BY Kevin McGarry in Profiles | 14 MAR 13
Featured in
Issue 154

Open Up

The mutating activities of DIS

BY Kevin McGarry in Profiles | 14 MAR 13

DIS, Fair Trade, 2012, Frieze London

As a function of language, ‘dis-’ expresses negation, reversal or removal. As an online-based visual culture publication allergic to allegations of irony, it’s ironic that the most ironic thing about DIS magazine might be its own name. Since 2010, the website’s optimism and exuberance have encouraged a new lexicon around art, fashion and commerce, coalesced into cultural singularity. It offers a wealth of generative, collaborative activity in the face of global conditions best described as bleak: recessionary economics, moribund media tactics and the suffocating professionalization of artistic endeavour (evident in the farcical proliferation of art-world degree programmes, of enterprises striving to monetize the increasing popularity of visual art, and of bohemianism as the principal conduit for luxury marketing).

DIS has deleted the paranoid stratifications of culture upheld to con­serve dying orders. The editors – Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, David Toro, Marco Roso and Nick Scholl – often comment on the magazine’s proximity to high and low cultures. Their orientation has been described in interviews as ‘medium’, and yet it borders if not occupies both: an expansive interstitial zone. When DIS lit and photographed shirtless male models carrying a crated art work into Anton Kern Gallery’s booth full of Jim Lambie and John Bock works at Frieze London last autumn, in the glossy style of a fashion editorial, this was not a commentary on superficiality or a dissection of any of the value systems depicted in the image. It was a collision of all of them.

The project sought to use the art fair ‘both as subject and backdrop’, rather as early-21st-century net artists used the Internet both as subject and medium. Just as the latter explored the structural poetics of emerging technologies (and were often misunderstood as simply making work merely ‘about’ or ‘with’ technology), DIS does the same for the fast-evolving, increasingly visible, incestuous interplay among art, design, style, luxury, corporate interest and all other points on the continuum between concept and commodity – a strand analogous to some of the most pressing global socio-economic developments, arguably visual culture’s most urgent intersection with the realities beyond it.

While much of DIS’s content is produced in-house – and the editors wear the collective hat of artist readily enough when they collaborate with institutions (such as MoMA ps1, New York, for which they produced the memorable Kim Kardashian Look-a-Like Kontest during Art Basel Miami Beach 2011) – much is also made by an international network of like-minded agents. Artists including Kari Altmann, Michael Smith and Ryan Trecartin, fashion designer Telfar Clemens, writers Sarah Lookofsky and John Kelsey, and astrologer Morgan Rehbock have contributed texts, photos, videos and PDFs. (Full disclosure: I have interviewed the stars of the reality show Real Housewives of Miami for DIS about their local art fair.) Artist and musician Fatima al-Qadiri has written a ‘global.wav’ column devoted to international music and Daniel Fisher (a.k.a. DJ Physical Therapy) has acted as a music editor, soliciting mix tapes from influential experimental DJs such as Venus X and Total Freedom.

Although a four-walled base for activity may be on the horizon, DIS has to date operated from the editors’ apartments, with two exceptions: in August 2011, New York’s Invisible Exports gallery loaned its space to the group, ostensibly for a summer show. The result was DIS HQ, an open-door-policy office with an interior designed by the artist Lizzie Fitch. An abstract yet functional array of altered, shop-bought furniture and a large green screen anchored the environment, in which DIS conducted castings, photo shoots and day-to-day office admin as visitors came and went.

In February of this year, New York gallery Suzanne Geiss Company availed its space and staff to become the first live hub for the magazine’s most involved project to date: DIS Images Studio. This entrepreneurial venture is a fully functioning stock images library produced in collaboration with an evolving stable of artist photographers, including Josh Kline, Dora Budor, Annicka Yi and Jordan Lord, the editors themselves and about ten others.

DIS describes stock images – which are staged and shot by a photographer with the aim of being licensed for commercial use – in rather poetic terms as ‘codes without a message’. DIS Image Studio’s stock images will be made available in the same way: to be purchased for advertisements, websites and PowerPoints, but also for production and exhibition as art. For instance, several ended up being printed on canvas and hung in a group show in Manitoba. (DIS Images operates royalty free, however licensees are not permitted to sell images that have been printed as art.) 

As with most of the group’s activities, the concept of DIS Images is straightforward but its intentions are bound to confuse. Whether fram­ing a blonde man loading a dishwasher with flip-flops or a female body-builder peering through Venetian blinds, the images are peculiar or even surreal, but they are also prosaic. Not boring: uncannily specific. Their absurdity, and that which characterizes the abiding aesthetics of DIS, is not an indicator of cynicism but a repudiation of it. The polished discord DIS offers viewers trusts there is an audience that accepts uncertainty as a certainty, and one that expresses an anxious present with abandon.

is a writer and curator living in Los Angeles and New York, USA.