DIS Pivots To Video For The Survival Of Cultural Education

The amorphous art collective gives us the inside scoop.

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DIS, General Intellects with Mackenzie Wark (2017). Courtesy DIS.

Since DIS hit the scene in 2010, the collective of four—comprised of Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, David Toro, and Marco Roso—has developed an electrifying reputation for transformation. Tracing its lineage, the group initially debuted as an interactive digital magazine critiquing culture from a "horizontal" framework; then, as DISimages, they adopted a mischievous take on stock images. In the physical realm, the group launched DISown, a pop-up shop peddling items that ranged from a tech-fit shirt with philosopher Slavoj Zizek on it, to a folding chair designed to “maximize intern productivity."

In its latest form, DIS has morphed into something of a video production house, calling on the likes of Mackenzie Wark, Aria Dean, and Casey Jane Ellison to build out an online television channel streaming under dis.art. But unlike Netflix or Hulu, the videos on offer are far cries from your usual programming. The point, after all, as co-founder Lauren Boyle told us in a recent email interview, is "to de-categorize and recognize the productive messiness and necessary hybridity that shapes today." 

"While more and more people learn to read each day, the world gets closer to the post-literate," Boyle elaborated. "Videos, podcasts, audiobooks, and learning channels are growing rapidly, indicating we want more knowledge—we just want it delivered differently. All this tells us what we already knew: That the tools have changed."

The channel, which debuted Sunday, January 13, only exists online, and is billed as an "edutainment" platform delivering fresh content on a weekly basis. In our interview below, we dive into the collaborative nature of their new venture, unexpected roadbumps they've encountered so far, and what edutainment programming looks like in the “post-literate" age.


1. So the tagline for dis.art is “genre non-conforming edutainment." Can you expand a little on what that means? How is this genre distinct from other educational platforms?

Lauren Boyle: To change the world we need to change our ability to understand it—de-categorize and recognize the productive messiness and necessary hybridity that shapes today. We learn our ABCs from Big Bird, [so] why not critical theory from a cooking show? The platform is equal-parts South Park, Adam Curtis, MOOCs, and Master Class.

2. What prompted the shift out of print and into a completely video medium? What's being lost with that move, and more importantly, what's being gained?

LB: The focus is video, but you'll see there are short texts accompanying the videos, as well as recommended reading from the artists and thinkers. What's gained is the ability to reach a wider audience. Concepts that may otherwise be confined to a thesis or an art practice find a new outlet. 

3. Is this interface how you perceive the future of television to look like?  

LB: Absolutely. It's all about the vibration of mixing 4k HD with phone videos and thirty-second shorts next to thirty-minute documentaries. It's also time for an audience in action: It's not about being passive. We want to train ourselves in complexity, learn to connect things, how to build narratives that make sense out of disjointed networked information and prosthetic memory—o inform and mobilize around critical issues of today, which are never ending.  


MAD with Casey Jane Ellison: Mothers and DaughtersCourtesy of DIS.

4. Can you tell us a little more in-depth about some of the shows that are premiering?

LB: The Restaurant by Will Benedict and Steffen Jørgensen is a cooking show set in a skyscraper modeled after Tour Montparnasse, but instead of being set in Paris the building is in the middle of the jungle, and the entire building is filled with restaurants.

Ilana Harris-Babou presents Reparation Hardware, a furniture restoration tutorial, and a proposal for the delivery of reparations to African-Americans. 

Circle Time is a kids show where complex subjects are unpacked for kids, in the premiere episode, Babak Radboy explains the ruthlessness of capital. Daniel Keller and Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman traveled to Tahiti for the first-ever Seasteading Institute conference to shoot a documentary on the phenomenon of seasteading, or stateless, floating communities on international waters, called The Seasteaders. 

MAD with Casey Jane Ellison: Mothers And Daughters is a talk show around the idea that the exploration of this underrepresented biological connection by mothers and daughters themselves will free us all.

General Intellects with McKenzie Wark is a guide to the thinkers and ideas that will shape the future.

5. Can you tell me what the collaborative process was like with the artists you worked with for these concepts? For instance, how did an episode like General Intellects come about?

LB: It's a bit like a production company, some projects we are involved in all aspects of creation, and in others we're hands off and only come in for the final edits. In the case of General Intellects, DIS approached [Mackenzie] Wark with an idea for a series based on his recent book General Intellects. We came up with the visual concept and produced it with our team. He showed up and delivered his lines more or less. He is so brilliant and knows his material so well that there was no coaching and barely any directing. He is a natural.

6. You mentioned that you've already run into some roadbumps with your more controversial content. (I'm thinking of the seasteading conference in Tahiti.) When dealing with topics that really do bear a lot of impact, what does success mean for DIS coverage?  

LB: Well, for example the documentary about seasteading by Daniel Keller and Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman really hit a nerve with advocates that fear it could be weaponized by opposition and derail plans to set up the first seastead in Tahiti. It's an unintended side-effect of doing good work. 

7. What's next for dis.art? What ideas/concepts are you playing with for your next season?

LB: We're not talking about next season yet! :)


Author: Annie Armstrong

Editor: Rain Embuscado