animated GIF Q and A (2)

Connor is working on a dissertation on Animated GIFs and Web Culture and sent the questions below. With his permission I'm posting them in interview form.

What first inspired you to make web animations, did you experiment with Quicktime or Flash before choosing GIF?

I never used Flash or Quicktime. My first GIFs were at the end of '03. Oddly enough I made them because my digital camera, a Sony, had a feature called "Clip Motion" where you could take stills and export them from the camera as an animated sequence in GIF format. I made some stop motion animations of the molecular imagery I was working with at the time. After that I downloaded a simple GIF-creating program and started making them outside the camera, using my own drawings.

The GIF format allows you to set the number of repetitions when exporting an animation; Why choose to make work which loops endlessly?

Once the GIF "dies" after its allotted repetitions, simply refreshing your browser won't reactivate it. You have to clear your cache and restart the browser, which is annoying.

Are you making animations with the intent/desire that they will be shared/displayed beyond your own website? Do you care about, or make efforts to investigate what happens to them after they are initially put online?

I wouldn't be too happy if I saw a GIF of mine used in someone else's money-making project such as an advertisement or music video. So far that hasn't happened. Mostly the GIFs are recycled and passed around by other artists or appear on people's social media pages, or are used as visual confections on bulletin boards. My only "effort to investigate" is if my stats show a GIF being hotlinked elsewhere (that is, loading directly from my domain without first being saved to someone's site) I might follow the link to see how it's being used. If the traffic is too egregious, bandwidth-wise, I can change the URL but usually the hits die down after a few days. I did a project where I screenshotted people's uses of my "OptiDisc" GIF and I made an installation piece with the screenshots: (scroll down)

In recent years there have been a number of gallery exhibitions showcasing GIF animations (including your own work); Generally, What do you see as the successes and failures of these varying attempts? Is something lost by projecting a GIF or by transferring to DVD for display?

My first efforts to show GIFs in a gallery were in '05 and '06 - shows in New York and elsewhere. I did a solo show in Brooklyn called "Room Sized Animated GIFs" in '06. Since GIFs are native to browsers and the internet it is always a translation exercise to show them in a public, physical space context. Every incarnation of the GIF, every set of viewing circumstances, is unique. I have done everything from convert them to DVD, arrange multiple GIFs on an HTML page, show them on monitors, show them projected... Each is a unique artwork and retains as much or little of the GIFness of the GIF (its "essential" features such as low frame rate, reduced color, etc) as you need to make a successful work. The GIF could be the art or it could just be a component of the art. This week I have been working on a piece where the GIF is converted to DVD and shown on a cathode ray tube TV. It still reads as a GIF but is clearly a bastardized hybrid of semi-obsolete media.

You were critical of actions by Lauren Cornell (representing artist Sara Ludy) to take GIF animations offline to sell to collectors. Does commodifying GIF artworks mean betraying the ‘open source’ nature of the format? Can GIF artists make money and continue to share their work online?

I wasn't the only person who raised an eyebrow about this but I was pretty vocal. The artist, Sara Ludy, says she takes work on and offline as part of her practice but it's unclear whether the sale in question, at the Armory art fair, was to "lock up the rights" to a filetype that might otherwise be open source. Cornell hasn't clarified what she meant by the phrase "we're taking the work offline so the collector can have it locally." Artists can do whatever they want to do with their work, contract-wise. What was surprising was hearing this from an Internet Art website that has traditionally been a haven for hacker types.*
I have sold work to collectors that first appeared on the internet, including GIFs. In the case of the GIF sales, the collector didn't buy the GIF file per se but rather a DVD edition with a certificate from me as to the size and authenticity of the edition. The GIF in question may still be blinking and pulsing away on the internet and the collector has an authenticated version. This may or may not have been resized or transcoded or have otherwise received my personal, hands-on attention. It ultimately doesn't matter--it's whether the piece is any good and worth owning and whether I'm worth supporting economically, ha ha.

Lastly, do you have a favourite GIF animation or one which is particularly memorable?

No one GIF, but you can see the work I have made and collected on my website(s).

Previous animated GIF Q and A

*, where Cornell is executive director. The GIF sale in question was likely an institutional fundraiser and Ludy isn't "represented" by Rhizome or Cornell in the traditional sense. --TM