An expanded essay for Open Books (second edition)

Parallel to the “self-reflexive publishing” wave that has got over many independent publishing projects today—and probably started with the magazine Dot Dot Dot, published by graphic designers’ collective Dexter Sinister—, there is a strong feeling of “expanded publishing” coming in the air.

Like in detective novels, where evidences are spread to progressively feed the stories, the practice of self-reflexive publishing could be characterised by the simultaneous act of publishing a project and, with(in) it, publishing thoughts or comments, giving clues on the publishing process that lead to it.
The self-reflexivity of the book object has an established history in the fields of art and literature. Artists have been extensively working on the book object and its physical aspects, and the page is a recurring exploration field in literature, as Louis Lüthi shows in the book On the self-reflexive page (Roma Publications, 2010).
The genre of the “mise en abîme book” – books showing pictures of other books (sometimes themselves in other books, and so on…) – has entire rows in the section of erotic literature for book fetishists.
With the more recent tendency of self-reflexive publishing, it is the whole process of publishing that is both questioned and made public, not only its end result (the physical book). Such practices bring together experimentation and theorisation, in an open way: sharing thoughts and ideas more than freezing the process in one “model”.

Like in a detective novel, the reader becomes an accomplice to the play with the conventions of publishing.

A lot has been written on Dexter Sinister’s projects, and many texts were written by themselves on this “self-reflexive publishing” mode. These texts are to be found usually in the pages of the same projects they are referring to, or in related publications.
In ten years of Dot Dot Dot magazines (DDD1 to DDD21), and its parallel exhibition projects (DDDA to DDDH), Dexter Sinister extended the category of the graphic design magazine and the practice of graphic design as a whole, drifting between disciplines and escaping established definitions.
Very early in Dot Dot Dot, the printed matter and the notion of magazine itself is questioned and tested. The potentials for composition are deployed, connecting heterogeneous and anachronic material together, proposing to the reader different ways of navigating through the content.
Experiments also happen outside the magazine, in the production space where discussions, decisions and writing are generated. With a movement of back and forth to the published material: each issue of the magazine is informed and shaped (in different ways) by its making conditions. The subtitle of DDD15 – PRODUCED ON LOCATION fills all the edge of the magazine and highlights the importance of the context of production: 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. For this issue, the evocative essay “Exhaustion and exuberance—Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform” was also produced by Jan Vervoert on location.

In Dexter Sinister’s projects, every topic is an opportunity to explore a new paradigm, extending the notion of publishing further.
Some specific questions are developed in dedicated issues, for instance the relations between written and oral transmission, and the transformations happening in the passing from one to the other in DDD17 (READ) (SPOKEN) (DELIVERED). Some appear transversally, like Will Holder’s text In the Middle of Nowhere, contemporary interpretation of News from Nowhere, an utopian socialist novel by William Morris, founder of the private-press movement in the late nineties. Progressively published (and written) pieces by pieces across several issues of Dot Dot Dot (and other publications), In the Middle of Nowhere sometimes appears literally in the middle of other articles, creating new juxtapositions and encounters.

image: Sam de Groot

Amongst Dot Dot Dot’s projects, DDDG Extended Caption is specific, in the sense that it stands at the crossroads of the magazine and the exhibition projects—which makes it a good entry point into the DDD universe.
DDDG Extended Caption is both the 7th exhibition of the original items published in Dot Dot Dot, and an eponymous book bringing together all the articles of Dot Dot Dot in which these items appeared reproduced, scaled, repeated, remixed, interpreted…
In this project, the relation between the space of the magazine and that of the exhibition is addressed. What kind of relations exist between text and images in the space of the magazine and on an exhibition wall? What different readings do these spaces imply? What role does the publication take in the context of an exhibition?

This project inverts the primacy of the text over the images in the magazine. In the context of the exhibition the images are shown in their original size and colours, framed, isolated from the discursive textual material that originally brought them together.
This instalment also inverts the hierarchy between an exhibition and its catalogue, where the publication is supposed to come after the exhibition. In this case, the development of the magazine is at the origin of the exhibitions. But the interaction doesn’t stop here: the exhibition DDDG is then also an occasion to reflect upon a related publication. Present in the space of the exhibition, the publication becomes an “extended” caption.

The DDDG Extended Caption catalogue, published for the exhibition, contains reproductions of torn pages coming from 17 different issues of the magazine, reproduced at 70% of their original size. The book is not a fake “additional” Dot Dot Dot magazine. It is a giant version of it—one and a half time bigger, with the same proportions and the same thickness. Its composition refers to an encyclopædia: the pages reproduced become images, displayed next to each other like specimens pinned on pages.
Rather than a mise en abîme, the whole becomes a mise-en-scene, where the images are placed into a specific context, and meaning is built by their surroundings. May it be other images on a wall, in a specific exhibition space, situated in a city, a culture, addressed to a particular public. May it be a text written by an author, other images in the article, captions and notes.

image: Dexter Sinister

If during hundreds of years in our Western print culture the notion of “publishing” was mainly understood as “paper book”, today things are becoming moving and more diverse. Along with today’s great technological (r)evolutions comes an expanded conception of publication, where publishing’s common denominator would be making things public, in its wider sense. Old traditions are revived (the oral transmission, the manuscripts’ culture of copying, annotating, modifying) and combined with new formats and tools brought by a more recent digital culture.
The digital culture in which we live is indeed a fruitful field for this potential expansion of the forms of “making things public”.
Terms like “parallel publishing” have been created to talk about the use of multiple formats (paper, digital…) for one content. More than a question of format, it is the question of the access, the question of the public that gains great interest with these new multi-format practices. Situated in the academic research, the expression “parallel publishing” means publishing papers in different contexts, both in traditional (increasingly contested) academic journals and on open access platforms (offering a free and much more accessible alternative to expensive academic journals).

With The Serving Library, continuation of the Dot Dot Dot adventure, Dexter Sinister proposes a project that expands their activity of publishing into diverse formats and spaces. The commissioned texts (Bulletins) are progressively published as PDF documents on a digital platform. Twice a year, the Bulletins are printed in a paper publication. The project also implies other physical spaces and moments such as a library, a physical and digital archive and various teaching set-ups.
From Dot Dot Dot to The Serving Library, it is the whole structure of the project that is expanded. What started as a periodical publication project becomes a non-profit organisation, an important step which founding articles are published in the first Bulletin of The Serving Library. The new program also includes the designation of a resident “caretaker” who makes the link between the different materials, spaces and activities.

Our conception of “publication” keeps evolving, and with it the spaces where it is shared with a public. DDDG extended the act of publishing to an exhibition space and The Serving Library expanded it into a whole program. Outside the niche of artistic and independent publishing, the changes challenging the conception of publications are also reaching the traditional places related to books. For instance, new kinds of public libraries are being developed, open to more diversity: in the formats (digital as well as paper), in the genres (no more discrimination or distinctions like “high and low culture”) and in the public (ages, ethnicity, social classes).
Indeed, not only the objects and their production processes change, our whole conception of publishing as a way to relate to the others does too.

The maximum length limit of this essay and the subject developed lead to the creation an expanded, parallel online version on—i.e. this version.
Another expanded version remains the magazine itself.