Here’s What Happens When You Turn GIFs Into IRL Art Pieces
By this point, most people on the Internet know what a GIF is—even if they don’t know the looping file format by name. But some people’s definition of GIF is broader than others. “We like to think of a GIF more as a medium than a format,” says Ari Spool, a community curator at the GIF search engine Giphy.
By Spool’s definition, a GIF is more akin to paint, clay, or photography—something that can be printed, projected, or sculpted, in addition to being displayed on screen. Over the weekend, at a gallery in downtown Manhattan, Giphy hosted Loop Dreams, a one-day exhibition dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what people think of when they hear the word “GIF.” For the show, 25 artists reimagined the file format as lenticular prints, virtual reality loops, interactive installations, and projection-mapped sculptures.
“It’s difficult to call this one a GIF because it crosses so many boarders” said Nick Dangerfield, a co-founder of virtual reality startup Mona, nodding towards a sculpture named “Staircase” in the corner of the room. The piece, by Chicago artist Zachary Scott, was a white foam-core sculpture mapped with a digital video projection that gave it the appearance of a set of moving stairs. “Staircase” was an entrancing blend of the physical and digital, and an clear indicator of the squishy boundaries the curators set for the show.
Meanwhile, across the room, an oversized white button-up shirt, from the artist Phyllis Ma, hung on the wall while an ever-changing video of fruit, bandaids, and shapes played across the fabric. Nearby a more formal example of the GIF format—a looping video of a sports car being destroyed and rebuilt—filled an entire wall.
All the pieces from the show live online as true, GIF-ified versions of their physical counterparts. Animations flash and loop. Photographs melt and distort. In their native habitat, the GIFs feel familiar, but markedly less interesting. They all share the common feature that Spool says defines what a GIF really is. “They all change states,” she says, adding, “A lot of what we think of as GIF art starts out as what we might have thought of 10 years ago as video art.”
Of course, in a decade’s time, the GIF has grown more sophisticated in its execution, and our understanding of it has expanded, too. GIFs are no longer just reaction shots of Rihanna giving side eye. Today they constitute an art form worthy of appearing in a gallery.
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