This post will attempt to go step by step in analyzing the proverbial slow motion train wreck of a "new media" work and criticism of same.
1. Daniel Rourke has an idea for hosting GIFs with a sound accompaniment, calling these "GIF Bites," a la "soundbites." It's a somewhat awkward concept: the GIF is looping on a tumblr page and you have to click an embedded Soundcloud file next to it, and while the Soundcloud (which has its own graphic of a cursor playing through the seismograph-like wave image) is playing, you try to focus on the GIF and imagine that it has a "soundtrack." The art is in creating correspondences, disjunctions, and rhythmic play between the sound and image. Submissions were open to the public; the Tumblr has been running from late 2012 to the present.
2. For an exhibit in a physical art gallery, Rourke was asked to do a "gallery version" of the project. He invited 50 artists to submit GIF Bites and then created a slide show which would run projected on the gallery walls. Each "slide" was a multimedia page where the GIF played continuously along with its related sound loop. Most of the GIFs were "tiled" in a grid pattern consisting of multiple copies of the same image, custom designed by Rourke to suit the idea. The basic style recalled YTMND (You're the Man Now, Dog), a popular mid-'00s "meme" site. Each page ran for a minute or so and then clicked automatically to the next page. The slide show was also posted as an online exhibit.
3. For their GIF Bite, Berlin-based new media artistes Kim Asendorf & Ole Fach took a clip from this DAYMDROP YouTube. DAYMDROPS is a self-produced video series where DAYM, a portly and ebullient black dude, enthusiastically reviews fast food (burgers, fries, etc) from the front seat of his car. In "White Castle Review," DAYM offers a "ghetto" perspective on the White Castle burger chain in reply to the movie Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Somewhat like Guy Fieri sampling diner food, but not satirically, exactly -- DAYM seems to genuinely like the food. Because Harold and Kumar are two people, DAYM invites a friend, Player, to be his tasting buddy for the video.
4. Fach & Asendorf's GIF Bite, titled "uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuegh," took a short clip from "White Castle Review," a few seconds of Player making his signature whine of pleasure as he removes a burger from its packaging. The image is manipulated slightly: Player's body is turned upside down, while an image of his smiling face is still right-side up, appearing as a square embedded frame in the lower half of the video.
5. When "uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuegh" is converted to a slide show-style page for the online exhibition of GIF Bites, the viewer is stuck, for a minute that seems like an eternity, watching a loop of a black man keening with enjoyment over fast food. Whatever humor and intelligence existed in the original YouTube is reduced to a straight-up racial caricature. This would especially be true if you didn't know anything about DAYM's videos or recognize the source of the Player clip. (I'd say it's a semi-obscure meme -- "White Castle Review" had approximately 300,000 views at the time of this writing.)
6. Paddy Johnson reviews the slideshow version on Artnet and takes offense at the caricature:
These types of predictable audio-visual pairings don’t give a user much reason to continue browsing. Others fare even worse. Kim Asendorf and Ole Fach literally drove me off the page, with their piece combining a GIF of a black man eating White Castle with a euphoric audio clip of him drool-moaning. It mocks lowbrow culture while posing as a celebration of it, and seems intended to tickle an art audience dumbly. I refreshed the page to escape that offensive contribution. Sadly, short of a hard return in the URL window, there’s no way to skip forward through the exhibition loop in search of better work.
7. Asendorf, angered by this criticism, attacks Johnson in a series of condescending (and ultimately backpedaling) tweets:
8. Despite sneering that Johnson is "so 1999" for not having comments enabled (that is Artnet's policy, not hers), Asendorf doesn't participate in the subsequent discussion of the GIF Bites show that takes place in the comments on Johnson's website, ArtFCity. Asendorf offers no coherent explanation for his assertion of a "European view on American culture" that Johnson (a Canadian living in NYC) is missing. I would say his own clumsy handling of potentially sensitive material resulted in Johnson's perfectly legit reading of his GIF Bite.
9. After Johnson complains about the slide show forcing her to stay on a page she doesn't want to view, Rourke adds a button that allows the viewer to click to another GIF Bite.