PRINT April 2007


Dexter Sinister

THE INSIGNIA FOR New York–based design and publishing collective Dexter Sinister—David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey—is a plain shield, described in the very foreign but precise heraldic language as (party) per bend sinister: “a blank shield [(party)] with a single diagonal line [per bend] running from the bottom left edge to the top right hand corner [sinister].” Or, we could simply call this diagonal line a slash.

As writer/editor/filmmaker Steve Rushton asserts, the slash (or “oblique stroke”) creates an alliance between categories, albeit a temporary one, because while it binds together disparate entities, it simultaneously highlights their separation. In that sense, the slash appropriates. In a general sense, the slash could be the logo for a contemporary condition of multiplicity, for a present moment that finds itself overcrowded with so many identities, markets, information, and tasks that the only solution is to juggle many of them at once and slash them together. Dexter Sinister’s emblem certainly invokes multiple (and sometimes paradoxical) identities: a shield, a logo, a school badge, a blank slate, a crossing-out, an ancient language, and, self-reflexively, a reference to a typographical sign used to refer to multiple or paradoxical identities.

The logo—like Dexter Sinister—was first conceived for Manifesta 6, the biennial-as-school that was to take place last year in Cyprus. Bailey and Reinfurt proposed Dexter Sinister as a print workshop in Cyprus that would fulfill the roles of designer, editor, printer, and distributor for the event’s publications. Their models were the Toyota Corporation and its so-called Just-in-Time production system—which is based on quick and flexible responses to fluctuating demand—and none other than Benjamin Franklin himself (a printer, author, newspaper publisher, and the first United States Postmaster General, among many, many other things). When Manifesta 6 was canceled, Bailey and Reinfurt realized that Dexter Sinister could nevertheless survive—as could their logo, serving as an effective typographical metaphor for their approach and process. They established their own Just-in-Time Workshop & Occasional Bookstore in a rented Lower East Side basement as a flexible and reactive site for multiple roles and functions, all slashed together.

Reinfurt and Bailey have both written extensively, most particularly for Dot Dot Dot, a journal that the latter cofounded in 2000 with Peter Bilak and that is now an official Dexter Sinister publication. Dot Dot Dot incorporates many disciplines: The publication has invited Ryan Gander to write short stories, Alex Waterman to discuss graphic notation, Rob Giampietro to examine gift economies, Radim Pesko to invent a new typeface, and Bilak to write “about everything” and “about nothing,” to cite only a few examples. In late 2006 at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, Dexter Sinister took part in a writing workshop and cowrote/designed/produced Philip, a collective science-fiction novel. The center printed the first hundred copies, and the book is currently published by Dexter Sinister “on demand,” the price of a copy declining with each copy sold. The duo has also designed books such as The Uncertain States of America Reader (2006) for the Serpentine Gallery in London and the upcoming Studio and Cube, Brian O’Doherty’s sequel/addendum to the seminal Inside the White Cube (1970), which deals with the ways in which places of production reflect and overlap with places of display. And in yet another context, Dexter Sinister’s work currently appears in an exhibition at Store Gallery in London titled “On the Future of the Art School.”

How many books Dexter Sinister make and how and where they make them varies widely. They lack a signature style, tailoring each project to its own specific nature: Pages are photocopied if they need to be, printed glossy if they would function better that way, or even made to be printed out by readers at home. When the duo opens their Manhattan office to the public each Saturday afternoon as an “occasional bookstore,” they sell not only the books they make but also the books they like, not necessarily calling attention to the difference between the two. Although their basement is sometimes used for events, it is not a consistent exhibition venue like gallery neighbors Orchard, Reena Spaulings, and Miguel Abreu; and although all share a spirit of inquiry and adventurousness, Dexter Sinister remain less easily identifiable and elude traditional distinctions, having more in common with a former neighbor, Scorched Earth, another partially public workshop space that second-guessed the process of publishing.

Their name sets up a paradox: Dexter (right) and sinister (left) are opposites. Similarly, their methods imply contradictory directions. On the one hand, Dexter Sinister are interested in distributed information and in the systems that allow for it, as is clearly evident in their incessant interest in Benjamin Franklin (also the inventor of the lending library), and in their online Distributing Library of PDF downloads (that logs IP addresses of the downloaders, much like a library keeps records of lenders), which includes texts such as Seth Price’s “Dispersion” (2002), an important essay in the new literature around art and circulation-based post-Fordist economics. At the same time, Bailey and Reinfurt talk of their all-in-one structure as a critique of overproduction models, of too-much-information, and of the assembly-line logic of printing large volumes to guarantee large audiences and large profits; their print runs are small, intended for contained art audiences. One might say, even, that Dexter Sinister hint at what could come after Price’s dispersion—at a post-post-Fordism, if you will. Their practice is an exploration of the conceptual, economic, and design-related implications of information that is produced too quickly, too locally, in too-small quantities, and in a space too confined for it to be put into proper circulation.

Anthony Huberman is a curator at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris.