It can be said that with complicated political times, comes a concurrent stream of subculture and radical behavior.
This cultural groundswell is to become the focus for a reimagined Dis. On Sunday, the art collective slash media entity, led by Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso and David Toro, launched a video platform Dis.Art — with the wry mission to become, “the PBS for Generation Z.”
The site has a composite of goals: It hopes to fascinate viewers while also probing their intellect — stepping outside “the same four conversations,” it feels are cyclically obsessed upon by mainstream media. It’s a play to democratize the costly privilege of art school and the cultural theory courses that education entails. It also aims to support, promote and nurture subculture, artists and emerging behavior, while avoiding the sensationalism with which these topics are often addressed. No small task, indeed.
“Edutainment,” “Art School You Can Stream” and “Century of the Self Meets Sesame Street” are pithy phrases the group has coined to announce Dis.Art’s premise. Its series of videos — ranging from five to 30 minutes — address hot-button issues including reparation, inequality and imperialism, offset by elements of wonk humor and displaced irony.
“People want information and knowledge, but the way it needs to be delivered is changing. We saw a real gap in the market — creating new languages, culture, talking about the most recent thing hasn’t been translated to video,” Boyle explained of the project.
With its unorthodox approach, Dis’ easiest comparison is Vice Media, the tenants to which the Dis network does not subscribe. While amongst mature crowds, Vice is thought to be the voice of Millennial renegades, Dis’ target audience — the young, creative class — can often consider Vice as a peddler of artisanal masculinity and “bro” culture.
“There’s so much more to be done with knowledge and a strong connection to art from critical perspective than what is coming from Vice,” Boyle noted. “Their voice is a very cisgendered male perspective and Dis has been the more queer, more diverse group,” she explained.
When Dis began in 2010, the group — then comprised of seven leaders — had found itself in an inclusionary, utopian state of “Obama [era] baroque optimism.” The collective has organized highly visible art shows, including curating for the Berlin Biennale and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Its primary mouthpiece was Dis magazine — a webzine championing art, gender neutrality and acceptance whose deadpan commentary on consumerism and art lent it a refreshing neutrality. Rather than soapboxing pointed opinion, the site’s entries offered conceptual theories for readers to chew on. “The idea was to offer a different opinion while illuminating nuanced perspective,” Boyle said.
Dis’ esoteric posts were sometimes interpreted as exclusionary, snobby or a farce. Conversely, cool hunters would often take them too seriously, scavenging between the lines for coded meaning.
By most accounts, Dis magazine’s distinctly minimal approach rendered the collective as auteurs of the post-Internet movement. A Dis endorsement quickly became a mark of downtown repute — with the collective portraying an authoritative grip on fringe culture. In the fashion sector alone, the group helped launch the careers of vanguard labels Luar, Vaquera, Hood by Air and Telfar.
Vaquera cofounder Patric DiCaprio was an intern for Dis while enrolled at the University of Georgia. He said of the group’s resonance: “They are exploring what punk means in modern context. I think people still clinging to spray paint artwork is not punk — what’s punk is addressing contemporary issues even if it’s f–ked up and uncomfortable. Their voice goes beyond medium — I think they’re often pigeonholed as digital artists, but they are much more than that.”
Dis will now attempt to transfer this influence to a new template. This November, Dis Magazine announced that it would stop publishing, so the foursome could focus on a video platform that spoke to its Trump-era predilections.
“After Berlin, we came back after this election. So many artists had to find a different footing and mission. I think this new project…will help inform and mobilize a generation around critical issues,” Boyle noted.
She said of the group’s mission: “I don’t consider myself an academic or intellectual. We’re cultural producers, it’s different — we don’t write books, novels or essays ourselves.” Thus, they have culled from their community, tapping artists, animators, writers and theorists to collaborate on video content.
Each Sunday, videos will debut to Dis.Art’s site — available to viewers for 30 days thereafter. A documentary on seasteading sits beside comedic artist Casey Jane Ellison’s female-centric show. Inspired by other online learning platforms, Dis.Art’s video series will eventually expand their education quotient — offering corresponding syllabi and recommended readings.
“We are embracing video as the future of learning. We want to turn learning into a more Netflix-like experience. While we are not trying to whole-heartedly embrace a post-literature future, we are acknowledging it,” Boyle noted of the growing trend of acquiring information by methods other than the written word.
While currently self-funded with earnings from recent projects with San Francisco’s de Young museum and Madrid’s La Casa Encendida cultural center, Dis.Art plans to implement a subscription and advertising model where sponsored content is created in collaboration with artists. Said Boyle: “It’s like an agency with videos made by artists. It’s low budget and about ideas and getting artists paid. I think people will respond — the cheaper, the crappier, the better.”