On DIS’s newly rebranded streaming platform, Jean-Luc Godard at Miguel Abreu, and Sondra Perry at Bridget Donahue.
On November 30, the art collective DIS posted a cryptic video message to its Twitter. “Goodbye dismagazine.com,” an autotuned voice sang against the melody of “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” as scantily clad muscular models smiled, a couple kissed, and a dress shoe slid into a flip-flop. “No good thing can last,” the twangy voice intoned, “and it was never meant to, anyway.”
No, this wasn’t a DISappearance. It was a pivot to video. In time, the voice promised the relaunch of Dis, an art and fashion magazine founded by the collective in 2010, as a platform for exclusively video journalism. DIS now has a .art domain name and a re-upped design; it looks and feels like a lifestyle website.
Since DIS started its activities eight years ago, my reactions to it have swung wildly. DIS has always parodied consumerism and branding in the digital sphere with a brashness that I’ve, at times, found intolerable and, at others, thought-provoking, in a kind of so-dumb-it’s-smart way. So I say with regret that, with its reboot, it has positioned itself at the intolerable end of the spectrum; it’s finally become the overly ironic and cold-blooded thing it’s so often accused of being.
The new DIS calls itself a “streaming edutainment” system—a Netflix-like site that offers one new video per week, each with an educational component. (Some of these have been reformatted as part of a DIS installation currently on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.) The videos remain online for a month after their premiere, and are introduced with short interstitials by artists like Amalia Ulman and Ryan Trecartin, and members of DIS. My favorite comes courtesy of Darren Bader, who contributed a 45-second video in which a woman asks unsuspecting visitors at New York’s Washington Square Park one seemingly simple question: “What is an egg?” (Answers range from “chicken babies” to “me on a bad day.”) Bader relies on the same techniques as peppy interviews that appear on websites like Buzzfeed and Mashable—it’s a Dadaesque take on content that’s weaponized to go viral.
But that very same strategy—to appropriate a look or style known to most internet users, then to subvert it some way—works less well in some of DIS’s longer offerings. Babak Radboy’s “Circle Time,” a faux kids’ show that engages toddlers in a dialogue about the ills of capitalism, left a bad taste in my mouth, as did Chantal Mouffe’s “General Intellects with McKenzie Wark,” in which an economic theorist, beheaded via special-effects technology, lectures on liberalism and democracy in an empty meeting room. These videos are too wry to be effectively political, or even all that interesting. More successful was Ilana-Harris Babou’s Reparation Hardware, in which the artist, relying on the form of infomericals put out by nonprofits, offers a fake service that will help black Americans finally receive reparations, or repayment for the horrors their ancestors suffered when they were slaves. “It’s a way to give back a little,” Babou says, using the tone of a saleswoman. (The piece is also included in her show of the same name at Larrie in New York, up through March 11.)
The best offering on the new site so far is The Seasteaders, Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman and Daniel Keller’s documentary about the titular group that one day plans to create a floating community off the coast of Polynesia. (The tech billionaire Peter Thiel has been one of the Seasteaders’ most outspoken supporters.) In interviews, Seasteaders talk about their hopes for a new form of government while the camera flies through digital mock-ups of gleaming oceans and futuristic streets. “The system is not working, and nobody is happy,” one says. Here’s the twist: it turns out the Seasteaders weren’t happy with DIS’s film; Rhizome reported in January that they had already appropriated and recut it. When video art is this widely available, it’s impossible to predict who will manipulate it, and what forms it will take.
Long before the phrase “pivot to video” entered the lexicon, Jean-Luc Godard pivoted to film. The French New Wave director let cinema consume him early on, and he continues to have film structure virtually every aspect of his life. “You don’t make a movie, a movie makes you,” he once said. At Miguel Abreu Gallery in New York, an exhibition of Godard’s work, running through March 11, explores that relationship between man and medium.
In the early 2000s, Godard was approached by Paris’s Centre Pompidou to help stage a major solo exhibition. In addition to a complete retrospective of his massive filmography, which includes Breathless, Contempt, and one of my all-time favorite films, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, Godard was to create a large-scale installation called Collage(s) de France. But, by the time the exhibition opened, in 2006, relations between the filmmaker and the museum had frayed, and the work never came to fruition. A group of 18 maquettes Godard created in preparation for the installation still exist, however, and they constitute the bulk of the Abreu show.
The maquettes offer a glimpse of what would have been a magnificent, rigorous meditation on the powers—and failures—of cinema. Many of them are difficult to decipher simply because they are so clearly personal objects, but thankfully, the gallery has provided an in-depth guide to each one. (For better and worse, you’ll have to read it as you go along, if you want to make any sense of what you’re seeing.) Each work portrays one of the installation’s planned nine rooms, comes in two sizes (small and large), and bears an obtuse name.
Even though they’re filled with allusions, to the point where they’re almost inscrutable, these small, ramshackle objects are totally engrossing. Some have paperback versions of Arnold Schopenhauer and Raymond Chandler books nailed to them; others include a jumble of references to Romantic painting, Surrealist theory, and Hollywood Westerns. Video iPods playing Dziga Vertov’s film Man with a Movie Camera, scrawled Georges Bataille quotes, a makeshift film reel adorned with shattered glass, and reproductions of Eugène Delacroix paintings are among their materials. They find their corollary in Godard’s four-and-a-half-hour miniseries Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988–98), which is less a history of filmmaking than it is a long-form essay about all the theories and concepts that were bound together when cinema came into existence.
One model finds Godard returning to La Chinoise, his 1967 film in which a group of radical French college students create their own Maoist faction in a bourgeois Paris apartment. The classroom they set up is remade here, and added to it are a picture of the actress Sharon Stone and a handwritten quote from Hegel. To his great credit, Godard is still a student himself, still learning from cinema.
The centerpiece of Sondra Perry’s exhibition at Bridget Donahue in New York, which closed this past Sunday, was called IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection (2017). Its title was a clever pun, since it was about what happens when moving images—in this case, ones that appear in video games—engulf their viewers. There’s a personal story behind the show. When Perry’s brother, Sandy, was in college, he was a basketball player. The National Collegiate Athletic Association licensed his image, without his permission or knowledge, to the video-game developer EA Sports, and now you can play as Sandy in certain NCAA video games. It’s a creepy, fascinating concept, and one in keeping with Perry’s sustained exploration of the way bodies, in particular black ones, get exploited by digital culture.
Perry transformed Bridget Donahue’s space into what felt like a dystopian film set. The walls were painted Chroma Key Blue—the same shade that is used by filmmakers for backdrops, which are then edited out via digital effects. Strewn around the room were sculptures made from shot trainers, the structures used by basketball players to perfect their technique; each had a screen affixed to it that shows us the inside of computer-generated eyeballs, mouths, and noses. Wiring attached to each monitor pooled on the floor.
The exhibition’s main video, IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection, brings together topics as disparate as Sandy’s story, the looting of African artifacts by European colonialists, and the digitization of museum collections. This is a work about theft—of artworks, of avatars, of a man’s identity. With a style clearly influenced by Hito Steyerl’s theory-laden work, Perry’s video shows us such chilling images as warping relics, a group of computer-generated basketball players walking around a barren digital landscape, and the artist herself filming her brother photographing objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
IT’S IN THE GAME might just be the most exciting new video work to grace a New York gallery since Arthur Jafa’s Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death, which became a sensation when it went on view at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in 2016. That work, too, relied on popular music—Jafa used a Kanye West track, while Perry uses “You Are Everything” by the Stylistics—and appropriated material from digital sources. Both videos suggest that there’s a surplus of video material out there, and that, in a time where almost everyone is being filmed or photographed constantly, it’s fairly easy to have your own image get lost in it. It’s not just websites that are pivoting to video. Their users are, too.