Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network at the de Young Museum

Review

Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network at the de Young Museum

By Gregory Hurcomb April 10, 2018

What present are we living in? What reality have we managed to construct for ourselves as a species of over seven billion people, and what have we developed to communicate with one another? We carry supercomputers in our pockets and can access each other through endless media. Often, we are surrounded by a multitude of revolutionary devices: laptops, smartphones, and tablets allow us to simultaneously text, email, write, surf, scroll, read, digest, and scan our way to enlightenment. The contemporary situation is an attention-grabbing feeding trough that feels increasingly organized, monopolized, and monetized by and for big business through advertising, pernicious stalking, tracking, and a continuous maniacal monitoring of our data. What could, or should, we call this moment? The DIS Edutainment Network, whose current installation Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network is on view at the de Young Museum, suggests it as the “post-literate.”

Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network, 2018; installation view, de Young Museum, San Francisco, California. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Dis.art is an online video-streaming “edutainment” channel comprising Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toro. The New York–based collective started as an online magazine in 2010, and has recently pivoted from a more traditional online magazine format to a fresh form of self-titled “docu-edu-tainment.” DIS claims that we have reached a post-literate present, one in which text and reading have been supplanted by images, and more specifically video. In their proposal, the hybridized locus and future of our educational outlook can and should be remixed with entertainment for the micro-groups as well as the masses.

Will Benedict and Steffen Jørgensen. The Restaurant, 2017 (video still); music by Wolf Eyes, supported by the Danish Arts Foundation and featuring Achilles Ion Gabriel, Casey Jane Ellison, Lily McMenamy, and Julie Verhoeven. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

As a platform for creativity, DIS features contributors including artists and curators who are immersed in commenting and presenting on myriad topics: fashion, art, music, culture.1 In the de Young’s atrium, the installation strikes as broadly entertaining, hitting upon the spectacular and the oversized. An avatar host welcomes you; its body is a moving eyeball, eyelashes and all, that is embedded within a luscious and juicy pair of pink lips.2 The host literally and figuratively speaks to viewers of the future-forward while offering commentary interspersed with video content including a nature show on human–animal relations in Africa and Thailand by Korakrit Arunanondchai, a video focusing on “general intellects” with McKenzie Wark, and a docu-short on economic utopias by Christopher Kulendran Thomas, among several other conjectures. In addition to the eyeball and mouth, a three-dimensional pair of black-and-white arms extends out into space, holding up thirty-six flat-screen displays whereby your spectacular instructors shall appear. 

Now, these are no ordinary instructors. They vary from a disembodied head speaking about contemporary aesthetic theory and elucidating the difference between the zany, the interesting, and the cute—as defined by Sianne Ngai, in contrast to the classical categories of the beautiful and the sublime—to a vaguely fishlike, reptilian interlocutor who narrates our descent into and out of The Restaurant, a streamlined glass skyscraper nestled in a strange mountainous region out of place, time, history, and, in fact, nowhere at all except for right here.

The whole viewing experience builds upon the contemporary mash-up music video, video game moment. Perhaps this could be considered the contemporary moment of surrealism, one that necessarily comes to us in the medium of the moment, whether through video, documentary, pseudo-documentary, or maybe even post-documentary. The dystopian fields of information presented by DIS are landscapes of plentiful overload, and resemble novel elegies for a bygone moment, rather than a hopeful future. With some more cogent than others, whether willful or not, the lessons taught in this edutainment harken to our current inability to focus, for even a fragmentary moment—the one that is very definitely current, in and of the now, and which we might miss. 

Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network is on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco through June 10, 2018.

Notes

  1. The DIS installation includes contributions from Korakrit Arunanondchai, Darren Bader, Will Benedict and Steffen Jørgensen, CUSS Group, Aria Dean, Casey Jane Ellison, Ilana Harris-Babou, Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman and Daniel Keller, Christopher Kulendran Thomas, Ryan Trecartin, Amalia Ulman, McKenzie Wark, and the Women’s History Museum. 
  2. The avatar was developed by Chus Martinez (the director of the Art Institute at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel), Culturesport, and Ian Isiah.

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