Visual Art

The Art of the GIF: At a Dallas Gallery, Looking for Beauty in the Internet's Favorite Toy

WWF legend The Ultimate Warrior stands in front of a U.W. branded background, shirtless and in full guise. His chest is wet with sweat, muscles flexed to full suspension and nipples sharp enough to gouge the canvas mat. What was probably a reactionary response to an interviewer's mention of arch-nemesis The Undertaker, the GIF has captured our warrior in a fit of testosterone-fueled rage, head-banging, mouth ajar, eyes-squinted.

We'll never know the cause or effect. But to Bradly Brown, whose HOMECOMING! Committee recently exhibited a collection of GIFs, that's the point.

"It's a very coded language, like a bunch on inside jokes," he says. "A lot of people don't get it, but I think that's the idea, that's part of it"

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Brown is less interested in the "Art" of the GIF than with the potential conversations and questions that arise from seeing exhibits like the one he threw Saturday in the Deep Ellum Windows project, called GIF THE FUCK OUT.

"I think it's more about artist practice rather than about GIFs," he says. "What art can be, what a gallery opening can be and the role technology plays as well. ... There's always an audience participatory element to our shows, we are trying to create community and networking, but at the same time, we're spurring conversation around very significant contemporary commentary."

The Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, was introduced in the late 1980s by commercial online service provider CompuServe, as a portable and compressed way to display moving images. Original GIFs could handle up to 8 bits per pixel and used over 250 colors. Because of their ability to store multiple images in one file, the '90s saw business using GIFs for online advertising and marketing tools, like web banners.

Brown saw a perfect opportunity to subvert the standard pro-quo of corporations taking cues from new art mediums for advertising campaigns, and play a wry game of role-reversal.

"That's where the beauty lies," he says. "Usually the roles are reversed, and the market takes the trends from the artists and exploits them in a way. But the GIF was a simple marketing tool to get attention on a static internet page, and was then co-opted by the artist. It has become a new medium for creative production."

GIF exhibits are popular around the country and abroad. Recently there have been shows at London's The Photographers Gallery, The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, at this year's Art Basel Miami and multiple universities across the country.

Brown says the idea for a local exhibit had been tossed around for a while, based on his experiences producing a similar exhibit while working for an advertising company in NYC.

"This is on a larger scale, and more of a social commentary," he says. "We spend a lot of time fine tuning these events so they are more than just a party. The concepts and artistic integrity always come first."

And it's starting to catch on.

"I've only been down here for about two years now, and I've seen a lot of progress," Brown says. "A lot of changes. I just think it takes people getting shit done, and being active and progressive. We just want to expose people to this stuff, and get them involved. They can decide for themselves whether it's art."

For the exhibit, Brown wanted to contrast the academic idealswith a sardonic play on people gluttonous consumption of pop-culture. Thus the title, "GIF THE FUCK OUT"

"We decided to go big, or go home," he said. "The profanity plays into the adolescent absurdity of the GIF."

After posting an open call for entries on the HOMECOMING! Committee Facebook page last month, the group received over 100 submissions, "more than I expected," Brown says. "We're showing about 60 of them," Brown said. "Unfortunately we had to cut some that I really liked, but we had to keep them at a viewable size for the grid, so it came down to technology and equipment restraints."

Brown says the submission ranged from "super dumb, to very well done. There's a lot of penis in this show." The collective plans for the event to be ran annually.

The entries were judged by attendees through paper ballots. A 16-year-old submitter, Clare Washington, won with her GIF titled, "_Epic Leap Frog_," which depicted a frog and a little boy dressed in a frog outfit indulging in a fierce completion of leap frog:

Artist marthakilledbaby submitted eight GIFs into the competition, including runner-up, "Give Me That Burger."

marthakilledbaby says he didn't submit any GIFs of high resolution (the largest resolution was 800 x 199 with "Mervyns Has Shit For Sale") because wanted to keep with the GIF's early internet legacy, where it was used as "a low resource animation file for webpages, more or less pre-dating video codecs."

"I felt like my GIFs should represent that early World Wide Web lineage, and also I purposely wanted them to be small and insignificant," he said. "Because the art world tends to want artists to make things of 'significance.' The art world is relatively ignorant when it comes to the human condition, ironically enough, it's just like marketing, it's all about the objectifying of people and ideas."

marthakilledbaby says that in order to find the relevancy of showing GIFs in the gallery, we first have to find the relevancy of the modern gallery.

"If it was up to me, I'd be streaming GIFs and videos in public spaces, and randomly on digital devices left and right, beyond the gallery space," he says. "People are put under a constant barrage of messages and images, and I think video art, GIFs, and digital art are all a way for us as humans to spit that messaging back out and expunge ourselves of propaganda, marketing, economic servitude, and brainwashing. Art is best outside of a gallery."

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Lee Escobedo