“GIF(ted) Bodies: Embodiment, Affect, and Gender in GIF Art”
The Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) has been a staple of internet culture since it was first introduced by Compuserve in 1987. Although not all GIFs are animated, it is perhaps the potential for animation itself that has kept the format alive for so long. Previous work on GIFs has explored the GIF’s capacity for animation by framing its genealogy within a range of pre-cinematic and cinematic cultures. However, when we speak of GIFs today, we refer most often to presumably authorless, reaction GIFs that have become a staple of phatic communication online. Current work in GIF-making demonstrates a re-appropriation of the format by artists and animators who use the medium to explore both its cinematic roots (for example, by reversing GIF-making by printing them out into flipbooks or as zoetropes), as well its potentials for exploring questions of body politics and gender identity. This talk explores these tendencies in GIF-art through an examination of the work of artists and animators such as “Erma Fiend” (Lee Friend Roberts), Meltem Şahin and Alina Sánchez López among others. Fiend’s work explores the GIF as a medium for self- portraiture and an unpacking of what she describes as “the semiotics of identity [and] the aesthetics of performed femininity.” In that sense, the use of the GIF by Fiend is not unlike the video auto- portraiture of feminist video artists in the 1970s and 80s. While Turkey-based artist Meltem Şahin does not use her own body in her GIFs, her work is equally invested in questions of embodiment and gender identity. In fact, Şahin takes things a step further, by describing her augmented reality Instagram filters as embodied GIFs that live on the body of the user. Şahin has also curated an exhibition titled OhMyPMS! which brings together a set of globally dispersed women animators exploring the affective and emotional vagaries of premenstrual syndrome through the medium of the GIF. Finally, Mexico-based artist Alina Sánchez López explores the GIF as a form of community art practice. While López describes her own GIF work as manifestation of her artistic response to the social problems she faces as a woman in Mexico, her broader work also explores the possibilities of collaborative artmaking across space. In 2017, López initiated the Opera Prima project, a live-edited “GIF-Film author event.” More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, López has curated “pandemic GIF labs” to collaborate with students and artists to give expression to their anxieties, which has resulted in a virtual exhibition space “GIF Pandemia Gallery.” Although the work of these artists varies in style, they have a shared conviction in the affective and artistic potentials of the GIF. This talk will undertake both a formal examination of the GIF’s connections to cinematic and performative cultures, as well as explore the range of themes and affects mobilized in the work selected artists. The affordances of the format and its capacity for looping, repetitive movement then, make the lightweight and seemingly ephemeral format of the GIF a powerful medium for queer and feminist art practice—something that GIF-artist and animator Miranda Javid describes as “quiet art with a big presence.”
“Thinking Through the GIF Economy”
We have all seen GIFs or used them at some point—perhaps on social media or while texting. For some of us, the GIFs are the glitter and bling of the internet before Web 2.0. Suffice it to say, GIFs have been around for a long time. We live in a world saturated with these tiny animated images looping on our computer screens, our phones and sometimes, even our billboards. Often in this overabundance, we hardly think about them and what potentials they hold. But what does it mean to think through GIFs? Can GIFs be a mode of making associations, a way of thinking about the endless stream of images coursing through our lives? Can the GIF be a method of inquiry? In this workshop, we will explore these questions through a hands-on experience in making simple GIFs using Photoshop and/or phone apps. By making random image associations and “animating” them within a single file, we will explore how the GIF can enable a form of dialectical thinking and a way of expressing ideas, associations and even feelings.
Anirban Baishya is an Assistant Professor at the Communication and Media Studies Department, Fordham University. His current research examines selfies and the rise of digital selfhood in India. He is currently working on a book project titled Viral Selves: Selfies and Digital Cultures in India. His research interests New Media and Digital Cultures, Social Media & Political Culture, Media Aesthetics, Surveillance Studies, and Global and South Asian Cinema & Media. His work has been published in International Journal of Communication, Communication, Culture & Critique, South Asian Popular Culture, Porn Studies and South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies and Media, Culture and Society. He is also the co-editor of “South Asian Pornographies: Vernacular Formations of the Permissible and the Obscene,” a special issue of Porn Studies which was published in March 2020.
Both events are free and open to the public. They are possible thanks to the generous financial support of the Anonymous Fund. The Center for Visual Cultures would also like to thank the Departments of Art, Art History, Center for South Asia, Communication Arts, and English.