LIZZIE FITCH/Ryan Trecartin with Murphy Maxwell Witness Night Vision 360 FTS Sweatshirt 

Retail Store or Art Exhibition? Inside DISown

BY Emily Manning | Tue. March 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM | Culture Club
“Everyone wears Hood by Air, but do you dine Hood by Air?” spokeswoman Kelly Richards coyly asks, touting a wine glass and salad bowl stamped with the HBA box logo. But don’t set up camp outside Sur La Table waiting for that #trill kitchenware drop just yet. Richards’ endorsement arrives via the infomercial for DISownNot For Everyone. New York-based art collective DIS' latest project takes the form of an art exhibition posing as a retail store. "Or maybe it’s the other way around," the press release muses.

The idea for DISown came from the logic of diffusion lines such as Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, where luxury brands make cheaper versions of their products (belts, underwear, sunglasses) for the average consumer. DISown test drives this model in the art world by making the belts and underwear versions of visual art: everything from the aforementioned HBA housewares to Bjarne Melgaard beanbag chairs. 

So before we start physically assaulting one another trying to grab a Jon Rafman Emma Watson body pillow or Frank Benson salt and pepper mill à la the great Tickle Me Elmo fiasco of Christmas '96, I caught up with two of four DIS co-founders Lauren Boyle and Marco Roso, as well as DISown co-curator Agatha Wara, to discuss the logic behind the exhibition and what we'll see on its shelves. Check out the infomercial and interview below!

DISown runs from March 6 to April 6, 2014

220 W 18th St, 
New York, NY

Emily Manning: How did the central tenets of DIS as a collective inform this project? What motivated the decision to launch DISown?
Lauren Boyle: It’s forever been [part of] our methodology to create [collaborative] platforms, from DIS Magazine to DISimages. And we’ve always wanted to make products, we’ve always been interested in diffusion lines in general, and this was the perfect opportunity to finally do it. It’s just another extension of how DIS institutes.

Marco Roso: What's interesting right now with the digital world are all the possibilities you have to build these kind of platforms; it allows you to suddenly play with the culture of the corporate world, and that’s something that interests us. We’re always playing with this culture but with our critical point of view. 

Can you elaborate on the notion of the “artist diffusion line?”
Agatha Wara: “Diffusion line” has a specific meaning within the context of fashion. It’s interesting for me because I come from the side of art, and trying to conceptualize what an artist diffusion line would mean—I can’t really think of any good examples or historical precedents. I guess if you think about the commercialization of art, you would automatically think about the art market, but that doesn’t exist for the average consumer. The art market is for a really specific group of people. 

[DISown is] about creating access for everybody to get involved with art, contemporary art specifically. This is a testing ground for that, asking if that's possible. It’s very idyllic, but what’s interesting for me is that we can get away from the theorizing and really put something into practice and see how it works, if it works, and what we can learn from it as well. 

What are some things we should expect to see from the artists? What are a few of your favorite products? 
LB: They're like our babies, we can't pick! I'm really excited about Bjarne [Melgaard]'s beanbag chair because it's just so playful, something I would love in my 5000 square foot apartment [Laughs]. 

AW: I'm personally pretty excited about THE JOGGING beanies. They're glorifying whistleblowers like Snowden and stuff. I think it's super relevant. 

LB: And you might have also noticed the Jon Rafman pillows in the infomercial—we blurred out the faces but it's Emma Watson. So there are Emma Watson pillows. 

How does “not for everyone”—the tagline you’ve created—play into the concept of accessibility, the “belts and underwear” diffusion line formulation? DIS and DISown are working in a variety of democratic registers: Calvin Klein underwear and the Internet as a larger consumptive platform. Where does this exclusivity arise and what’s its function?
LB: We chose a [tagline] that we thought was really catchy, super ubiquitous, and connotes luxury in a way. But at the same time, we think it pokes fun at ourselves because we’re not for everyone. What we’re making, what we’re displaying, clearly is not for everyone, taste-wise. That’s actually going to be the tagline for DISown forever, not just the tagline for this exhibition but something that’s there with us always. We really like it.

AW: And you know what I love about that line: it so speaks to what happens within contemporary art. Contemporary art is such a sophisticated system of codes where it becomes really hard to articulate what are the parameters of the art object today. When someone is like, “Oh my kid can make that. What’s so special about this that it gets to be in a museum?” And whenever we try to articulate what that is, everyone really struggles. So contemporary art is extremely extremely hyper-coded, and so for me the “not for everyone” is a really nice nod to that. But in the infomercial when the line is delivered, it’s “not for everyone... but definitely for you,” which I really like because it’s kind of turning it around again, it’s opening it up again. Who is “you”? Who gets to be that “you”?

How did you go about selecting your artist collaborators? Were you looking for people like Telfar Clemens whose work already plays with these ideas—for example, with his K-Mart partnership this past fashion week—or just artists who seemed like they’d yield some really interesting results with this project?
LB: I think probably the latter. We looked around at our friends and community, to people who we thought were essentially capable of thinking in this way, in the consumer product realm. So we just went about approaching them and were really happily surprised when everyone was super interested in the idea of creating another kind of line.

I know in the past DIS has organized site specific museum and gallery exhibitions, but as we touched on earlier, much of the work has been done virtually, from DIS Magazine to DISimages. What opportunities did you see in physical means of production and exhibition? Were there any unforeseen challenges you guys weren’t anticipating?
MR: We really think it’s important to have an IRL presence so you don’t get lost in the digital noise that has become the Internet. So the interactions here are different and that’s become an important part of our work. We’ll never be just digital. 

AW: A lot of artists right now are also using industrial means to produce work, so I think it’s a really natural extension of the way DIS is working and that I’m working often with exhibitions. Mass-produced objects [are] very material—[they] don't only exist online.

MR: It's interesting that you mention it because with selling [art objects], you're really dealing with the real world—the mechanisms of this neo-capitalist society—and how you produce things, how you pay for them, how you transport them, how you display them…

LB: We had one artist who wanted to make something that no one would [produce] for us because it was too controversial. We didn't want to censor it, we wanted to make it, but it became a problem. So that happens too where you're like "Wow, this is the real world." This is the world of this woman from Georgia who will not sew that, she is not sewing that for you and no one is printing that. Because we were like, "This is making us uncomfortable but let's try it, let's do it," and after getting so many rejections, we were like "I guess there's a reason this doesn't exist in the world." And so we ended up changing it: it's the same product but a different print which is so far and away different from the original idea, but that I believe is really successful anyway. So that happens, that's a challenge! But then again when you think of us as "retailers," it's probably for the best, because if no one wants to make it, possibly no one wants to buy it either.

How did you guys go about marshaling and manipulating all of the elements in the physical exhibition space? Did you draw any sort of references from the merchandising and architecture of retail?
LB: We've been working with Lizzie Fitch on the retail installation. I think Lizzie's going for an adult playground kind of vibe so there's a lot of rope structures and I think a rock climbing wall with products hanging off of it and things like that.

MR: We cannot compare it to anything we've seen before. We are trying to find a parallel or example but nothing comes to mind so far.

LB: Lizzie arrives today and she's so talented that we're not even sweating it because she's going to make it work. It's a little bit different than curating in that, although sometimes we'll probably be interested in putting two things next to each other, it's more along the lines of merchandising.

MR: And we're very conscious that the space in which we're doing this is not a white cube space—the installation is not going to respond to what you expect in a white cube.

AW: What's really exciting for me is not only this idea of conflating the retail and the exhibition, but bringing all these other elements of weird sports arena and gymnasium. It's really playing with all of those codes. I'm not coming from a place of fashion or retail, but I really think the language of retail is so advanced right now, that somehow the language of art and the exhibition is kind of old-fashioned still. So I think it is more interesting to work toward the language of retail. 

Could you discuss how the infomercial works to extend the exhibition’s examination of consumerism, retail, and art? What were your motivations in making it? Obviously it has its own aesthetic, if you could sort of speak to that, too?
LB: It's kind of coming from that SkyMall, infomercial place that we've always been fascinated by, and this kind of idea of a parallel reality where these things could actually be that level of commercial.

MR: At the same time, we kind of ran away from everything that looks aspirational. And in this case, infomercials are one of the things that are the least aspirational. It's been part of our world for a while, to question the values of taste.

AW: And from my side, I think it's so interesting for artists to be kind of working with these non artistic means: seeing how a commercial that actually acts as a commercial, not one that's in a gallery space as a video, works. It folds in all of those boundaries of what an artist is supposed to do and not supposed to do. So how is DIS' commercial not a commercial? Well, it is. So what does that implicate? What does that set off?