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An overview written for Christoph Keller's Kiosk collection

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All of which brings us up-to-date with DDD17 (READ) (SPOKEN) (DELIVERED) FROM TWO (LECTERNS) (SUPPORTS) (PROPS) AT THE EMBANKMENT GALLERIES, SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON ON 28/30/31 OCTOBER 2008 IN ADVANCE OF BEING (TRANSCRIBED) (TRANSLATED) (TRANSFIXED) AND RETURNED AT THE CLOSE OF THE EXHIBITION (MULTIPLIED) (PUBLISHED) (DISTRIBUTED) ON 21 DECEMBER 2008. The talks were deliberately planned to traverse the axis between total improvisation and total scripting, were more or less about the differences between spoken and written language, and effectively set up the productive problem of how to represent such a diverse 3D event in uniform 2D print. Two further sentiments from this event-publication can be repurposed to describe and embody both the magazine and this brief history. One is that THE NATURE OF UNCARVED BLOCKS IS HOW TO DESCRIBE WHAT’S HARD TO DESCRIBE, and then THE FIRST RULE IS ALWAYS PRODUCTION, NEVER DOCUMENTATION. THE SECOND RULE IS THERE ARE NO RULES.

On the other hand, DDD16 was A W.A.S.T.E. OF INK (AFTER THOMAS PYNCHON), some kind of critical mass of all the in-jokes, clues, puzzles, and embedded references. It was produced more or less under the auspices of a wide-reaching project titled ’True Mirror’ by Dexter Sinister at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, and fed off similar interests: shadows, mirrors, gaps, and parallels. The subtitle refers to both the abbreviated slogan used to mark the clandestine distribution system in Pynchon’s 1966 novel The Crying of Lot 49 (We Await Silent Trystero’s Empire), and the fact that the issue was inversely printed, i.e. white out of black rather than black on white.

Next we tried to model our interest in parallel publishing by effectively performing the mechanics of producing an entire issue from beginning to end – and again the subtitle compresses the whole conceit into a single overlong sentence. DOT DOT DOT FIFTEEN IS PRODUCED ON LOCATION AT THE CENTRE D'ART CONTEMPORAIN GENEVE, SWITZERLAND, BETWEEN 24 OCTOBER AND 7 NOVEMBER, 2007 BY MAI ABU ELDAHAB, STUART BAILEY, WALEAD BESHTY, SARAH CROWNER, JOYCE GULEY, WILL HOLDER, ANTHONY HUBERMAN, POLONA KUZMAN, DAVID REINFURT, JOKE ROBAARD, JAN VERWOERT, AND JAN DIRK DE WILDE ON RICOH TC2, RICOH JP8500, AND RISO V8000 STENCIL PRINTING MACHINES IN AN EDITION OF 3000. The idea was rooted in an article, ‘Use Me Up’, written by Jan Verwoert for another magazine, which describes the contemporary condition as founded on the constant pressure to perform, and as such headed towards exhaustion. In Geneva we forced Jan into an extreme version of this state, writing under the weight of a number of tangible deadlines: a waiting editorial team, a silent printing press, stacks of blank paper etc. At the same time, this exaggerated setup was also simply a practical way of prolonging the journal’s life: we agreed to perform the production in the gallery on the condition that they pay all its production costs. We received a single lump sum to redirect among the various contributors fees, accommodation, travel, and manufacturing costs, which resulted in an issue visibly sculpted by its specific economic contingencies. For example, booking (say) Jan’s return flight from Berlin reasonably early enough afforded us money saved from the typically expensive confirmed-at-the-last-minute tendencies of institutional ‘organisation’ to fund (say) more pages in the issue – or another contributor, or extra nights in the hotel. In other words, the responsibility yielded a lot of good qualities: thrift, community, presence, conversation, etc.

DDD14 took its habitual theft to some kind of logical extreme by using a cover previously assembled (but discarded) by Cabinet magazine, and covered up parts of their regular subtitle so only OF ART AND CULTURE remains, which suggests something of the slow shift over seven years from a specific focus on graphic design to a general out-of-focus interest in everything else.

DDD13 was largely the result of conversations already begun with would-be participants at the school, or at least from one of its three departments, and therefore subtitled REPORT OF THE DDDEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE FICTION AND ECONOMICS. By this time the idea of Dexter Sinister had shifted to a basement on New York’s Lower East Side, where it was manifest as a ‘Just-in-Time Workshop and Occasional Bookstore’, initially as a distribution point for the magazine, as well as a storage space when the inventory was eventually shipped over from Europe. We initially began to operate this local distribution alongside the regular channels in order to cut down the time it typically took for a printed copy to reach a bookstore in New York (which could by anything up to four months when cursed with some ancillary problem: printers forgetting to dispatch, boxes held indefinitely at customs, shippers losing a shipment, etc.) When the store started to attract an audience and we realised that for every $15 copy sold we received $15 rather than what amounted to more like $2 from a regular outlet, we started to take it more seriously. As well as paying its own rent, revenue from Dexter Sinister’s sales and its ancillary projects started to fund the journal too. Since then Dot Dot Dot has officially been published by – and is effectively the house journal of – Dexter Sinister.

The spine of DDD12 contained a long sentence scanned from a page at the end of Cornelius Cardew’s 1967 musical score Treatise, with the beginning ‘No part of’ covered up to state THIS WORK MAY BE REPRODUCED, FOR ANY REASON, BY ANY MEANS, INCLUDING ANY METHOD OF PHOTOGRAPHIC REPRODUCTION, WITHOUT THE PERMISSION OF THE PUBLISHER – sentiments in line with the trajectory of our feelings towards copyright, production and dispersion. This attitude was also the basis of Dexter Sinister, a publishing imprint in the broadest possible sense, which was set up alongside the Manifesta 5 experimental art school, due to take place in Nicosia, Cyprus in late 2006 but eventually cancelled for ostensibly political reasons.

In the gap between DDD’s X and 11 the publication moved to New York, and the next couple of issues were pared down, mostly black and white, while we survived cheaply on some of the income accumulated from the contentious accounting. The back cover of DDD11 warned HIGH MODERNISTS WAX WINGS, though it remains unclear whether this was an admonishment to ourselves, high-minded modernists in general, or both. I think it means we were taking ourselves a little too seriously, but it also served to declare and demonstrate the house typeface we’ve since developed from this issue onwards. Mitim was named after the word invented by Ryan Gander which refers to its own invention and, as such, consistent with our increased interest in self-reflexivity as both form and content. The idea was that Mitim should develop pragmatically, growing up in public from issue to issue, according to specific needs as and when they come along. Like the suggestion to ‘pay no more than’ and attempted debt collection, Mitim demonstrates the magazine becoming more demonstrative: rather than simply writing about subjects, it attempts to embody them. Where earlier issues carried pieces about the ethics of stylistic revival through the specific lens of typography, for example, now Mitim was simply doing it.

Having arrived at this financial impasse, the tenth issue – X – became a necessary watershed. We printed cheaply in Estonia, where we happened to be teaching and installing an exhibition, and collected the best of the previous five years’ content to avoid new contributors’ fees. This also afforded us the chance to assemble the stronger elements of what we’d done to into a template of how to continue – a replay of the pilot issue using our own rather than others’ history. It’s cover was similarly an amalgamation of previous covers, and its back cover similarly an amalgamation of previous subtitles to form one unpunctuated compound headed A ROMANCE.

By DDD9 – somewhere on the edge of 2005 and now no less than 12.5 Euros – we were entirely comfortable with appropriating or borrowing or stealing found texts, including an entire 16-page ‘Introduction’ by the British writer B.S. Johnson which had originally introduced a collection of his writing in 1973. A further fragment of passive aggressive dialogue from one of his novels appears on the top right corner of the issue (‘YOUR WORK HAS BEEN A CONSTANT DIALOGUE WITH FORM?' 'IF YOU LIKE', I REPLIED DIFFIDENTLY.), though I could equally claim that the title of a ‘piece’ compressed onto the back cover and spine, ELEMENTARY MATHEMATICS, is the real subtitle in disguise. The article it heads briefly relates the oxymoron of independent publishing, concluding with a list of our outstanding debtors and their debts, which happened to add up to the amount we then received as what was our final Dutch subsidy. The implication is that independent publishing is almost impossible to maintain because the smallness necessary to remain independent in any meaningful sense involves being unable to afford the legal representation necessary to force all the non-independent bookstores, distributors etc. to pay up. Incidentally, the largest red debt on the spine belonging to Barcelona art publishers Actar remains unpaid (€8556.17 without interest; Dexter Sinister CHASE checking acct. # 725736847).

The spine of the next issue – in which the 8 is supplanted with an ∞ – reads 1. PROVIDENCE; 2 RESOLVE; 3. ALCOHOL. I have no idea what this means or where it came from.

The back cover of DDD7 announces GOD IS IN THE FOOTNOTES in bold headline red, altered to read DOG when we had to reprint half of the covers. But again I’m unsure whether either of these is any more of a subtitle than smaller green text on the cover which summarizes the publication as an UPTIGHT, OPTIPESSIMISTIC ARTS JOURNAL … PUSHING FOR A RESOLUTION … IN BLEAK MIDWINTER … WITH LOCAL AND GENERAL AESTHETICS … WOUND ON AN EVER-TIGHTENING COIL*. The asterisk catches up with its footnote on page 1, a reference in which Michael Bracewell refers to Andrew Renton referring to the accelerated manner with which culture had seemed to eat its own tail since the early 1980s.

This was only the beginning of a tendency towards editorial schizophrenia, or maybe simple indecision. For example, DDD6 was at once GRAPH. DES., ART, LANG., LIT., MUS., FILM, ETC. and NOW IN FULL COLOUR, both of which defy elaboration other than pointing out that the latter must mean it was one of the intermittent issues funded by a Dutch arts subsidy.

Still apparently drunk on this liberation, a tiny statement at the foot of the following back cover states THE PATRON SAINTS OF DDD5: GODARD, MARX AND THE BBC. This reflects some of the contents, for sure, but more pertinently marks the beginning of a kind of willful obscurity which (at best) functions by slowing the publication – and its readers – down with scattered references more allusive than explanatory. As if to emphasize this point, it turns out there was a second (or perhaps first) subtitle, GRAPHIC DESIGN'S B-SIDES AND OUT-TAKES.

Received wisdom, however, is not the same thing as common sense. This is something we realized during the fourth issue, specifically at the moment we decided to run a piece called ‘The Beatles/Stones Dialectic’ by Ian Svenonius. Although this was concerned with a ‘graphic’ medium (film), and certainly related aspects of ‘design’ (thinking), it had nothing at all to do with ‘graphic design’. We abandoned our preconceptions, the publication started to become itself, and a degree of exuberance is written into DDD4’s suitably loose subtitle, a compound of three friends’ unsolicited descriptions of the publication so far: A. ARCHAEOLOGICAL AESTHETICS; B. BASED ON TRUE STORIES; C. STROPPY/REVELATORY.

By the next issue we’d already dropped the idea of a consistent subtitle, but there’s a sentence on the spine that – in the year the Euro was introduced – reads PAY NO MORE THAN €10. This now seems so typical of a certain spirit that became more defined as time went on, that I may as well retrospectively claim it as a subtitle here. The moderate price was simply an attempt to engage a student audience, but the tactic of stating as much was in direct combat with the bookstores we’d found were sticking their own barcodes over the top and charging up to a half more. This was the first of many rudimentary lessons about publishing we learned as we went along. We’d been very uptight about what those first three issues of the publication should and shouldn’t contain, and although we still wouldn’t have been able to articulate what our principles were, exactly, they were definitely rooted in the so-called discipline of Graphic Design. In other words, our decisions were still made on the basis of whether it was the sort of thing our received idea of a Graphic Design magazine might reasonably include.

In 2000, following a pilot issue of fundamental research – an encyclopaedia of previous graphic design magazines – the first real issue of Dot Dot Dot was subtitled A JOURNAL OF VISUAL CULTURE. This might have been any of a hundred similar-sounding phrases ambiguous enough to circle our vague interests and intentions back then. Like many infant magazines, we were initially propelled by ideas of what not to be, in our case bounded by academic writing (which would have been too hard) and experimental graphics (too easy). We were after a third way, not necessarily between these poles, but perhaps parallel to them.

Posted 3 April 2009 19:44:21

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