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Modern Anxiety Comes to Light in a New GIF Art Show

The GIF art experts at Art F City bring collaborate to create 'Geographically Indeterminate Fantasies: The Animated GIF as Place,' Providence College—Galleries’ inaugural online exhbition.

Benoit Palop

Giselle Zatonyl, Modular Landscape (Kyplon), 2016, animated GIF

Over the past six months, GIF art experts and critics Paddy Johnson, Michael Anthony Farley, and Rea McNamara have worked to piece together Geographically Indeterminate Fantasies: The Animated GIF as Place an exhibition and web-based experience that also serves as Providence College—Galleries’ inaugural online exhibition. 

The GIF art assemblage regards nearly 30 years of endlessly looping computer-generated spaces, landscapes, and architectures. It offers different angles to be examined, including the many contemporary issues of our ever-changing modern era. From climate change, to economic and political upheaval, the 25 participating artists express their anxieties, fears, frustrations, and desires through over than 100 works. Using technical mastery, signature aesthetics, and personal visions to embrace the theme, the impressive roster fills the user-friendly online space with entire series, web environments, and stunning standalone works.

Brenna Murphy, Area Transduce 3, 2015, animated GIF

Geographically Indeterminate Fantasies showcases not only recontextualized releases, but also newly commissioned works by Jonathan Monaghan, Giselle Zatonyl, Brenna Murphy, and Clement Valla alongside related reading lists by Claire L Evans and Hito Steyerl. Developed closely with Providence College, the team effort is proof of the shared interest in fostering digital and web-based practices across educational landscapes.

You can read more about Providence College's choice of the Art F City team as curators by clicking here. To learn a bit more about the genesis of the exhibition, The Creators Project communicated with AFC's Paddy Johnson:

Robby Rackleff, Dark Fortress Occult Master of Space: Level 3 (2 of 2), 2011, animated GIF from video

The Creators Project: How did this project come to you? What was its genesis?

Paddy Johnson: Oddly enough, even simple questions like this can be difficult when you're working as a collaborative team. In this case, the process looked a little like this: I began by putting together a Google doc with GIFs I liked and identifying a few common themes. I gravitate towards sci-fi themes. Michael Anthony Farley took a look at the document and fleshed out those themes considerably. He has a background in urban planning and an interest in architecture, so it was really his interest in fully-rendered environments that initially pushed us in that direction. Rea McNamara [who also writes for VICE] was in Berlin when a lot of the initial planning was going on, but when she returned offered many suggestions for inclusions as well.

Faith Holland, Waterfalls, from the series Visual Orgasms, 2013, animated GIF, edition of 5 + AP

Can you explain how you collaborated with Providence College—Galleries, and what the importance is for a college to support these kind of programs?

Jamilee Polson Lacy, the Director Providence College—Galleries had seen the first animated GIF show I curated for Denison University, Graphics Interchange Format, and approached me about putting together another exhibition on the subject for the launch of their website. It had been five years since I curated Graphics Interchange Format, so I was eager to revisit the medium. Her support was crucial to making the exhibition happen. She fundraised like mad and offered staffing support so we could put the show together. Only a few galleries sell GIFs commercially, so it's really important to have the nonprofit support. And as a nonprofit ourselves, we were able to offer additional man hours that a for-profit organization just couldn't dedicate.

I think some of the nuts and bolts of support can get a little boring, but conversely, it's not at all platitudes to say that the existence of this show demonstrates the importance of educational institutions and nonprofit arts organizations. Artists are very active GIF makers, the medium itself has proven enormously important for communication, but [the] democratic nature of the medium means that GIF sales aren't going to support artists and galleries any time soon. So we need institutions doing the work to catalogue, preserve, and reflect on what these mediums mean to us.

Jonathan Monaghan, Escape Pod, 2016, from a series of 11 animated GIFs from computer animated HD film “Escape Pod”

Can you talk to us about your curatorial process? How did you tackle the theme?

Mostly, it was a lot of image dumping on Slack, discussion about those GIFs, and a seemingly endless process of writing and rewriting the curatorial statement.

What was your criteria aside from choosing artists that make fully realized environments?

It might seem obvious to say, but the most basic criteria was that the GIFs needed to depict an environment—be it an architectural space or a landscape. Outside of that, we tried to look for variety of approaches. That meant including work that used pre-existing imagery, (Faith Holland, Petra Cortright, Dina Kelberman), GIFs meant to be shown as immersive browser experiences (Nicolas Sassoon, Peter Burr, Clement Valla, Sara Ludy), GIFs rendered from 3D videos (Jacolby Satterwhite, Jonathan Monaghan, Wickerham & Lomax), GIFs that picture architectural spaces, (V5MT, Robby Rackleff, Hugo Moreno, Alex McLeod) GIFs that picture interiors (Milton Melvin Crossiant III), etc.

It's probably worth noting that while this is a GIF show, we weren't particularly purist about it in the sense that we worked with artists who simply drew GIFs from their videos. In some ways, this is also a show about 3D rendering and how that medium lends itself to GIF making.

Lauren Pelc-McArthur, Gel joints showing, 2015, animated GIF

The fact that this show is presented online strengthens even more the idea of closed spaces, strict architectures, and total immersion. Can you talk about that choice?

Truth be told, this isn't an online-only show. We'll soon be working on the IRL version at GRIN Gallery in Providence. The public opening takes place June 4th, and the show runs through July 2nd. I think that only makes sense. A lot of the artists we included are used to projecting their GIFs in gallery spaces and even create installations for them, so we wanted to be able to present that as well.

Any predictions on how the GIF will evolve in the next few years?

It's impossible to say, but I think the near future will be informed by the fact that companies have discovered GIFs are popular and are trying to find ways to keep them on their platforms. That's not good news for the GIF, because the ability to share these files is a big part of what has made them so important in the first place.

Małgosia Woźnica (V5MT), ARXITEKTON, 2013, from a selection of 10 GIFs from a series of 22 GIFs embedded on a webpage for the ANI GIF Gallery curated by Sarah Caluag and Daniel Rehn

Sam Rolfes, Heavy Handed Post-Humanism is a Vicious Cycle, 97BPM, 2015, animated GIF

Click here to check out Geographically Indeterminate Fantasies: The Animated GIF as Place for yourself. 

Artists included: Peter Burr, Petra Cortright, Milton Melvin Croissant III, Elektra KB, Claire L Evans, Faith Holland, Dina Kelberman, Kidmograph (Gustavo Torres), Sara Ludy, Lauren Pelc-McArthur, Alex McLeod, Ying Miao, Jonathan Monaghan, Hugo Moreno, Brenna Murphy, Eva Papamargariti, Robby Rackleff, Sam Rolfes, Nicolas Sassoon, Jacolby Satterwhite,  Hito Steyerl, Tough Guy Mountain, Małgosia Woźnica (V5MT), Wickerham & Lomax, Clement Valla, and Giselle Zatonyl.

Related:

A Guide to Enjoying and Making Your Own GIF Art

Nicolas Sassoon: Art Exclusive for The Creators Project

An Exploration of the Spatial and Timeless in GIFs