If you are looking for a quick read, try the shortened version of events here.
The interview that follows is with Stuart Bertolotti-Bailey no behalf of the Serving Library, and explains , in full detail, the events and ideas that led to the launch of The Serving Library’s new location in Liverpool’s India Buildings:
As I understand it, you were doing Dot Dot Dot, and changed to The Serving Library. What changed to shift between the two?
Well we’ve been doing Dot Dot Dot for ten years at that point. We’ve always somehow managed to publish it twice a year. So that means, twenty issues. It started off being mostly edited by me and someone called Peter Bilak, who was a Czech type designer, when we both lived in the Netherlands, in 2000. And it almost started by accident. Which is to say, I sort of got dragged into the idea on the basis of there being some mysterious European funding available to do something, and I vaguely agreed to be part of this little group. Unsurprisingly that never happened, but Peter and I got so involved in making this first issue that we did it anyway.
Then for about three or four issues me and him did it, but I was still trying to get out of doing. It was more difficult than we expected, and there wasn’t any money to publish it, so I can’t think how we did it.
Anyway, by about the fourth or fifth issue, something changed and I got into it, probably because the group of writers had already grown up around it, which was already like ten years. And I was suddenly galvanised to do it properly, and spend a lot of time doing it, partly because it actually sold quite well. And it definitely struck a nerve with a certain audience.
That carried on for about ten issues with me a Peter, and then I moved to New York. I started working with a guy named David Reinfurt, who I used to work with under the name Dexter Sinister. He’s one of the other two Library people now. And slowly he became the other editor, and replaced Peter.
So the reason we changed it, both the name and some of the publishing mechanisms, was really because it had started to become a bit too comfortable as a journal. We could expect the sort of thing that was going to be in it, in terms of content. So a lot of the same writers, a certain type of work, that is probably best described as self-reflexive; work that is about itself in some way. And the journal itself is increasing and cannibalising itself in some way and all of that was interesting, and definitely what we were into. But we also felt that we had to do something to get out of this loop a little bit. So we decided to set up Serving Library as an institution, and make the journal a house journal of that institution. So that was one thing, just changing the name.
But, it was also with the idea that, as Dexter Sinister, as Dot Dot Dot, we would typically not have a plan of what we were doing, and not really be aware of what it is we stood for, or what we wanted to achieve with it. And for a while that was also productive. We would steer it with a thermostat mechanism by whatever happened. Like responding to invitations to participate in exhibitions. But with The Serving Library we had more of a plan of what we wanted to achieve with it, and that could’ve been totally independent from the journal.
The other important aspect: One was changing the name to break what was comfortable; second thing was tie it into this bigger institution with a bigger plan of action; and the third thing was to change the publishing mechanism, to make it more bias towards digital media. Because Dot Dot Dot never was.
Dot Dot Dot was more of a thing, a book, a printed journal, and never really had any online presence. There was a Dot Dot Dot website, which listed the contents of the journals and there’s a Dexter Sinister website through which we sold it, and we started to make a section of the Dexter Sinister website which was called Library. That had pdfs to download, which were sometimes pdfs of a piece in the journal, but were more often other random stuff we’d come across which we shared in one space. So things we frequently shared with other people anyway, we started assembling in this Library section.
This became the template for what The Serving Library became. The idea of that was: the website is going to be the engine room of the whole institution (which at that point was based on publishing). So the first thing you see on that website is an array of icons, which are title pages, or front covers, of pdfs, which are mostly essays. And they would assemble themselves as a bank of texts. Not always texts, but mostly texts. The fact that you enter that and see that first, in the way that you enter this place and see this first, was very important to us. It’s not the easiest website to navigate, in terms of finding out what the hell is this place, and that’s partly by design, to make you investigate what’s going on.
And now there are so many elements, you can come at it from so many different angles of the same place, but you’re always sacrificing other bits by doing that. So it’s a bit of an octopus of a thing to describe. You can talk about the objects, the pedagogy, the publishing, the space, the website, and they’re all like a holistic thing, but inevitably, you choose one route into it and the others seem secondary, but they’re not really. You just need five people talking about it.
So publishing mechanism was the main thing to change. We foregrounded publishing the pdfs after the 20th issue of Dot Dot Dot (which was a particularly self-reflective one, which sort of tried to take stock of itself). Sort of all over the place this issue, and is quite rich, very text heavy. And lots of things which imply a sort of questioning of itself. And even on the side it says “Number 20: in which Dot Dot Dot tries, finally, to be as direct as possible about what it’s come to stand for and what it thinks it’s going to do about it”. That was kind of, the thing, and that’s essentially what it’s been for the pasts six years, as we carried on publishing bulletins twice a year.
What also changed at that moment is, we invited a friend of ours, Angie Keefer, to be the third editor. Partly because she’s brilliant (she’s written a couple of pieces for us). She brings a slightly different set of interests to it, which are more from science you could say. The dynamic of it is. I’m coming from a more literary, humanity side of it, whereas David’s sort of more from technology, from maths, and Angie more from science – very, very loosely speaking. That was one of the reasons to invite her. And also, so it wasn’t just a couple of guys in a basement, doing what we’d already been doing with Dexter Sinister. And to make it more like an institution with a number of people involved, rather than again, a sort of narrowish design thing.
So that sort of exploded things a lot, in terms of content, certainly. It started off as a journal about graphic design, by graphic designers. And by this point it was really all over the place, with as much fine art philosophy, in a sort of pop-philosophy sense, and quite a lot of literature. And then this last issue is more exceptional because it’s more given a subject to cover, more back to aesthetics and art and design. But they can be as much about science and maths and sort of cultural studies, as much as things that more obviously pertain to, or covet design. So it’s becoming much broader.
The other changes that we’ve tried to concentrate on is making the writing better. Not that it was ever particularly bad, but it was a very patchwork kind of thing, and simply by having three editors rather than two you had more chance to refine things. Angie brings a totally different set of skills -in terms of written word than David or myself.
And also, Bulletins [of The Serving Library] is much more standardised – standard looking – than Dot Dot Dot was, which was quite a mix relative to how Bulletins works. That was partly to make it more founded on a template. More quick and convenient to make. Which means less time spent designing it, more time spent working on writing. But was also to, again, foreground the digital publishing. It was designed to be looked at as much on a phone, or a computer as it is a physical object. Its designed as a digital, and pawed back into a physical format, which is why it feels very medium in a lot of ways. In terms of the size. In terms of the type size. It’s a very sort of average, aggregate, design. Even though a lot of people quite dislike it, people who’ve grown up with [Dot Dot Dot] which is a more graphic design proposition.
So I think that sort of covers how and why the journal at least changed.
I’m sat here looking at the Bauhaus curriculum wheel, and that leans towards that Derridian idea that everything has a multiple centre. In a way everything I like about that is everything you said didn’t work, but I think it still has that multiple centre, and multiple focus that maybe was part of its strength?
Yeah, it does, it gets even more like that. The funny thing that happened, that I wasn’t really expecting, when we did this change, when we changed from Dot Dot Dot to The Serving Library. To us it was very clear that the first issue of Bulletins was the next issue of this. Same people. Same slightly broader set of interests, which was only slightly following the trajectory of where it was going anyway. With this sort of expansion through the website, making it all free online, without really knowing how, or if, it was going to affect this journal in terms of sales or readership.
Did it effect it?
It’s hard to say. We definitely sell less. Even a lot less than we ever did with Dot Dot Dot, but I was going to say the strange thing that happened, is we did a very bad job of making it apparent, to anyone who would care, that the first issue of that [Bulletins of The Serving Library] was the next issue of this [Dot Dot Dot]. So we actually had quite a decent readership. Certainly a reputation. You could see things from the literary (the intellectual) side of graphic design were kind of influenced by this. That was great. And we really shot ourselves in the foot, by not only breaking the mould of how this was made, but totally losing an audience that didn’t understand that this was the next issue of that. People still don’t really know that twelve issues in, and six years later, it’s still a surprise to people. People who would care about that, and who would have all the Dot Dot Dots, would still be like – oh is it?
So we didn’t mean to break it that much, but we did. It’s a bit like starting again. And even now it’s been difficult to communicate that and get it anywhere useful in terms of the bookstore. Even having this place is an excuse to try another launch of the thing, and really try and make it apparent. We’re usually quite reticent at making the project.
We’re not very good at getting it out there. Or doing the sorts of things that would make sense, like going to every book fair. Announcements of things are always last minute, and we always– we’re always so occupied doing other things, and getting an issue of this made, that all the stuff of getting an audience with it, or attention, or publicity, typically falls down. So we’re very, much a paradox. We’re about communication, and in a classical way, we sort of fail to communicate a lot of what we’re doing. So we’re trying to again resolve that again with the excuse of this place bringing new energy to it.
And as you say, we’ve just taken on a fourth person in the editorial team, my wife, Francesca [Bertolotti-Bailey], which is a weirdly attractive thing to do to me. And this is the others’ idea. She’ll bring a whole other energy to this, because she’s head of production and international relations at the Biennial, so she definitely comes from a more institutional background. She’s the one who could get us attention and know how to force us to do it. So hopefully that’s going to change the dynamic and awareness of the place as well.
The next thing I was going to say, leading on from that anyway, was that under either title, apart from Dexter Sinister, there’s not really been a base as such. There’s been popups in Tate and in Bluecoat, and in New York, and around the world, but there’s never been a place where you’ve settled as a nominal, visible publication?
Why did you chose Liverpool to do it? Why did you choose to do it at all?
Well to do it at all was because of having gradually assembled this collection, to the point of it being permanently installed somewhere. That had become a point of The Library. So around the time we switched editors with David, I started collecting some of this stuff, without any particular intention for it.
Just that a few things sort of came my way quite easily or conveniently. I thought, oh I’ve got this stuff – its common denominator was that it was in Dot Dot Dot. I’m curious to see what that means, or what that does as an exhibition. So I did that without any particular plan of continually doing it.
Exactly ten years ago in Tallinn in Estonia, there were about fifteen of these things (just objects, not framed) in, and on the wall of a very weird space. It was great. Still wasn’t sure why I’d done it, or what the point of it was. But there was something attractive to me in it, that in the journal, there was this sort of contradiction, we never really payed much attention to reproducing these things well. Dot Dot Dot was in black and white. We could never afford decent photography or image rights. So there’s a certain downplaying of the image in the journal.
Writing without it being academic writing, to graphic design. So the idea of doing the opposite of what a coffee table design book would do, like glossy reproductions in colour, of certain places. And I sort of describe that as trying to get at the depth of things rather at the surface of things, which is typically how graphic design is treated. So what the journal became comes from graphic design as a thing, but isn’t necessarily about graphic design as a subject matter. With the stuff, with the objects, artefacts, it was the opposite. This stuff all has this text behind it and underneath them. What happens if you take that away and you’re just left with the thing.
I suspected or felt, that they all shared something. I don’t know what, but it was difficult to imprint it, and I thought that by collecting them and putting them all on the same wall, I’d be able to understand what that all was. Still not true. But I thought I could understand why, and what that drive was. And our hope is that by doing that you sort of don’t need to explain it. The longer you spend with this stuff you get that too. In the same way that there are links between the sort of writing (the sort of things that are in the journal) that you don’t have to point out what they’re about through an editorial introduction.
Anyway, that at least was as much of an idea as there was at the beginning for collecting this stuff. And for whatever reasoning it seemed to work, on whatever quality it seemed to work, so there was the sort of interest to continue it and the idea became to carry on collecting this stuff as and when things suggested themselves, and have it sort of constantly on tour; ideally at different places (initially in Europe) and that happened more than my mind could have reasonably expected. I think, partly, because David and I, as Dexter Sinister, were starting to get invited to do weird little shows, or weird little publishing projects, and often it seems a good idea to propose this as a thing to do. At that point in time it as just a collection of stuff that came from Dot Dot Dot.
By the time we set up The Serving Library we had changed the journal. It had expanded quite a lot and had been shown three times in quite quick succession at Art institutions, which I think were mostly in this sort of form. Usually a single wall, with a certain arrangement of about half of this stuff. This was in Portugal. And it sort of expanded and became rich enough as an idea to produce this whole book with it, which is called Extended Caption, which is basically a collection of all the original essays reproduced at sort of half-size, which weirdly enough is about the size of Serving Library, as Bulletins, as part of this show in Porto.
So imagine in Porto, you have this giant wall with this stuff on it and the book that’s just been published. And part of the joke, the serious joke of that is that without the book, or without someone talking about it, it’s very difficult to get what’s of interest. Or why these things are together or why we’re doing it again. If you only had the book you lose the value of having the real material things. And we did a talk at the opening of that show with Jan Verwoert, between the book and the wall, and you realised that the point of doing things like this, is exactly this conversation between the two. The bridge between this and this. If this is a caption to this on the wall.
Of course you’re never going to sit there for 60 hours, reading everything you need to get everything. And if you’re just visiting the thing, without anything articulated it’s equally functionless; it’s not active or animated. So I’ve come to think of those conversations between them (like me talking to you now, or me writing about it) as being the main thing, rather than the supplementary thing. So these are the excuses, and the stuff that happens in between the main event. It took a long time to understand that and make it clear. By the point at which we switched from this to Bulletins, I’d just written this pamphlet, which is online, it’s one of the last things in that Dexter Sinister website.
And whenever we toured this around (it went to a place in Amsterdam, a place in France, eventually it came to Canada and the US, when we could afford to ship it, or get someone else to pay to ship it) every time we did it we made some attempt to articulate what it was. Which is to caption it.
This line diagram from Munich, at the very least, tells you what it is and why it’s there. It gives you reference of the piece that it was tied to in the journal, and then tells you what the object is.
That’s a very tiny gesture, but it sort of suggests that the primary thing is the link to an essay. The secondary thing is actually saying what it is. So it’s just trying to push you to get that the reason for these things is a journal in the first place.
We had copies of the journal around, so if you were interested, you could find what each piece was about. But, of course that doesn’t really function in practice. But it’s a means of pointing to the reason or the story to this things existence without it just being a straight caption on the wall.
So all these things are just ways of illustrating. To make it more interesting than doing a straight forward wall text next to it. And probably in the ten twelve iterations of this collection of stuff, over ten years since Tallinn. Every time we’ve done it we’ve done a different thing. It could be as simple as that pamphlet or as involved as that book. I’d say none of them have really worked as a fully resolved setup, where if you come to it with no prior knowledge, you get what’s going on.
There’s just too much back story to do that very efficiently, both the backstory of the whole thing, and the backstory involved in each thing. And I mean that’s fine, there’s no reasons that – that’s just a fact. It’s just being more unpredictable, and why those exhibitions, including the one that was at Tate here a year and a half ago, were always seen as being sort of show cases, or what you described as pop-up versions of it. We always try to caption them or articulate them as being a version of something that is supposed to be permanent, where it has a specific function. Like now. So its always been on the way to becoming this place.
So this pamphlet is something that was originally written for another magazine about the collection. And I used it as an excuse to try and basically tell you the story I’ve just told you, of why we did it in the first place, but sort of referring to actual things on the wall, by way of trying to explain that. So this became a sort of game where I’d try and include as many objects in the description as possible, and this became a sort of monstrous piece which got turned into an audio version, that was articulating one of the setups – I think in Amsterdam. It was one of those trigger things, where you walk in and this voice would read much shorter version of this for twenty minutes. It was as though I was walking around with the person saying, look at the thing I’m talking about, blah blah blah blah blah. And that was a fairly successful way of doing it, but again not without its problems. If someone walks in half way through it, you have to wait until it gets back to the beginning. This must have been written at the same time as this last issue of Dot Dot Dot, because it’s in it.
All that is leading up to saying: at the moment we switched to serving library, institution, plan of action, we also set up as a non-profit institution, which involves a lot of writing applications and saying what you are in a very in concise way; what your aims are for the next five years, ten years. So we were sort of forced into saying that, stock taking, through these other reasons. We also did a kick-starter were we raised funds for the first issue in the US. I was there in the US for all this time.
The reason we’re in Liverpool is simply because Francesca got a job at the Biennial. We moved here at the beginning of 2014 and at that point we’d been looking at different places in the US to set this up at. There was one place in particular we’d been looking at but we couldn’t get the building. We’d been in discussion with different institutions, particularly schools, about doing it as a department in the school that would a permanent, sort of weird art library.
We were talking to the Berkley school of art for a while about doing that, sand er, none of those plans planned out. So by the time I moved here, we’d been talking about it for about five years. It was getting to the point where it was a bit annoying or we were sort of sick of hearing ourselves talking about it without doing anything about it. And anyone else who might care who knew anything about this sort of touring it, thought that pretending it’s going to be an actual institution was sort of the point. But we were like no no no, we actually are intending to do it as a permanent set up.
And here, it was easier to get a space, and there’s a lot of spaces that seem suitable. Plus, the availability of public arts funding, which doesn’t make sense in the US. Plus, there being a cultural infrastructure here that might not be the case in many of the other places, because of the Tate, and LJMU and the Biennial, and FACT, and Bluecoat. It seemed like a good idea to try and get some funding to do it. Try and get a building to do it. Here. Just because I was suddenly, here.
Which of course isn’t without its problems, given that the two others are still very much in New York. But we’ve become used to others being itinerant in different places. And especially with Francesca now being involved, and we’re just sort of realising, that in being an institution, not just two guys in a Basement in New York, it can should and does involve a lot more people, and we’re trying to be a little less precious than we would’ve been around Dexter Sinister, letting other people use the space. Just reaching out to different departments of the schools, and being a bit looser about what it is, or could be, or should be.
It leads me to saying what it should be, because at the point that we switched to The Library we’d had this whole other idea which was that The Serving Library should ultimately be a sort of teaching space. And this was partly due to being asked quite a lot in the US in particular to come and do workshops in schools, in art schools, in design schools, to come in for a week and do a thing, leave again. Rather had some permanent involvement in some space.
We were starting to get so many of those that we were just like, why don’t we just set something up that’s here or somewhere that’s ours, and get other people – schools, with arts classes, to come there?
Partly, because schools do that anyway. I mean, we’re inundated with emails from Kingston University doing a trip to New York for an afternoon: Can we come and do a thing, come and use the space? They just wanted to be more involved. And also being slightly fed up, and disillusioned by ourselves being more officially involved in different schools, where there’s no sense of shared reasoning of what you’re teaching towards amongst faculty or departments, by taking responsibility of that out of the hands of various schools, without a plan of this is what we want to do and why.
And that was another reason to try and centralise something that’s itinerant for the students and the school, rather than itinerant for us. In a more ideological way for us, we’re trying to rebuild something that used to be in art and design schools as a matter of course, but has been wiped out by bureaucracy and the cynical direction of universities. One of the costs being the teaching. And trying to do something affirmative or positive against that trend, by setting up a serious ongoing consistent class, or school, or seminar room that ironically is outside of any of those schools.
So that’s a bit of the idea. I can’t say if it’s going to work. What we’re trying to do with this stuff on the wall is, eventually, for this collection to stop being a bunch of stuff that came from Dot Dot Dot, and we want to collect this stuff to be sort of tool for teaching. I’ve probably described it as that before, a sort of décor, or a backdrop of this seminar room.
Like in a kids classroom, where you’d have a frieze with the alphabet going round the wall, where the stuff on the walls is being used to teach. It’s like a grown up version of that. In a funny way. So in a way, that was the last part of this jigsaw of this collection which hadn’t been started for this reason. It was started much more as an exhibition, it has now become this functional archive of stuff.
And why, as I say, it takes a lot of explanation to get to this point. But it does have this huge story behind it. Like why it came to be like that. And it think if you don’t know any of that, you can walk in and think, oh it’s an art exhibition, or its going to change. That’s as much of a reasoning as there is behind it, in what’s quite a thought through set of ideas. Even if those ideas are then changing as you’re going along.
The next event you’ve got on, a seminar thing with Lucas Benjamin –It’s Lucas Benjamin isn’t it?
It is. I’m smiling because it’s actually a composite of two people. It’s a guy called Lucas Poigly, and a guy called Benjamin Tiven, and they wrote the thing together, which is why they did the pseudonym. But only Lucas is coming to do the talk.
Actually Lucas is the guy in the picture at the back. If you read that piece, it’s about as technical as we get. It’s a very involved piece.
Just in terms of that one, how’s that going to work as a seminar, a lecture, a talk, a thing? Because essentially it’s about nothing. So how does that come off?
In quite an informal way at the moment. He’s still working it out. It kind of interesting because they want to turn that essay somehow into a film, or a video, or to do some sort of audio visual version of it, or some sort of piece of work. And they’re going to use this as some sort of stepping stone to get to god knows what that is.
That’s really interesting for us, because we’re going to start doing an audio visual bit on the website, as Bulletins on the website, as informal. So for instance, the Kandinsky thing, we’re going to produce a fifteen minute version of the thing, with just the colour screen and the voice, and you could potentially use that as a teaching tool in itself. And the fact they produced that film from that an essay is perfect for us in setting up that section of the A/V Bulletin.
I’m Skyping with Lucas later today to work out the computers so he can work out what to do, and if you do write about this, I’m not too sure how much of this to give away, and I’m not sure how much will change in the meantime. But I think he’s going to do something like use the upstairs and downstairs: he’s in one place, painting the green screen, probably on a canvas while he’s talking about it, while he’s being filmed, and that’s being projected to the audience in the other space
It’s about the green screen, when using the screens a background, and performing about the green screen. So it’ll be quite informative as it happens and of course it’s going to take quite a bit of working out exactly how it works, and it’s going to be a bit like the Kandinsky thing; a bit like a demonstration as much as it is a straight talk. So imagine it being a sort of compressed version of him talking about Miley Cyrus and showing that on the background of what he’s painting. A more animated version of the talk.
That’s sort of what I said about the Kandinsky thing, again, people laughing. And Dannielle’s was doing it very overdramatically. The idea wasn’t to make fun of the text, it was quite a curious thing. It’s interesting to us.
It was 104 years old that text, when it was originally written in German. How almost impossible it is to be as opinionated and convinced about something as Kandinsky was about the spiritual values of colours. About being convinced about something aesthetic. To be convinced about money or other things: politics, religion. But to be as outspoken about something as he is in that text is quite unusual. So to think about that that was the end of the thing.
It’s funny, but it’s not intending to be a joke. It’s just that once you transfer something from the written thing – especially something that’s written 100 years ago, written in a different language, that’s a bit alien and stiff to us – to a spoken thing, you have to do something to it to activate it. To translate it to something you can grasp. To something you’re hearing it public, rather than when you’re reading it in private. So some sort of translation has to happen, either stylistically, or rhetorically, to achieve the same ends. And I think that’s especially true with something like the green piece. Imagine if that was just read out, it would probably take about an hour and half, and be extremely boring. So you’ve got to do.
I think it’ll all be in service of trying to convey some of the same ideas – in a more demonstrative, or informative way. And I think this canvas – he’ll probably paint a bit of canvas, rather than a bit of wall, and he ordered paint (that can of paint on the cover). I think it takes about ten coats to get it as saturated as it needs to be, without the slight smudges that he talks about where you can definitely see those trying to translate the effect. And I imagine that canvas would probably be one of the things in the collection. A very big thing. I’m not sure where it’ll go? On the roof maybe? Just in the window?
Talks, with some sort of slightly off way of doing it, is going to be the model of what we do here. And someone said, “oh is this where the Kandinsky talk is”. And I was thinking oh god, are people expecting a serious talk about Kandinsky?
It’s also good to slightly mess with that expectation, as long as the thing that comes out of it is serious, or entertaining. That was maybe my reservation about doing it as the first thing we did; that it came across as a bit flippant, but I don’t think it did in the end. I think the balance was quite good. And the same with this. It’s a serious piece, but again, it shouldn‘t be serious, it should be engaging.
And in terms of something serious, or trying to make it engaging. Or critical, and trying to make it entertaining or light, or readable. How important are those boundaries, or ignoring them, or just that word, boundary, to The Serving Library. Because even just in that Bulletin #11, you’ve got Chomsky, Umberto Eco, stuff about Le Corbusier, stuff about Mohammed Ali, and then Ephemera in there as well. There’s no real boundary in that in a sense.
I always talk about this collection in most ways as level in most typical values, which is another way of saying, dissolving those boundaries between them. Because there are things in here that were conceived of as artworks and the two paintings, or this photogram woodcut, but they’re definitely in the minority of this stuff.
There’s things that were, especially the record covers, just mass produced objects. And then there are certain things, like that drawing of the lightbulb back there, which were commissioned as an illustration for a piece in the journal, which was actually written by the guy who did the drawing. Or these airbrush pieces by Chris Evans, a British artist, they were commissioned by us as illustrations, although he does a lot of airbrush work as part of his regular practice. So there’s a sort of levelling in the sense of it doesn’t really matter if its art, or if it isn’t art, the mass produced objects in here are all treated the same.
And connected with that, their values. I’m trying to get the boundaries bit. The writing in Dot Dot Dot and in bulletins, I think it’s quite particular, and quite hard to describe. The best I can usually do in a quick way is that its serious, but it’s not academic, but it also has a particular sense of humour to it, which is difficult when you’re talking about a hundred, a hundred and fifty different writers who we’ve ever worked with.
It comes across in how things are edited. I think we tend to edit things in a way again that comes somehow from graphic design, rather than literature or fine art, or science, or any other discipline, which I think is because, as writers ourselves, we often need a particular structure or conceit. That seems very designed. A very designed way of writing of editing. Especially in the earlier years. It was like trying to convince someone who you’ve been having a conversation about it with: “oh, well you should write that for us.” They often don’t know how to start either, so you have to give them some sort of scaffolding or structure to convene them to do it.
And that can be as simple as “well, write it to me in an email rather than a word document, that you get over the blank page, or you can try.” Or you receive a draft of a text, and it might seem to work better if you write it as a series of points, or numbered points. Or what happens if we introduce a series of subheadings to this? Or break it into three different pieces in the same issue.
There’s often these quite global ways of reconfiguring that writing, which I think of as being quite designerly, whatever that means. You have a very clear sense of structure, so you’re almost editing things graphically. There’s definitely something about how we work, or how we write that comes from first being graphic designers. Almost a visual way of writing, and I think that approach or attitude is the same thing as acting how to animate or act the talks. We’re in the business of how things are presented to an audience – whether that’s a book, or a pamphlet or a signing system, or- we’re very conscious of that because of being graphic designers. Much more I would say than a typical writer, meaning, from literature. Or a typical artist. Who, I would say, are far more concerned about bringing an idea or an aesthetic impulse in and of itself as an object, but less concerned with itself as a presentation of that thing, or the exposition of that thing to other people.
And I think we sort of start from how we connect with an audience how are we communicating. I think that same impulse comes across in how we intend to do the teaching or do the speaking, or the events.
We set up a website so that you see those things first, so that this thing is founded on pdfs. That’s the basis of this space. The design of the journal is based on it being read on electronic devices, before it’s based on being printed.
There’s certain decisions before your prioritise certain things, and that gives you a way of designing them. Whether that’s how a clock works upstairs or downstairs, with a camera filming one, or projecting somewhere else, or putting this painting on the front cover, without giving it a title, or an explanation. That has a certain enigmatic quality. It does something that isn’t straightforward that is engaging.
There’s a flattening of formats or media that is equivalent with the flattening of formula and is somehow holistic. It’s somehow about not paying attention to the usual boundaries of things, that’s for sure. Ultimately that’s an ethic as well, somehow and this cross disciplinary thing is crucial to use. And something we only realised through doing the journal over 16 years. Is if you can describe something, a phenomena, in one subject, in such a way as the ideas behind it don’t stay within the confines of that subject, but are more cosmopolitan, you can see how it related to design or architecture.
That’s become the sort of common thing, and why hopefully you can come in here and listen to something, or see the talk about green screen technology and as a writing student it makes a certain sense to you, or a philosophy student it makes a certain sense to you, or vice versa. There’s a talk that’s more grounded in philosophy, but as a designer you can see the same attitude or approach can play out in what you do, or what you’re interest in. I think that’s crucial, that’s the goal.
In terms of what you’re saying, is not sticking to themes or categories. And why a lot of the sort of more historical figures that crop up in the journals, and probably crop up in these pieces (Broodthaers, Mallarme, Benjamin Franklin, Genesis P-Orridge) are all polymaths; they all didn’t do one thing. They’re all a poet, and visual, or an artist and a poet, or Benjamin Franklin –everything on the planet. Or what Genesis P-Orridge represents in gender.
Like like I said at the start, I wasn’t sure of the reason for collecting this stuff. Even just sitting here with you, I’m seeing that and that and that represent that idea we’re talking about. And the fact that you can just sit here, if you know this stuff, and draw these things in quite efficiently. It’s much better than either a linear PowerPoint, because you can do it in the moment, and the actual physical things which have their own qualities and stories, and if the collection continues to develop, the opportunities to do that also continue growing
There’s student groups that should be coming in at some point? Is there anything you’d advise them to pick up and preview before they come in, in terms of helping review that thought process, or understand the process they might not have come across before?
Yeah. Erm. Yeah, there’s quite a few things.
It’s probably a good idea that when you do it there’s just a list or two or three links to things. In terms of the education stuff, that thing’s online, which tells you about the objects and why they were collected, so for anyone who’s interested, this online. Then there are these three pamphlets [Towards a Critical Faculty, Only an Attitude of Orientation, and From the Toolbox of A Serving Library] which are online, separately, in the same place that I showed you before.
And the story behind these is that they were a development in action over many years of the ideas behind the teaching, and what we want to do here. They were all really for different institutions, and other projects, but with an idea that they were linking to each other. So this is a sequel to that, this is a sequel to that, but written properly over the course of six or seven years. Also, the idea in progress was that those three titles join up to one ridiculous sentence: Towards a critical factor only an attitude of orientation from the toolbox of a serving library.
So somewhere in that development the library had happened as an idea and this was founding statement of the teaching ideas that was done, produced and written for, the most involved version of that, which was the Banff Centre, in Canada, where we did a six week summer school. And even that is already 2011, so it’s already five years old. And what we want to do now is still founded in these ideas, without being quite as specific as the pamphlet describes. But I would say working backwards that would be the one for anyone here interested to read, just to understand where we’re coming from.
This is the Dexter Sinister website and top right hand corner is this Library button and that’s where all this stuff is. So this is a forerunner to The Serving Library website, like I said. And the most recent three things in here, which are the ones at the top. The oldest stuff is at the bottom. And the new stuff is at the top is Towards a Critical Faculty, so that’s these three together. And it’s the same as how the bulletins work, except you have to go to this page and download the pdf.
So that’s in Banff, where we did the thing. That’s a description of how they came together and that’s a cover of this one, and it goes on and on and on and on and on. And at the end, this is what it looked like in Banff, in the corner of the gallery, on a wall. So that’s every morning for three hours for six week we’d be in there with class of twenty. There’s a section at the end called After Banff, which is a reflection on why it happened in Canada. So the reason all that’s together is because someone’s supposed to be publishing it as a small book, but all these three things exist individually on the site as well, in the versions before they got rewritten into the book.
I’m not sure what make more sense; either to just do that and that as links, or the whole book, but they would require a line or two of explanation about what each one is.
We’re rewriting bits of the website now, to make things a bit more apparent. All that we have now is the Space section that just has a long description of here. And we definitely need to have something that’s more specifically about the events, and more specifically about the teaching.
In the fall season, there’s going to be two week long workshops, and probably one with ‘JMU students, and probably one with my students from Geneva, that we will endeavour to open up to anyone who wants to come and join in with those things as well. The only thing that makes it tricky is, I think you would need to come every day for it to make sense. Rather than just a Tuesday afternoon. I think I’m a bit against that, just because for it to work, everyone has to participate, rather than just jump in and out. I’m not sure how hard-core to be about that, but that’s my idea. And at the beginning there’s a lot of people that are unlikely to want to spend a week coming to classes. I think it needs to be that concentrated to work.
I think there’s enough other opportunities for the talks, or the events, or one day things that accommodate anyone that wants to do one on a less involved basis. And again these things will no doubt evolve as we try them, and again next Spring.
I’ve been thinking about it like what’s going to happen. It’s three speed – speed isn’t really the right word, but I haven’t thought of a better one – the quickest speed is anyone walking in here, like you did the other day, who can view and look at the collection. Eventually, by the end of the summer, there’ll be a clearer way in which this stuff is articulated, rather than me talking about it. So that’s one thing, whenever I’m here, or by appointment.
The second thing is the events like the Kandinsky thing, at least one a month, probably more than one a month by October/November that will relate to either the latest or upcoming issue’s themes. Or to one of the objects. One or more of the objects. Typically in the form of these more animated of performative talks.
And then the slowest speed is like these more involved two week long workshops that would probably happen maybe twice a semester.
And the last thing I wanted to ask – I was going to turn it off to ask it, because it’s not really part of it, it’s just something I want to know, but it’s completely hypocritical if I do turn it off. On the pamphlet for Lyon, where’s number 7? What’s with the deletion of number 7 there?
How’s that going to come across on the radio? It’s another classic back story. And… why are the numbers reversed? It’s because prior to this show, it was in Lyon as part of the Lyon Biennial, with a guy called Stéfan Kalmar who’s a curator, based in Munich at the Kunstverein. We did the two shows back to back. First in Lyon, and then we did it in Munich, with the same set of objects and the only change we made, just for the hell of it, was to reverse how it was hung on the wall. And the missing number 7 was because in Lyon we borrowed a piece of work by Kippenberger, from a German gallery, and we didn’t borrow it for Munich. It was at one show and it wasn’t at the second show. So we just deleted it. So it was a completely cryptic reason.
I was thinking it was some sort of Oulipian value deletion.
Well it was slightly Oulipian. But no. And actually, it was such a hassle to borrow that piece, and someone from the gallery came to oversee it being hung on the wall, and because it the Lyon Biennial it was nothing like here – the people doing that stuff were just kids earning money. I just remember standing there with the guy from the gallery in Cologne, watching, and one of them dropped it. Luckily it didn’t shatter, but it did make us think. That was the last piece we ever borrowed. So now everything is ours, so we do what we want with it. Sometimes trying to borrow things if it makes sense it was quite useful – but yeah. That’s why.