as go the quotes, so goes the GIF theory

A few more thoughts on Paddy Johnson's essay for Artnet: Will Galleries and Museums Ever Embrace Animated GIF Art?.

As noted in an update to the previous post, Johnson didn't do well to rely so heavily on quotes from Andrew Benson, a GIF maker coming out of the film community (as opposed to the art community). His statements such as "I feel like there’s not a good way to view [GIFs] in the gallery setting” and that a web browser is “a pretty terrible art viewing context” are highly debatable. Johnson knows that Aron Namenwirth, Marcin Ramocki, Paul Slocum, Sally McKay, Lorna Mills, and yours truly were all involved with gallery GIF display going back many years. How much did Benson know about this art-centric dialogue? Johnson described me as an "early adopter" and for the record, Rhizome's San Francisco gallery show "The GIF Show" (which I was in) and my Brooklyn gallery solo show "Room Sized Animated GIFs" took place 8 years ago. Where was Benson during all this?

As for Johnson's statement that GIF culture "lives or dies" at the behest of social media platforms, again she relies on Benson and he is dead wrong about the following statement:

"We’ve come to rely on these consumer-grade solutions because that’s what’s available, but it was never the intention of the makers. It was never the intention of Google+ to be the platform for sharing animated GIFs,” Benson said.

Just under three years ago Tom Anderson, the famous "Tom of Myspace," wrote this statement of pure PR flackery on Google+:

I was planning to write a semi-long post on the "Power of the .GIF" But this photo says it all. We allowed .GIFs at MySpace and it added so much personality to profile photos, comments, shares and everything else. I knew FB was the anti-MySpace and didn't want that kind of Tomfoolery on the network, but I'm glad to see them back here at G+. I think G+ has a nice balance of the serious and the whimsical, and .GIFs are your friend :) Wonder if Twitter will be allowing more rich media inline, or will they hold down the 140 character fort?

Around the same time, Lorna Mills and a handful of others interested in the GIF as art seconded Tom by moving their production over to G+. This was not an impromptu or guerrilla action, it was more like a scenario where artists take advantage of cheap space offered by a real estate developer hoping to attract attention to a new building. And now they're all bored with it. GIF activity may "live or die" depending on the platform but in this case it wasn't from any lack of interest on the part of the platform itself.

What I told Johnson in my phone interview for the article was this: Eight years ago when I did the "Room Sized Animated GIFs" show we couldn't get any traditional art critics (Times, Time Out, etc) to focus on the show. My feeling at the time was they didn't know what a GIF was, or if they did, they didn't feel comfortable evaluating it. If we did the same show today, every one of them would know what a GIF is, but the show would come with the burden of widespread familiarity with "reaction GIFs," YouTube screencaps, and other popular uses of GIFs. It would still be hard to get a serious review of say, an abstract GIF, or whether a GIF is still a GIF if you show it on a TV, or what enlarged scale does to a GIF, or the browser-oriented nature of the GIF, etc. That's because we haven't had enough shows or criticism in the intervening eight years that would address these questions.

Addendum: I questioned how effective Google+'s GIF commitment would be in a couple of posts back when G+ started. Prior to G+, Google had been indifferent to GIFs and seemed to be wanting to phase them out in favor of HTML5 magic but about that time GIFs became a "thing" and they got on board with "Tom."

Addendum 2: Via email Johnson asked if I really thought Benson, Mills et al were bored with Google. When she interviewed them, she said, they "complained that Google kept changing what you could do on the platform and the environment became less conducive to posting and sharing." All right, perhaps "bored with dealing with Google" might be a better way to say it. I can't have much sympathy for their gripes since I thought GIFs (and their discussion) looked bad on that platform from Day One. It's Google, what did they expect would happen? My point was to fact check Benson's statement that Google never intended for G+ to be a GIF sharing platform. They did. It was encouraged. GIFs are going strong all over the web (tumblr, Dump, blogs, online magazines, pretty much everywhere but Facebook, and possibly mobile) regardless of one group's expectations or misunderstandings regarding one particular platform.