organized. And having a regular schedule for those public events, seemed really important, in the same way that Dot Dot Dot very precisely comes out twice a year. And all of that regularity has a lot to do with Dot Dot Dot, you know as Stuart described it: a publication as sculpture. There’s some regularity to it as well as some duty to do it and so you can orient yourself around it. To do with the shop, when we opened up we printed little cards that had tiny aphorisms on them. One of them was from Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee.” You have events every two months and stick to it regularly, it has is its own reward, in some way…how Protestant.  So, to list events. We had an opening party in June of 2006, which consisted of Alex Waterman playing cello in our basement.

Dexter Sinister Event Opening Party Friday, June 30, 2006 Accompanied by Alex Waterman on cello and the spirits of Christoph Keller
Photo by unknown

It was done together with Scorched Earth, the space across the street. Alex performed in our basement, crossed the street with his cello and performed in their space, and then came back over here and played a third set. And that was an opening—

 

BAILEY:  In a pool of sweat.

 

REINFURT:  In a pool of sweat, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  He played Bach and Spacemen 3 on the cello. It was pretty amazing.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, beautiful.

 

BAILEY:  As well as launching this space, it was also— we’d just done a bootleg of Notes for an Art School, as well. Which then got…

 

REINFURT:  Shut down.

 

BAILEY:  …pulled.

 

RYAN:  There was a point where you didn’t have any copies of the original Notes for an Art School, and I walked into Spoonbill and there were ten of them there.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  We went and bought them.

 

RYAN:  Oh, really? [they laugh]

 

BAILEY:  For that opening, as well.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

RYAN: Who pulled the Notes for an Art School bootleg?

 

REINFURT:  Well, let’s see. Backing up, we didn’t have Notes for an Art School here, and for example, Spoonbill did, because it wasn’t being distributed in a conventional manner. Idea Books in Europe had some and were distributing them, but it was hodgepodge distribution. Lots of people were interested in the contents of that book, so we decided we would make a bootleg version of it. We had the files, we could do it— And it was in the spirit of offering it up to others, not to make a bunch of money off of selling it, because that was not the case; it cost about as much to print as it did to sell. So we printed a Lulu version, a print-on-demand version of that book.

 

BAILEY:  It was the first book we tried to make as a print on demand, so it was almost an excuse for trying out that particular technology…

 

REINFURT:  As well.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

BAILEY:  …as much as anything.

 

REINFURT: A lot of the things that we’ve been circling around have to do with publishing. And in that case, it was taking agency to do that, since we had the files and could do it. We thought it was in the right spirit of simply offering it up to people who can’t find it, you know, and to— It would be less expensive as a Lulu book, as well. Probably less expensive.

 

BAILEY:  And totally in the spirit of what the school was about—

 

REINFURT:  Totally in the spirit. Yeah, the school was trying to offer these texts up. We’d already offered them up as PDFs online, on their website, when they originally did it. So the texts were meant to be circulated and they had reached this moment of not circulating because the project had gotten cancelled, and the books were in a weird limbo again, between who had them and who didn’t have them. We published that bootleg in that spirit. But because the fall-out from Manifesta 6 was so intense, lots of people had lots of time messed up as a result. Ourselves, certainly, though we tried to make the best of it by restaging the project here. There were raw nerves and people—

 

BAILEY:  We didn’t really explain the Manifesta cancellation, right? But it was cancelled for ostensibly political reasons. And then there was a lot of legal action between the city body there in Cyprus that were organizing the local side, and Manifesta as an institution. There was a lot of bad feeling and there was a lot of high-level legal activity. That was at least the terms on which it was supposedly withdrawn, or impolitely asked to be withdrawn.

 

REINFURT:  [laughs] Idiotly.

 

RYAN: By the Manifesto organization?

 

REINFURT:  Yes.

 

BAILEY:  More or less.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, more or less.

 

RYAN:  One of the interesting things about the fallout from Manifesta 6 is one camp or group of people, who you could see were associated with Anton Vidokle, went to unitednationsplaza, which I think has had a pretty interesting ripple effect within contemporary art practice over the last few years. Then something like Dexter Sinister comes out of it too, with a new approach to modeling certain ideas, and maybe a group of people around Mai Abu ElDahab. What do you think would’ve happened if the biennial had actually gone ahead?

 

REINFURT:  It launched a whole diaspora of projects that—

 

BAILEY:  It would actually be a really interesting project to write about that retrospectively, how that actually did happen, in this exploded sense.

 

REINFURT:  Because it was an amazing—  Well, anyway, all of the curators launched off in different directions. And many of the artists took it on themselves to make the works. I’ve heard other people say, “Oh, well, it’s great that it didn’t happen because it launched all these other richer, more autonomous initiatives.” But I actually think if it had happened it would’ve been wonderful. The situation in Nicosia was so much more accommodating than we had any idea initially. When we proposed doing this workshop, we were like, Oh— You know, you  think it’s the center of an old European city, populated by boutiques and whatever. But, it simply wasn’t that way at all. It was absolutely printers next to shoemakers next to this, that and the other thing.

BAILEY:  And even the whole setup of the office and the institution there was weird, right? It was…

 

REINFURT:  And welcoming..

 

BAILEY: It was a loose cannon..

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. [laughs]

 

BAILEY:  And the cannon backfired on itself, but it could’ve been great.

 

REINFURT:  yeah.

 

RYAN:  I remember the moment when that thing was— before it went sour.  People I knew were so enthusiastic about the whole idea. It did feel utopian. You read Mai Abu ElDahab’s introductory essay and it really is, you know, something that manifests something in you. Maybe that energy, once produced, had to continue…

 

REINFURT:  Dissipate, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  Dissipate, yeah. I mean, Even if you map that through the people we’ve been involved with since, a lot of it comes from that.

 

REINFURT: It’s literally the same people. But, I think it’s easy to say, Oh, okay, great, it was cancelled. But I think it would’ve been so much richer than the idea, had it actually played out. And I don’t think it would happen now. But at that moment, it would’ve been, because that situation was so considerably more open than it might sound like in retrospect. It might sound calculated because this exhibition assomething else has been done a number of times since then. In that case, the actual realization of it would’ve been, I think, as rich and probably more complex than we might think it would’ve been.

 

BAILEY:  I think how they set it up was you immediately have the kind of engagement we’re talking about, through the codification of certain things. Because people, rather than being artists in a big show, were applying to be there with some ambiguity around their status, Are you a participant? Are you a pupil or are you— what is on show?

 

REINFURT:  What are you, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  It was all very deliberately ambiguous. I think that would’ve been part of the richness of it, that everyone is invested in it in a way that I think a regular biennial— Not that I’ve seen many, but I imagine it’s more like a big show. It’s  a different  investment, I think. So we should get back to events in this space.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

RYAN:  Right. Let’s talk more about that opening event. So Alex is there. Who else was there that you remember?

 

REINFURT: Well, It was packed, absolutely.

 

BAILEY:  Tom Wolfe was here.

 

RYAN:  Tom Wolfe?! [they laugh]

 

REINFURT:  Wearing a black suit. Bart, were you here?

 

RYAN:  No, I wasn’t at that one. I don’t think I was. I don’t remember a cello.

 

REINFURT:  Well, packed out the door. Sweltering heat.

 

BAILEY:  And forty people got their IDs removed by—

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, because people were drinking on the street.

 

RYAN:  Ah.

 

BAILEY:  And it was at a time where, for whatever reason, the cops had a particular presence around here with stuff like that. The irony was that there were a bunch of people outside, Alex started playing, we were like, Everyone come in. And everyone’s like, Well, there’s no way we’re leaving here until we get…

 

REINFURT:  Our IDs back.

 

BAILEY:  …our IDs back. So there was already a polarity between— [they laugh]

 

REINFURT:  We had a big tub with watermelon, with red watermelon, sliced open, and green Heinekens; I remember that quite distinctly. It was a big ice tub. And it was providing a little bit of coolness in the sweltering environment. And it felt rather— I mean, it was beautiful, but also it was so intensely packed in here. We could feel everybody’s disbelief at, like [laughs] being in such a small space with that many people and this going on at the same time. It was an opening party.

 

RYAN:  And a cello, no less. I mean it’s not like a fiddle or something…

 

REINFURT: No. A big, nice, large cello. Many of those people who got their IDs taken received summons or whatever, and some of whom were on visas–

 

BAILEY:  So we ruined a lot of people’s lives.

 

REINFURT:  Exactly. [they laugh]

 

RYAN:  Decimated New York’s cultural scene for…

 

BAILEY: But, should we move on to some of the others?

 

RYAN:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  I mean, there’s more ordinary seeming things, like a couple of book launches, the Frozen Tears book launch or— One of the first things we did was have a film evening that was all 16mm films.

Dexter Sinister Event The Most Trusted Name in Silver Friday, October 20, 2006.
6 films borrowed from the Donnell Library Center Presented by Jason Fulford & Tamara Shopsin
Photo by Nicholas Blechman

 

BAILEY: That was just, there was this silver screen that everyone thinks we built, but it was in here as a divider to the back room.

 

RYAN:  This is it — [Ryan knocks on the screen].

 

BAILEY:  Which is a  metal wall with a sliding door. So we projected onto that thing, with a bunch of people in here. But as for the more memorable things— and I guess there’s two, particularly in my mind. The first was Michael Portnoy did a  performance called Abstract Gambling down here. This was a  postscript to a larger event that was at Miguel Abreu, around the corner, after he’d  opened, that was curated by a colleague of ours, Will Holder. And I’d been talking to Michael about a project he’d done in Russia, where he’d done a very rough version of what he ended up doing here, and then later at the Sculpture Center. Which was to construct a temporary gambling setup with a table, and do a performance in which he’s basically an abstract croupier, improvising abstraction on an abstract table, with various people who don’t know what the hell’s going on. We wanted basically, because the nature of this space already feels halfway to a clandestine speakeasy-type venue, we wanted to do a very late thing, after the Miguel Abreu event, where everyone would come round the corner and be invited to come in and participate in the gambling. I think partly why it’s interesting is because, in a more extreme version of not being able to fit very many people in here, we only allowed four people in at a time to play for ten minutes or so. So we had a bouncer and a—

 

RYAN:  Who was the bouncer?

 

REINFURT:  Steffan… We had a French bouncer.

 

BAILEY:  A French hairdresser.

 

REINFURT:  French hairdresser who was our bouncer. Who looks like a kind of—

 

BAILEY:  He looked pretty convincing.

 

REINFURT:  He was substantial.

 

BAILEY: With a chain across the top. There was a line of people, apparently, outside, and most of them were very angry that they couldn’t get—

 

REINFURT:  You paid twenty dollars to get a seat at the table, and you were offered a drink as you came in, a cocktail.

 

BAILEY:  Then we were  offering neat gin. There was maybe eight people in here at a turn: four people playing, four spectators. And then those people would  exit and someone would have fifty dollars for no apparent reason…[Ryan laughs]

 

REINFURT:  The table was set here in the center. There was nothing else in the room. We went so far as to install a hidden camera, because a casino has a hidden camera.

 

RYAN:  Did it work?

 

BAILEY:  It worked very well. And then we managed to record over all the footage…

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. Unbelievable.

 

BAILEY:  …the next morning, by accident.

 

RYAN:  No!

 

REINFURT:  Unbelievable.

 

BAILEY:  Which says something about our general approach to documentation. [laughs]

 

REINFURT:  I know. Passive-aggressive, self-canceling.

 

BAILEY:  So just that both the strangeness and the playing to the space of that seems significant as an event, and it seemed like an interesting event. And the second was —

 

REINFURT:  Actually, I need to add something, which is simply that the way the event happened is, I think,  illustrative of other things. Michael had been around for some other earlier events, and Stuart started talking to him. He  mentioned that he had this project called Abstract Gambling. And Stuart’s like, that name, “Abstract Gambling”, that’s amazing— We’ve got to do that. No idea what it was, but “Abstract Gambling— So it was, We’ve got to do this event because…

 

BAILEY:  Because it’s called “Abstract Gambling.”

 

REINFURT:  …it’s abstract gambling. What could be more wonderful?. So we decided to do the event for the name itself, without having any idea of what it is. And so it’s different from seeing one of his pieces at the Sculpture Center and saying, Oh, we should do that here. Which is the way exhibitions so often work. You see a piece, you say, I want that piece of work here in this other show.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

REINFURT:  You know, give it a new context. It was working completely the other way around, and it was an absolutely strange and fantastic evening.

 

BAILEY:  But I think there’s something you can miss in these talks or interviews or something, which is a — the hysteria that is involved in a name like that. Or the word “party” in the (Party) per bend sinister, right? It’s very deliberate. And something we haven’t talked about, but when me and David were writing that text, which explains the (Party) per bend sinisterthing, we  have some degree of ability to write stuff together, at the same time. I remember us sitting behind a screen trying to work out that text that explains the badge. And we started talking about it in terms of what we called “visual editing”. Right? That the paragraphs should somehow look smaller than they are. Or the text should look as if it’s broken up more.

 

REINFURT:  It should be indented because—

 

BAILEY:  The actual language or the text and the way it looks on the page, typeset, are inextricably tied together. A good example of that is that there’s one single word that forms a paragraph, which is the word “bastards”. And it’s used within the text to both relate something about—

 

RYAN: Within what text again?

 

BAILEY: This is a text within Notes for an Art School our note about the heraldic badge. But it’s also to look ridiculous and to be like, What is that? Anyway, I wanted to point to that  hysterical aspect of things that we’re as interested in.

 

The second event I wanted to mention was  a dinner that we had here, which was a dinner for people who contribute to Dot Dot Dot, which I wanted to do for a long time, partly as  a thank you. I wanted to posit that as a completely private thing, as opposed to a public thing. So it wasn’t an event, as such. But I thought that was quite a special thing.

 

REINFURT:  It was around Thanksgiving, as well. And Sarah Crowner made plates that we all ate off of. And we shared gravlax and— Well, no, herring.

 

BAILEY:  We had herring imported from the Good World Bar around the corner.

 

REINFURT:   Herring, yes. We had big herring platters.

 

BAILEY:  Rest in peace. [they laugh]

 

REINFURT:  And aquavit. And the entire place smelled strongly of herbal liquor.

 

RYAN:  So there was a large table in here.

 

REINFURT: One of those tables.

 

RYAN:  How many contributors were there?

 

BAILEY:  Maybe twenty.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. Beautiful.

 

BAILEY: I remember one moment that night, where I  stopped talking to people and listened. And it was like the loudest roar of people, which seemed sentimentally significant to me.

 

REINFURT:  But even in talking so many of the people didn’t know each other. They were not really from the same circle at all. They were really completely different circles of people, because that’s who gravitate towards contributing, or who we talk to or who we know, in different ways. But everybody had this amazing time—I mean, it was a fantastic— You had fantastic conversations all night, and in different, surprising ways. I heard that from a lot of the people who went to it.

 

BAILEY:  As a way into saying one simple thing we haven’t talked about, which is how this space gets reconfigured a lot, I’m pointing at two long, I guess, twelve-foot tables.

 

REINFURT:  No, eight-foot.

 

BAILEY:  Eight-foot tables that are leaning against the wall where you’re sitting, that take up pretty much half the space when they are set up. And they’re each a single sheet of wood with a glass surface. We pretty much have never used those, apart from that first time. But during the dinner, for example, they were set up throughout the middle of the space.

 

BAILEY:  And then we reconfigured the bookshelves as benches.

 

RYAN:  Oh.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  That kind of thing has happened quite a lot. It’s been a way to try and maintain the lack of stuff in here, because whenever we have an event, it usually involves rearranging everything in one way or another.

 

REINFURT:  And purging.

 

BAILEY:  A simultaneous purging --It’s an excuse to clear stuff out. Although it looks actually in need, in dire need of one of those purges right now. That has happened quite regularly, and  importantly, over the last five years.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, and in relation to that rearranging of space to meet the practical demands of whatever event it might be, then to leave it that way for two months afterwards or whatever seems absolutely  productive to keeping on doing work.

 

BAILEY:  People react to that in a very weird way. I mean, they come in, they’re, Oh, this is totally different to when I was here before.

 

REINFURT: When we’re in here working every day or— Then to work in a different way, that keeps you on your toes. So that’s the way, the silent way the space maps back onto the work. You can never say what it is, but I think it’s really there.

 

RYAN:  I want to ask one more question about the Michael Portnoy event. How did he set it up? What was in here for that?

 

BAILEY:  He did a gambling table that he especially designed and commissioned, had made by [they laugh] a very strange guy who came—

 

REINFURT:  Who stayed all night.

 

BAILEY:  And he stood in that corner behind you and drank a bottle of Jack Daniels, I think…

 

REINFURT:  At least.

 

BAILEY:  …the whole night, and made very loud comments.

 

REINFURT:  [laughs] Me, too.

 

BAILEY:  I have no idea what he thought was going on. [they laugh] But it was a giant, beautiful table that was royal blue with white abstractions on it. This was the playing surface, with a bunch of strange objects.

 

RYAN:  Was Michael topless with a bowtie? Or is that something else? I’ve seen that image.

 

BAILEY: [They laugh]. It was actually true, yeah.

Dexter Sinister Event Abstract Gambling Saturday, July 28, 2007 With Michael Portnoy Closing event of I AM 120 (Marcel Duchamp's birthday) hosted by WIll Holder as part of Alex Waterman's AGAPÉ series at Miguel Abreu Gallery
Photo by unknown

 

REINFURT:  But as well, we left the gambling table there all summer so you had to work around the table. In fact, Michael used it to exhibit his work more or less. He could bring people in and show them the table. And so, you’re working the rest of the summer with this big, blue gambling table in the middle of the space, and he’s using it as a place to show the work. It’s interesting.

 

RYAN: I know that Sarah Crowner has been a very important part of the context of the space. Can you describe her involvement?

 

REINFURT: When we decided to do the bookstore, taking the space and getting it all set up and figuring out how to do that, then Stuart realized we need somebody else to help get that working. Stuart knew Sarah already, through mutual friends. Sarah besides making her artwork, she had worked at Cabinet magazine, organizing; and worked at the Fluxus archive; and had run Claes Oldenburg’s studio and had various administrative positions—

 

BAILEYPrinted Matter.

 

REINFURT:  Printed Matter for example, and had the perfect  synthesis of all those things already. So she knew all the people in the world of books that we were getting to, and was really capable and good and interested in  organizing all this. The bookstore wouldn’t have happened without her doing all that. That was every bit a  creative act of figuring out how to do that thing and practically, getting it to work and tending shop sometimes on Saturdays. She was absolutely  instrumental— And also in distributing Dot Dot Dot and getting payments from vendors, et cetera. She was absolutely instrumental from the beginning, in that. You know, she was, at the same time— She was employed. We paid her a small salary, a very meager salary, to do this, to sit in the shop and do all these other tasks. And that was a bit different than— Stuart and I, obviously—well, not obviously, but we weren’t paying ourselves or doing any of that. And in fact, she also worked in the Oldenburg studio other days during the week, and then making her art, as well.

 

RYAN:  Are there any other events that you’d like to mention in the space right now, or would you like to move on to another question?

 

BAILEY:  I think move on. The events didn’t really happen as — as much as we’d intended at the start. And that, as much as anything, was  me moving to L.A. and then—

 

RYAN:  Which was when?

 

BAILEY:  [laughs] It’s still happening. [they laugh]

 

REINFURT:  But you know, they did happen the first three years.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah, I have a sense that it wasn’t as…

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  …involved as we were intending at the start, is the sense I have of it. But maybe we should list some more. I can’t really—

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, I suspect, actually, they were, it’s just we haven’t done them or focused on it in a little while, so it becomes a little blurry. But at the time, it was very important.  We were always taking those very seriously. Not calculating what they would be, but spending a good deal of effort to pull them off.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah. No, I should say in a way, the most pertinent, in a way, was Christoph Keller did a…

 

REINFURT:  A beautiful thing.

 

BAILEY:  … talk and a schnapps tasting down here, which was very early into our relationship with him. He organized a kiosk show at Artists Space, and we suggested he did something after that event here, as a continuation and after party of that. Christoph is a book publisher; he started Revolver Books, and ended up being a distiller.  We were interested partly in that switch from publishing to distilling alcohol, and the various suggestive connotations of that. So we got him to do a talk about his farm and about distilling down here. It was literally him, stood in a corner. We had some cheese available from a local cheese shop. He brought maybe ten bottles of schnapps with him. The place was completely packed. Basically, what he did, very cleverly and impressively, was dragged this talk out over about two and a half hours, and was deliberately, I think, slow. He’s a very good speaker in the way that he won’t take any — anyone not paying attention.

 

RYAN:  Oh, really? [laughs]

 

REINFURT:  Asked them to leave.

 

BAILEY:  And he just—

 

RYAN:  Wow.

 

REINFURT:  Beautiful.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah. In a way that when he does it, it just makes perfect sense.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, it’s not rude.

 

BAILEY:  That’s what should happen. Totally politely, but—I guess he had a laptop with images, and he’d talk about his farm and his animals and the idea of why he’d moved to the farm, and then very slowly got onto the alcohol and how that related to the rest of the farming and the farm. Every ten minutes or so, he’d open a new bottle [Reinfurt laughs] and pass it round, and everyone would be jostling to get a mouthful. He’d keep that up, that’s why it went on for that long. You could feel everyone getting collectively drunk. Then the questions started getting  rambling and maybe surreal. Just as a talk that did what it’s talking about…

 

REINFURT:  [laughs]

 

BAILEY: That was pretty special.

 

Dexter Sinister Event Keller im Keller
March 30, 2007
With Christoph Keller Held to celebrate the opening of the Kiosk –
Modes of Multiplication exhibition at Artists Space earlier the same evening.
Keller and participants had a late night sampling of high-end alcohol that
had been distilled on his farm, Stählemühle, in rural Germany.
Video by David Reinfurt

 

RYAN:  In terms of Dot Dot Dot, at what point did—  what was the issue where Dot Dot Dot  was folded into Dexter Sinister or became a Dexter Sinister-type entity? And how did that happen? What was that transition like?

 

BAILEY:  Well, I mean, the first thing to say is pretty much since I moved to New York David had been co-editing it, more or less.

 

RYAN:  And what year was that?

 

BAILEY:  2005?

 

REINFURT:  Number 11 was laid out on the floor here. Do you remember, number 11 was all ready to go and then it was laid out on the floor here, before we had any space— We were somehow down here. Before we moved in. But do you remember laying it out over the entire floor?

 

BAILEY:  No.

 

RYAN:  …sheet by sheet? No? I do.

 

BAILEY:  Wow.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. And we took over the whole space— Because for some reason, we’re looking at the whole thing. It was ready to go to the printer.

 

BAILEY:  Oh. I didn’t realize it was that early. But I mean, it’s roughly half Dot Dot Dot’s life. So, I  moved more or less on the tenth or eleventh.

 

RYAN:  Tenth issue, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  The second ten have been  Dexter Sinister, even before Dexter Sinister existed. But then really, I guess the turning point, literally, is about number 15, which was the first project that we’d been asked to do that was more of an ambitious thing, involving a large number of people. And, to cut a long story short, was using that stencil printer technology, bringing that machine and three of the printers from the community center, plus six or seven contributors writing, to one space in Geneva, and producing that issue over two weeks, in a very focused way. Part of the reason for bringing that technology was  that it seemed like it could reasonably— it was reasonable to try, at least, to print 3,000 copies in two weeks. The machine was more or less portable. Otherwise there would’ve been no other technology that we could perceive that would do that. That was also the first issue that really went for this this what I usually describe as a  demonstrative aspect, which is to say that rather than a piece writing about a subject, there’s something in the whole production that demonstrates the subject. Which is to do with economy and print economy and collaboration.

 

RYAN:  The name of that show was Wouldn’t It Be Nice, and it was curated at the Centre de Art Contemporain, Geneva by Katya Garcia-Anton and Emily King. I would like to talk about that show for a while because it seems to be one of the more important exhibitions you’ve been involved with. I don’t think we’re going to have time to discuss the Whitney Biennial and all the others. Do you think this is a better one to talk about than the Whitney Biennial?

 

BAILEY:  Well, in the sense that it’s a template for the rest of them…

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, exactly.

 

BAILEY:  …in terms of what they’d call “performative publishing”, or what we reluctantly accept as [they laugh] a description. But yeah, I don’t know whether it’s—

 

REINFURT:  It is the clearest one to talk about.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah. It’s the hardest, because we’ve talked about it so many times. [laughs]

 

REINFURT:  I know.

 

RYAN:  Well—

 

BAILEY:  No, it’s fine. It’s fine.

 

REINFURT:  It’s okay, Bart.

 

RYAN:  Well, let me circle back just for a second to say, David, when did you become involved in Dot Dot Dot? Because I notice you’re published in earlier issues—

 

REINFURT:  Well, you know, like Stuart was saying, in 2000, when I started ORG and he started Dot Dot Dot, that was when we met through Paul? Is that when you were— Yeah. Or ’99 or whatever.

 

RYAN:  Where were you when you met?

 

REINFURT: I had moved to New York and Stuart was visiting Paul Elliman, who was teaching at Yale at the time. He was my teacher when I was there. I was helping Paul with a bunch of work after school for a while. And so Paul was regularly at the studio, and he came by with Stuart one time. I think that was it.

 

RYAN:  What was Stuart wearing? [they laugh]

 

REINFURT: I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you.

 

BAILEY:  I was wearing that karate outfit.

 

REINFURT:  Were you? No, no. [they laugh]

 

RYAN:  Sorry. Yeah.

 

REINFURT:  Kung fu. Well, so I knew Dot Dot Dot right from the beginning, through Paul and meeting Stuart, et cetera. It was even down to the level of like, you know, the second issue, Paul was designing the cover and I operated the computer software to make the cover. So I was aware of it, right from the very beginning, and intending to write something right at the first couple issues, but didn’t get my act in gear until finally writing something— You know, something came together that was about a trip to Berlin. I made that piece for Number 5. At which point, Stuart and I continued to talk, and then I more or less wrote things in the next issues, maybe skipping one. I wrote a series of pieces in the next number of issues and have continued to, off and on, write in them. I guess from the beginning, but in no meaningful way at the beginning, but  having it on my shelf and being intimately aware of what was going on.

 

RYAN:  So where are we, we’re in Geneva. What year is this?

 

REINFURT:  I’m no good with years.

 

BAILEY:  It’ll say on the side of the journal—

 

REINFURT:  OK, here….

 

REINFURT:  Um, 3000! [they laugh] 2007. 24th of October to 7th of November, 2007. Okay.

 

RYAN:  Okay.

 

REINFURT:  It does say 3,000, also. OK, so we’re there. I thought one way to talk about it, One nice way to talk about it is that there’s— As we were doing it, there’s this large piece of paper rubbing that Will Holder had made, hanging on the wall in the space in Geneva at the Contemporary Art Center. 

Dexter Sinister Exhibition Will Holder’s rubbing of A Monument to Cooperation hanging at the Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, Switzerland within the context of Dexter Sinister’s contribution to the group exhibition Wouldn't it be Nice curated by Emily King and Katya García-Antón 25 October – 16 December 2007
Photo by Stuart Bailey

That rubbing was something that Will had made when he was here for a summer, previous to this fall in 2007. He was here for a while, doing a number of things, including attending the Abstract Gambling at that point. I’d taken him on a walk at one point to see a plaque that’s down the street, that’s near the apartments where I live. Part of the apartment complex, actually. And it’s called A Monument to Cooperation. It’s written by a nineteenth century English Quaker, John Holyoke,  who writes about a concert for the distribution of wealth. He was a socialist, clearly. And I think it’s so beautifully written I showed it to Will. When he departed, when he left after the summer, he went there one night and made five rubbings with a red crayon, the four sides of this Monument to Cooperation, with the full text, and left them here. That was a very beautiful thing. When we were in Geneva, we hung one of those up on the wall. This Monument to Cooperation was a bit of a— Well, it organizes how the project happened, in a way The Monument to Cooperation was actually printed at a reduced size in Dot Dot Dot 15. But that idea that it takes this— I mean, in this case, it took all the people willing to come for three weeks and do this project together, and very much willing to play along with the idea of making a magazine there together, and writing it under these circumstances and doing it in public and being there while the printers are going. There’s so much good will that goes into a project like that that’s linked around an idea of cooperation. Its important to be concerned with organizing it in a way where everybody stays because you’ve tried hard to make it a nice working situation. We’ve prevailed on that same good will in lots of other projects since then. However, the good will’s always counterbalanced by being paid to the best of our ability always, and the ability to pay the contributors for participating, because we expect the same support and take that as seriously as anything else. You can’t simply live off of credit.

 

BAILEY: And many of our projects follow that template; say the project we did for the Whitney Biennial—

 

BAILEY:  And a recent thing we did in Vancouver, at the Contemporary Art Gallery; a second incarnation— a third, actually, incarnation of the Wouldn’t It Be Nice exhibition, at a place called Somerset House, in London; and two performances called True Mirror Microfiche, all of which involved twenty, thirty, forty people contributing to the outcome. With the Swiss project, the Geneva project, fortunately, it was in Switzerland, so there was money. Fortunately, they asked a long time in advance. There was maybe a year or nearly a year lead-in time, in which there was a lot of negotiation, where we made it pretty much a prominent part of the project that we wanted this budget to be allocated to our contribution upfront, for us to be able to take responsibility of how it’s carved up. This was because we wanted the Dot Dot Dot issue to perform that responsibility somehow. As much as the cooperation was amongst us, it was also between us and the institution.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, absolutely.

 

BAILEY:  That was crucial to the whole thing. We knew that pretty early on, so we were able to make a strong case for it.  The idea of that was, for example, to say, Well, if we take the responsibility to book people’s flights early enough to get cheap flights, rather than what usually happens, of no one committing to exactly when they can come and so it’s always done last minute, so the prices have doubled; or for example, in putting two people per room, rather than everyone having an individual room; that meant it would free up budget to, say, have another section in the magazine or print color rather than black and white or any number of other things. Have a dinner together or something. That seemed at least as much an essay as anything else that might look like an essay in the issue. I don’t want to go on about this too long, but one really beautiful thing for me was that going into that, we had some idea that we might try and graph that somehow to make clear that that’s part of what’s going on. That is what you see on the cover is these two stacks of paper—which is basically all that was there when we arrived; it was a  giant sculpture of paper that would eventually produce 3,000 copies of 128-page issue—weirdly wrapped in paper with red, white and blue dots on it. So the stacks were this monument to cooperation in themselves.

 

Cover of Dot Dot Dot Produced on location at the Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, Switzerland, 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
Photo by Joke Robard

RYAN:  They look like artworks

 

REINFURT:  Planned ornaments. Yeah.

 

BAILEY: Just the simple fact, of course, as we were printing over those two, three weeks, the paper would go down. And the stacks of printed sheets would be getting bigger. So it was like a

3-D live bar chart of that transformation from raw material into something else. Things like that were really beautiful realizations metaphorically, as much as, of course, just spending time with each other and the ways in which everyone’s contributions bled into everybody else’s.

 

RYAN:  Here you have a group of people who are more or less in a room together, in a space, discussing content. Are you all editing it together and so on? Everybody’s involved on every level of the decisions that are being made; is that correct?

 

BAILEY:  More or less, but it also plays out in terms of the different personalities at work, of course.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

BAILEY:  But it was group of people that were happy to spend time with each other, for sure. It became pretty apparently quickly, how special that situation was, or how unusual it was, to make something where you’re face to face. Of course, in 2007, that is not normal for such an extended amount of time.

 

Dexter Sinister Exhibition Producing Dot Dot Dot 15 on location at Centre d'Art Contemporain Geneva, Switzerland, within the context of the group exhibition Wouldn't it be Nice curated by Emily King and Katya García-Antón. Participants include, from left to right: Will Holder, Jan Verwoert, Jan Dirk de Wilde, Polona Kuzman, Walead Beshty, David Reinfurt, Joyce Guley, Stuart Bailey, Anthony Huberman 25 October – 16 December 2007
Photo by Joke Robard

RYAN:  Yeah. And it’s interesting because Jan Verwoert essay or piece “Use Me Up” was one of the hooks you were hanging the content around, I believe.

 

BAILEY:  It was the whole premise, yeah.

 

RYAN:  Right. So can you talk about that essay because I think that ties into other things to do with Dot Dot Dot, really.

 

REINFURT:  Well, it was an essay that Jan wrote for Metropolis M, the Dutch art magazine. That’s where we had read it. And it was not a departure from what he was writing before. But he was talking about a particular situation, where as a writer in the art world or as any…

 

BAILEY:  Cultural worker.

 

REINFURT:  …as a cultural worker—better description—you’re called to perform your services on demand, and often in a certain location. And the speed at which that happens, the speed at which the invitations come, the speed at which the work has to be done—and it’s always done at somebody else’s bidding and it’s done to a deadline and you’re trying to skirt one deadline in order to do another one—and these kinds of balancing acts, which are the de facto status of being a cultural worker, because the fees you’re paid aren’t enough to spend all your time doing one thing— Then the expectations from the people commissioning you are partially paying you that fee because they know you’re doing other things, as well. It’s not like they think this is your only living wage. So it sets up quite a vicious circle, where the expectations from the person commissioning aren’t necessarily that you’re committing so much to it; and as well, what you’re getting paid to do it doesn’t allow you to do that. It ends up in this weird situation where you’re worked only to the point— You know, you can only follow this  all the way to the point of exhaustion. And actually, Jan, in this “Use Me Up” piece, he was talking about that point of exhaustion as being a useful point of resistance to this. Because obviously, this is symptomatic of a capitalist, late capitalist context, right? You know, fly around the world…sit somewhere, perform something on demand for somebody who’s paying you the lowest possible wage they can get away with paying you for doing that. You respond practically by saying, Oh, I go here and do that, I do that, I do that. He’s saying that reaching a point of exhaustion, where you  physically can’t do any more, is a useful way to resist the former. You know, and actually, that can be a ploy, rather than saying, I’m not doing it. Opting out is one thing, but then to work to the point of the exhaustion is also another way to do it. He was pointing towards something that he developed in a later— in the article in the Dot Dot Dot issue, which is an idea of  ecstatic or exuberant exhaustion, or an  ecstatic resistance, where you both have reached the end of what can be done, but you are doing that in some sort of ecstatic way, as a way to resist the forces that command you to  come there and perform these things, without  stopping doing it. So both doing it and resisting it at the same time. I think that part’s really beautiful and instructive for—

 

RYAN:  In a peculiar way, in animating that discussion you were still producing something, you were contributing to…

 

REINFURT:  Yes…

 

RYAN:  But you were also, if you like, trying to get rid of as much of the alienation from the labor that occurs in these things as possible—

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY:  I mean, that’s the paradox, right? And you can take that right back to the first thing we were talking about, which is the Terminal 5 catalog. How do you deal with that, the exhaustion of that form, that format? The exhibition catalog, or the 296-page thing? Some exhausted thing. You know, I mean, no one really wants them anyway, [laughs] anymore, so they’re produced largely on an expectation, that has achieved a sort of momentum or inertia that you’re trying to deal with. Of course, there’s stuff we want to make and there’s stuff we want to share and write at the same time. You’re always in that situation of how are you dealing with adding to that thing you’re complaining about?

 

REINFURT:  You could just as easily say, No more art catalogs. You know, that’s it! The catalog is over. It’s now going to be all discussions and theater events and whatever.

 

BAILEY:  But with Jan’s situation, the exuberance or the hysteria was very deliberately played out…

 

REINFURT:  Yeah.

 

BAILEY: In a kind of theatrical way, the idea was to bring Jan to the exact situation he’s writing about, and put him into an exaggerated version of that, a cartoon version of that. So he’s literally sat in the corner of this space in Geneva, wrapped in a blanket, with a little lamp, with a bottle of beer, and all of us  sat there—

 

REINFURT:  A printing press going choong-choong-choong. [they laugh]

 

BAILEY:  The tapping of various feet waiting for the….

 

REINFURT:  “Come on, Jan.” [laughs]

 

BAILEY:  It was exactly like that. There were three people proofreading the night he had to get the flight the next morning. It was going straight onto the press by the end of that process.

 

RYAN:  Was he flying off to some other projects?

 

BAILEY:  Probably.

 

REINFURT:  I’m sure. Of course, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  Probably to Rotterdam to teach, yeah.

 

BAILEY:  Even that wasn’t that conscious, in terms of— Because he hadn’t written the piece yet. But in the exuberance, he’s making a case for—

 

RYAN:  So it’s not like you created a calm oasis for each other. There was still this very—

 

REINFURT:  It was a luxury. I mean, it was absolutely a luxury.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah. But there were moments of—

 

REINFURT:  But it was intense production. But it’s the same way when you get to work on one thing and— If you’re, obviously, engaged in what you— you know, if you really like what you do, you get to work on one thing and work on it as hard as you want, like, that’s a luxury. That’s a great situation— And especially doing it with other people, whom you’re feeding off of. Then it’s  a— It’s an intense situation, and there’s certainly times when you’re like, Okay, get it together and do this thing.

 

RYAN:  Yeah, it’s a model that was taken up recently in a different way, with the Iditorial issue of F.R. David in which  Dieter Roelstraete wrote an editorial a day for seven days and published them as the journal. OK, so we have…You have to leave at twelve-thirty exactly?

 

BAILEY:  Yeah.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, really exactly.

 

RYAN:  Okay. We have eleven minutes.

 

REINFURT:  In fact, the meter expires at 12:26.

 

RYAN:  Okay, so we have seven or whatever. This is a little like what you guys did to Jan Verwoert. Can you pack the entire rest of your history into seven minutes for me?

 

REINFURT:  Yes. You go ahead, please. [they laugh]

 

BAILEY:  So by now, we usually describe Dexter Sinister as a triangle of activities, right? That’s what it’s become, from being  this name without anything really being attributed to it. One of those things is the workshop, which is  to say an  expanded version of a design studio. One is as a distribution point/shop/storage space. And the last is as a strange almost pseudonym for an art practice. Projects that are very ambiguous when they arrive, and in terms of what they are and what’s expected. Usually, there isn’t really anything expected, other than somehow it’s circumscribed by the idea of publishing, in a broad sense. The shop aspect and the design aspect of Dexter Sinister pretty much speak for themselves. I mean, they’re not that strange or unusual. But the other thing has crept up on us a bit, and is  both harder to talk about and the most interesting stuff. So apart from Geneva, we did a subsequent project during the Whitney Biennial, which is called True Mirror, which was based on an interest in how do you slow down the reception of the biennial, or had the aim of trying and slow down or complicate the reception of the biennial. It involved producing a series of around forty what we called press releases, with different people—artists, philosophers, writers, curators. And each one of those things took a different form. They were asked to somehow reflect on the biennial, but that was a very open request. Our idea or our part of the job was to channel that form in a way that was appropriate to what it was saying or doing or trying to relate. We ended up with these thirty, forty different, differently channeled pieces of work, which might’ve been a music performance or a rumor or a compressed piece of sound, as much as they were more regular things like a fax or something that looked like a press release or a small pamphlet or an elevator operator.

A True Mirror Mirror box construction by True Mirror Co., NY, NY to realize a compound mirrored surface that reveals your reflection’s reflection, or in other words, how you appear to others. [2007]
Dexter Sinister Press Release Whitney Biennial 2008 Made as part of the True Mirror project from the Commander’s Room of the 7th Regiment Armory, New York.
Photos by David Reinfurt

 

REINFURT:  When True Mirror was finished, after three weeks of residency in a hidden room in the Armory, as part of the biennial, there was a desire to archive the project, or a perceived desire to archive the project. But we resisted. We didn’t want to simply archive it, like make a box of papers, because actually, so many of the events were ephemeral as Stuart is describing. They would resist that  ‘put-in-a-box’ archival impulse. Plus the texts were live, in the fact that they were only meaningful at that one moment, particularly. So, to archive it was we made a microfiche. That’s because it’s explicitly an archival form, it’s a tiny piece of film produced at a traditional microfiche/microfilm company up the Hudson. The idea of making it was that it would be a score for a performative lecture piece, which we were already invited to do something for at the Kitchen in New York a little bit after the biennial. We thought this fiche would be the format around which we would organize that performance. The Whitney Biennial gets archived into a small fiche form, which then gets projected twenty feet wide and is the backdrop for a performance piece Many of those texts had already found their way into Dot Dot Dot.

 

RYAN:  Into which issue?

 

REINFURT:  Number 16, so some of the pieces are in advance of the performance. But then doing that performance, another project Stuart mentioned quickly before was a series of three nights of lectures we organized at Somerset House in London, which became Dot Dot Dot 17. And that took a lot of its performative cues— Actually, that happened before the Kitchen event. But we were thinking about what it means to speak a text in public, and how that’s different when you’ve arranged something for speaking than for writing. So that was three nights of lectures,  staged in a rather theatrical or specific manner, whose form communicated as much as the contents. I’m listing these  in this order quickly  to point out one thing that becomes really clear to me, in the same way that rearranging the basement based on events or whim or whatever then maps back onto the way that work happens here, the way you greet somebody in here— all the  ways in which a form gestures towards its use. But this place is constantly also being rearranged due to practical concerns. And that keeps us moving. In the same way, these projects that Stuart is describing, these third kinds of projects, which increasingly are what we do, these things move— We’re very conscious of keeping them moving. Being explicit, and carrying over things from one project to the next. It’s not a matter of always  creating something new, but it’s a matter of  continuity and working an idea through forms. It may look like they have no particular relevance to each other—like a microfiche and a theater performance—but which lead you from one thing to the next thing, to the next thing, to the next thing. So the Somerset led to Dot Dot Dot 17 and then we redid a theater performance of True Mirror Microfiche. Tried to do it exactly the same as we had done before, which was—

 

RYAN:  During Talk Show?

 

REINFURT: Yes, at the ICA in London.

 

RYAN:  How did that go?

 

REINFURT:  It was drier for us, I’m sure. I think as an audience, it was probably not that dissimilar from the other version.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah, it was both exactly the same and completely different.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah. As you’d expect.

 

RYAN:  I was at the performance at the Kitchen, and you guys were really bossy. [Reinfurt laughs] But, I think that was part of the premise, right?...

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

RYAN: Was it that you had mapped out the script in advance so that there were certain moments where you were—

 

BAILEY:  Well, yeah. I mean, one thing we haven’t emphasized with these gallery/museum projects is how they’re very much setting up a structure. They’re setting up the conditions for something to happen within them. But again, like starting in this space with no furniture and nothing in it, the idea is to start on day one from zero, right? There’s a lot of preparation, but there’s no actual content generated yet. It always seems really important to hold off that and let it play out in real time according to those conditions. In that sense, then, our real work in that stuff is the invitation.

Dexter Sinister Performance True Mirror Microfiche The Kitchen, New York Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Participant: Adam Pendleton
Participants from left to right: Stuart Bailey and Michael Portnoy
Photos by unknown

RYAN:  Right.

 

BAILEY:  And of course, is the sort of physical setup and the conditions as well. But really, it is  how are you making that initial connection with the people that you wanted to collaborate with?

 

RYAN:  Because there was this moment— Watching the performance, there’s the very classic Brechtian device of exposing the construction of something. But that classically comes with the script. I know there was nominally a script for this that was handed out to people when they came in, it was almost like a missive that you get at church— Is that what they call them? But, it also was very much like, probably, an event you have here, where you’re going over and you’re turning up the radio and you’re doing all of these things.  At the Kitchen, was that aspect spontaneous, that level of real time control of the different elements, where you would instruct the sound engineer as to what to do next, or an artist/ performer?

 

REINFURT:  It was spontaneous in terms of what we actually did.

 

RYAN:  Right.

 

REINFURT:  But the idea to do that was there from the beginning. That we would be editing it live. All the texts were grouped around feedback in some way or the other. We wanted to, again, have the performance embody that idea or model that idea. As you’re watching the play, the performance or lecture or whatever, then you’re also seeing it being manipulated. It’s certainly breaking the fourth wall, but it’s as well, a different— I mean, we’re hoping it’s a different thing, as well, which is some degree of seeing it as something we put together and edited liv in front of your face.

 

BAILEY:  But if it works—and I’d say this about anything that we’ve been involved in; and I’m not saying it usually does, necessarily—is when that container—the structure—and the content are both equal.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, they’re balanced.

 

BAILEY:  And that’s what we’re trying for. And most explicitly, I think, in that True Mirror Microfiche thing, where the editing of it—you know, us moving around and less light here and turn this volume up and you stop talking now—is present and apparent, but it doesn’t outweigh what is being spoken or played or screened at the same time.  If they work, they should oscillate between the two. They’re both equally as important.

 

RYAN:  I wonder, should we  just end it there, because that was quite nice.

 

BAILEY:  I think we got it.

 

REINFURT:  I think so.

 

BAILEY:  Yeah.

 

REINFURT:  Yeah, I think we got it.

 

RYAN:  Okay. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

 

REINFURT:  Alright.

 

BAILEY:  You’re welcome.

 

REINFURT:  [whispers] Never again! [they laugh]

Video of 38 Ludlow Street basement before transformation.
Featuring Stuart Bailey.
Early 2006
Video by David Reinfurt

 

[END]