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ECSTATIC ALPHABETS/HEAPS OF LANGUAGE: A Q&A WITH DEXTER SINISTER, PART 1

Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language: A Q&A with Dexter Sinister, Part 1

Dexter Sinister (David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey). Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language. 2012. Exhibition catalogue (cover), 224 pages plus insert, edited with Angie Keefer. With 13 “bulletins” by Andrew Blum, Pierre-André Boutang, Chris Evans, Angie Keefer, Bruno Latour, Louis Lüthi, Graham Meyer, Francis McKee, David Reinfurt, Dexter Sinister, Ian Svenonius, Benjamin Tiven, and Jessica Winter, and an essay by Laura Hoptman. Courtesy The Serving Library

Dexter Sinister (David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey) is an artist team whose practice collapses the often discrete activities of designing, editing, publishing, and distributing books and journals, both printed and in digital form. A nonbureaucratic, nimble ecology of production characterizes their creative endeavors, as does a keen interest in pedagogy, conveyed through workshop-like seminars produced in public settings of museums and art organizations including The Whitney Museum of American Art and The Banff Centre. In 2011 Dexter Sinister, in collaboration with writer and artist Angie Keefer, founded The Serving Library, a multipronged platform that includes an electronic and physical archive of books and journals, a publishing wing, as well as an evolving pedagogical program. The Bulletins of The Serving Library is the mouth piece of the young institution, a journal that, like its predecessor Dot Dot Dot, is host to a wide variety of artistic and critical voices across disciplines. Two of the first three BoTSL issues were the product of specific, sometimes event or project-related circumstances. They are published as online PDFs at The Serving Library and as analog hard copies twice-yearly. Dexter Sinister’s work is currently featured in Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language until August 27, 2012, an exhibition I worked on together with Laura Hoptman, curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture. I took the opportunity to ask the duo a few questions via e-mail about their contribution to the exhibition. Following is the first part of this e-exchange, with more to come from them in the next post. Be sure to stay tuned!

So…your contribution to Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language is what you very nicely described as a “catalog-of-sorts,” plus a video trailer. In other words, it is the third issue of your Bulletins of The Serving Library. Your collaboration with international institutions has been an ongoing part of your practice (i.e. you’ve previously worked with such places as the Whitney, the Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneva, the ICA in London, and currently are involved with the Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen). Can you briefly backtrack and describe how the MoMA project first came about?

When Laura Hoptman first came to our basement in order to describe her ideas for the exhibition, it quickly became apparent that the group of artists she had in mind included many people we’d previously collaborated with, published, or otherwise been influenced (and even directly taught) by. She initially invited us to make a publication *as a work in the show,* presumably with the idea of building on these extant relationships. Such a publication would typically serve to articulate the collection of practices, provide an umbrella or a unifying voice, and I guess the idea of involving us was to work towards the same ends in a less obviously didactic, more skewed, and intimate fashion. At the same time, we realized our relationships and/or affinities with the other artists weren’t exactly consistent or equivalent, and that it would be something of a push—and probably a headache—to try and force a bunch of close collaborations.

Our immediate reaction was to instead simply use this specific situation to produce what we’re generally engaged in producing anyway—a journal called Bulletins of The Serving Library that we make together with a third editor, Angie Keefer, and which extends from 10 years of a predecessor called Dot Dot Dot. During that decade, we’d become increasingly adept at turning such loose invitations from arts institutions into a means of perpetuating the journal—not only in a financial sense, but also in terms of letting the specifics of the situation (the location, setup, theme, or all three) direct that particular issue’s contents. You might say that we became increasingly opportunistic in terms of channeling resources towards something we thought was worthwhile to continue, where ideally both parties—and an eventual audience —gain from the arrangement. The various frictions that result from such circumstances, which aren’t exactly normal, and usually require a lot of upfront negotiation, trust-building, confusion, and clarification, always end up seeming eminently, weirdly productive.

Dexter Sinister (David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey). Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language. 2012. Exhibition catalogue (back cover), 224 pages plus insert, edited with Angie Keefer. With 13 “bulletins” by Andrew Blum, Pierre-André Boutang, Chris Evans, Angie Keefer, Bruno Latour, Louis Lüthi, Graham Meyer, Francis McKee, David Reinfurt, Dexter Sinister, Ian Svenonius, Benjamin Tiven, and Jessica Winter, and an essay by Laura Hoptman. Courtesy The Serving Library

In this case, then, it made sense to orient the contents of this issue around the broad theme of the exhibition—roughly speaking, language as raw material and its specific typographic forms. And so we took the generous invitation and its resources and used them to commission what ended up being 13 texts by artists and writers, most of whom we’d worked with before, along with a couple of new connections, and one or two artists in the show itself. The resultant essays and other set pieces circle around typography in the broadest sense—some directly addressing the subject and some hovering in its neighborhood. In this manner we were hoping to cast some light on the rest of the show *indirectly,* and this is the sense in which it’s a “catalogue-of-sorts.” In other words, it’s a pseudo-catalogue—not in the sense of fake or ironic, only in that it doesn’t really document the show per se, but runs parallel to it. (This isn’t entirely true, as there’s a nominal 48-page section at the back that shows a piece of work from everyone in the exhibition.) A similarly useful challenge was to try and produce something that would serve both as a catalogue for MoMA *and* as the third issue of our regular series. We often find ourselves making things that try to strike a balance, that are essentially two things at once, and again this tends to generate a lot of useful energy and forge a direction.

All that was obvious enough. Less clear was how to capitalize on the unusual situation in terms of distribution—”unusual” because we’re by no means used to such a mainstream location, broad exposure, or guaranteed audience. We initially considered the possibility of making the catalogue/issue freely available to take away from within the show itself, but on realizing the sheer numbers involved according to projected attendance, decided the same money would be better spent on properly commissioning some of the fairly involved pieces we had in mind, such as the extended essay on Sesame Street’s relationship to language and pedagogy. We would then still be able to afford to sell the catalogue/issue for a still absurdly low $5 at the bookstore. Ultimately this seemed the better option, as anyone vaguely interested in the publication presumably wouldn’t hesitate to spend $5 on it, yet we’d circumvent the likelihood of anyone else taking a copy simply because it’s free then immediately trashing it once outside. We’ve always been interested in that funny psychological dance that plays out between money and commitment. Regardless, the whole issue is still effectively available for free anyway, as all the pieces are downloadable from our engine site.

In the end, all these negotiations and considerations are ideally palpable in the resulting product—if not explicitly described, then at least deposited by way of a particularly *wired* process of editing. The final step was to try and capture something of all of this in the trailer we made in order to advertise the catalogue from within the show. This was frankly a joy to make after the push of the printed publication—a series of very brief distillations of each piece, hopefully assembled into something greater than the sum of its parts.

To continue reading our Q&A with Dexter Sinister, click here.

Comments

oh stewart, i can never follow you. i am always quitiing half way because i loose track of what you want to say. it is a pity because i think you have so much to say.

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