DIS is dead, long live DIS: as it evolves with the digital-video age, we contemplate the post-internet bible’s groundbreaking impact
On November 30, 2017, the DIS social media channels posted a video with text that read, “GOODBYE DISMAGAZINE.COM! NO GOOD THING CAN LAST AND IT WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE FOREVER ANYWAY.” They also announced a relaunch as DIS.ART, a video channel, and plans for Rhizome to archive content from the website “as testimony to a very particular moment in our history”.
DIS started in 2009 as an email thread by David Toro and Solomon Chase, two artists who had met in San Francisco and moved to New York. The chain passed between a wide network of friends, morphing into regular Sunday meetings at a Williamsburg apartment on Hooper Place (later, a DIS web series called Hooper Place fictionalised these interactions with not-so-subtle nods to Melrose). The meetings inspired photoshoots, editorials and a website launched in 2010. A formal email the members sent to prospective collaborators now reads like a manifesto for the years to come:
“DIS is a dissection of fashion, art and commerce which seeks to dissolve conventions, distort realities, disturb ideologies and disrupt the dismal dissemination of fashion discourse. All is open to discussion. There is no final word. DIS does not distinguish between disciplines nor conform to aesthetic value systems. DIS explores the banality and novelty of product and image making… DIS is, collectively: Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, S Adrian Massey III, Marco Roso, Patrik Sandberg, Nicholas Scholl and David Toro. The launch of DIS features collaborations and work from DIS collective, Fatima Al Qadiri, Susan Cianciolo, Avena Gallagher, Scott Hug, Michael Lucid, Anna Lundh, Shawn Maximo, Caitlin McBride, and Ryan Trecartin. Upcoming features include work by Aids-3D, Daniel McDonald and many more.”
In 2011, my first year in New York, I was invited to meet with DIS at a building in Midtown, assuming I was going to their offices. I would later learn that they had no offices, didn’t spend much time in Midtown, and didn’t have staff – or even interns – yet. This was simply where they’d rented a space for a last-minute dance rehearsal. It was as good a place as any to meet a new collaborator. I’d happened to meet a DIS contact in California, and in my email-introduction I wrote that I was a big fan – that, more than anything else out there, stories like “Shoes in Shoes”, “Shoulder Dysmorphia” and the Trends series felt new in ways other fashion magazines were failing at. Never having written for a magazine before, I pitched what came to mind, inspired by Sassy and Seventeen: an advice column that spoke to the DIS aesthetic. They liked the idea and wanted it for their upcoming Tweenage issue. They couldn’t pay, but they could introduce me to people who could. (Over the years, they have, many times.)
That first face-to-face interaction with the team was typically atypical. If the big-city blocks were already intimidating, the studio filled with 12-year-old girls simply added to the confusion. David, Solomon and Lauren were there to greet me and explain that this performance was part of another Tweenage issue project – that teaching children choreography wasn’t their day job. They were about to wrap with the dress rehearsal, plus the place had nice light, so they could take my photo. I’d never been photographed for a magazine. David took a few of me shrugging and later made a question mark-riddled gif of it, to accompany the column, “Ask Natasha… She Practically Lived Through Everything” (later shortened to “Ask Natasha”). I watched in silent awe as the tween girls were picked up by their parents, who would later bring them to a gallery show in which they performed the official dance created for Herbalife, a cultish nutritional-aid marketing company. I took the train back to Brooklyn, feeling like I’d just met Andy Warhol in his Factory.
“DIS_RT had everything from female bodybuilders and an undiscovered child rapper to a boy band conceptualised specifically for the party, along with its own official energy drink” – Natasha Stagg
Upon its launch, DIS already felt established in both the underground art world and avant-garde fashion circles. This is what DIS, as a magazine, did (and what all good fashion representation does): it inspired both excitement in the new and dread of the irrelevant. From moment to moment, while consuming the website’s content, I wondered how I could ever be on the same wavelength of something so cutting-edge. DIS felt like the new Bernadette Corporation, like Art Club 2000 2.0, like a punk zine as described by high fashion, or a social club for the new world of social media. It felt both involved in and critical of fashion, which was perhaps the objective of many magazines around that time, but so far no one else had so sweetly hit the spot between self-awareness and intentional loss of selfdom the way DIS had. It was the sliver of overlap between the avatars of fashion and the avatars of online interaction, coalescing in a way that was both inclusive and necessarily elitist.
The first big DIS event felt like the celebration of a scene being born. Held at MoMA PS1 in August 2011, DIS_RT had everything from female bodybuilders and an undiscovered child rapper to a boy band conceptualised specifically for the party, along with its own official energy drink. From there, we saw growth that was almost scary, inevitably controversial in certain art-world circles. But their consistently original content couldn’t be denied, nor their track record for discovering new artists. I was always surprised by how willing the members of DIS were to go out and get lost, or to brainstorm for hours, wandering off on gossipy tangents and Google image searches to form new hypotheticals. Through DIS, I discovered countless inspirations. But most of all, it was through DIS that I made my New York friends. It was a platform that brought together the shy and the outgoing, via a shared interest in art’s exclusion of certain technologies, and invited them to IRL parties. Importantly, its members led by ultra-inclusive example. This was the Factory, online – and it was for everyone, even if it felt niche. Everyone in the DIS world seemed to imagine themselves a special part of its very fabric, at once irreplaceable and small.
DIS.ART, a new revolving video platform, is online now