Everyday on the Internet, a GIF is born. And everyday, a GIF dies a sad, not-reblogged death. GIFS were once an integral aspect of the Web 1.0 culture, actualized in novel pointed arrows and naughty adult-only signage of women flashing their tits. The tiny animated format fully came of age when social network users began adorning their MySpace pages with homespun GIFs. Today GIFs are everywhere, from the Internet’s animated cats to the world of high fashion. GIFs became a mainstay of net artists and remix culture, which also alludes to the birth of the read/write web, for which this site is named. Today nothing is safe from the mesmerizing hyper-fast cracked out aesthetic of GIFs, which are both minimal in style and instantly gratifying in consumption. The GIF is simple, trashy and strangely attractive. Anything can get GIF-ified in 256 colors or less.
The GIF indicates a full-fledged Internet culture transformation. It suggests the endless possibilities of making and sharing on the Internet. A single image slightly animated has the potential to catch eyeballs faster even than a 10-second viral video or stagnant single image. GIFs show the possibility of the now, as defined by users of the Internet.
Downcast Eyes at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago began first with the GIF. For the one-night only event, twohundredfiftysixcolors and TAGTEAM invited artists and culture makers to show their GIFs in a two-hour computer-based performance art endurance show. Except the bodies were not humans, they were indeed computers. Just show up to the MCA with a fully-charged laptop. Open it up, connect it to the museum’s WiFi network, start your GIF, and let it run till the battery dies a temporary death. Then replug and start again.
GIF culture does not have a single space for existence, though much of it now takes place on Tumblr. Theo Durst, the show’s curatorial assistant and web master, spends a fair amount of time there blogging and re-blogging GIFs.
“I don’t think there’s really one GIF culture,” he says. “Basically at the risk of sounding kind of simple about it, I just spend a lot of time on Tumblr. In the new media community, it’s this good way to do stuff that’s not so serious, doesn’t involve extensive community modeling and all that. It’s not super complex system of feedback, it’s like you make something and it’ll get…maybe nobody will reblog it, and then 500 people will.”