Savannah

GIF Studio at the Jepson Center

Within the Jepson Center of the Telfair Museums in Savannah, Georgia, there is a hallway that connects the main atrium to an auditorium, an education center, a small technology gallery, and the restrooms. This hallway gets a significant amount of foot traffic, but it does not provide optimal conditions for exhibiting traditional artwork. However, six flat-screen TVs, a digital projector, and an iPad are currently hung in the space, all belonging to the exhibition GIF Studio.

Nicolas Sassoon. Studio Visit, 2014 (still, detail). Looping GIF. Courtesy of Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia.

Nicolas Sassoon. Studio Visit, 2014 (still, detail); looping GIF. Courtesy of Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia.

GIF Studio was organized in conjunction with the 2015 Pulse Art + Technology Festival held January 21–25, 2015. It enters an international debate concerning not only the status of GIFs as works of art, but also how GIFs are meant to be viewed. Artists have been experimenting with small digital-animation files since the mid-1990s, but the popularity of the format has exploded in the last several years with internet platforms as modes of distribution.[1] Once the domain of the web, GIFs have made their way into galleries and other fine-arts settings like other forms of digital and net art—and this migration has helped elucidate the essential qualities of GIFs.

Critic Paddy Johnson, who curated an exhibition of GIF works titled Graphics Interchange Format at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, writes, “While people have theorized, criticized, and categorized GIFs to no end, they remain in a kind of browser-based Neverland that is unfamiliar to many of those in the art establishment.”[2] The fact that GIFs exist only in the realm of the digital and have either an extremely short or infinite (via looping) duration renders them distinct from traditional forms of art like paintings and sculpture or even video and performance. It goes without saying that although exhibitions of GIFs on monitors or computers are becoming more common, such an exhibition model is still experimental in terms of exploring the medium and the display format.

Nicolas Sassoon. Studio Visit, 2014; installation view, GIF Studio, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia.

Nicolas Sassoon. Studio Visit, 2014; installation view, GIF Studio, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist and Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia.

GIF Studio enters this conversation by existing in a hallway. While not the equivalent of a web browser, this way station to other parts of the building offers a somewhat distracted viewing experience for the show, and this element of distraction is a connection to the GIF’s native environment—the internet. The installation of the televisions also reinforces this connection; by installing the monitors at equal intervals and at the same height, the exhibition can be viewed in a grid-like configuration, mimicking the layout a viewer would find on Tumblr or other similar GIF-sharing sites.

The particular selection of GIFs is another factor that helps GIF Studio explore ideas of medium-specificity and viewing environment. Nicolas Sassoon’s Studio Visit (2014) is one example: This GIF has a massive resolution and the image portraying the (digital) artist’s studio is too big to be viewed at full size on any conventional computer screen. Online, viewers must scroll around to see it; thus, before this show the work had only been viewed incrementally. With its installation on a 4K TV, however, the work has been brashly divorced from its native viewing environment. While this may seem reckless, it is fascinating to see the entire work at once, and with this decision, the Telfair explores how GIFs are constructed and viewed.

Left: Eva Papamargariti. And Here Where are We Now? (excerpt), 2014; Right: Nicolas Sassoon. Studio Visit, 2014; installation view, GIF Studio, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia.

Left: Eva Papamargariti. And Here Where Are We Now? (excerpt), 2014; Right: Nicolas Sassoon. Studio Visit, 2014; installation view, GIF Studio, 2015. Courtesy of the Artists and Telfair Museums, Savannah, Georgia.

Further pushing the status of the GIF outside of its native digital context, the exhibition features Drew Tyndell’s GIF Loop 9 next to one of his paintings. The GIF shows a series of scrolling geometric lines and shapes—like many digitally created abstract works—but the animation was in fact made by drawing each frame by hand.[3] The painting, Abstract House 2 (2014), is associated with the GIF by way of similar colors and fractured forms. It offers an interesting comparison between GIFs and more conventional art forms.

The work of Anthony Antonellis also scratches at the distinction between GIFs and traditional works. In his Put It on a Pedestal (2011), the artist creates a virtual warehouse-like gallery environment complete with a multitude of pedestals and GIFs. Visitors use a computer trackpad to move the pedestals around the gallery and install the GIFs on them, as if the GIFs were valuable sculptures. Antonellis’ other work in the show is even more tongue-in-cheek: GIF Salon (2012) consists of a projection of several GIFs in old, decorative frames hung salon-style on the wall. Though Antonellis does employ humor, the works probe a serious distinction in seeing GIFs on the web versus viewing them in galleries.

Drew Tyndell. Loop 9; looping hand-made GIF. Courtesy of the Artist.

Drew Tyndell. Loop 9; looping hand-made GIF. Courtesy of the Artist.

Though not a large show, GIF Studio presents an interesting collection of works that comment on their own status as GIFs. Due to the show’s small size, though, it is hard to argue that the exhibition advances the conversation around the digital-specific nature of or the proper viewing environment for GIFs. What it does achieve is an elucidation of how GIFs as media still operate in multiple modes at once: on monitors next to—and on par with—paintings within a gallery, and on websites as easily transferable digital files. The exhibition shows that GIFs adhere to the quantum mechanics of art—works that are able to exist simultaneously in diverse states and environments, defying classical definition.

GIF Studio is on view at the Jepson Center of the Telfair Museums through April 12, 2015.

 

[1] See Paddy Johnson’s history of the gif on artnet. http://news.artnet.com/art-world/a-brief-history-of-animated-gif-art-part-one-69060

[2] http://news.artnet.com/art-world/will-galleries-and-museums-ever-embrace-animated-gif-art-9650

[3] Tyndell’s GIF is not the only hand-produced animation in the exhibition; the work by T.S. Abe, which is effectively a GIF self-portrait of the artist, is also produced by hand.

Share

Leave a Reply