GIF by Stephanie Davidson

August 20, 2010

The acronym GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) is today mostly used to describe small annoying, blinking animations on amateur Web pages. However, it's important to remember that the file format specification is 21 years old, older than the Web itself. The first browsers didn't support GIFs, but in March 1996, with the release of Netscape 2.0, it became possible—and the face of the Internet changed within a few months. Early Web users, hungry for multimedia, were soon animating everything, from headers, backgrounds, and navigation to lists and "under construction" signs. Software tools to create these files became available for free.

Apart from animation, the GIF supported transparency, which meant an animation that appeared on one page could be put on any other, background colors or patterns shining through. This made it easy to fit GIFs into almost any setting and inspired numerous animated GIF collections, a vital process for the early Web and making your own site. The animations could also run endlessly, no matter for how long a page was already loaded, or if users scrolled up or down.

Despite these features, in the late 1990s, designers tried to wash animated GIFs away from the Web, as they looked amateurish and their free nature was incompatible with Web design as a business. However, not only have animated GIFs survived, but as artist and blogger Tom Moody has said, they have “evolved into a kind of ubiquitous 'mini-cinema,’ entirely native to the personal computer and the World Wide Web. . . along with JPEGs and PNGs comprise its most authentic visual language.” Evidence of this can be seen by the naïve art by GIF collector Juanna or the homepage of the artist Petra Cortright.

Contemporary artists who are interested in online culture pay special attention to GIFs as a Web phenomena and a file format include the Canadian Stephanie Davidson, who creates GIFs from found online footage, using lo-fi animation techniques and abstract, looping narratives, reminiscent of vernacular GIF animations that have been copied millions of times. Her GIFs are so complete and visually compact that it would be impossible to use them in the aforementioned collages. The focus is on the file format itself.

In 2008, Kevin Bewersdorf built the definitive Web mandala canvas, uniting and synchronizing dozens of GIF classics. Although the original version of the artwork is a full HD uncompressed video loop that technically goes beyond what can be meaningfully transferred and consumed online, the work pays tribute to GIFs as a cultural phenomenon, bringing years of Web surfing into a single frame.

August 23, 2010 8:15 AM
We used this beautiful dog for the Independence Day of Ukraine.
Please look at this picture and our comment on
We want to express our deep gratitude for this GIF to
Stephanie Davidson, Olia Lialina, as well as the Guggenheim Museum.

August 21, 2010 6:41 AM
It´s such a shame that the evolution of an "animated gif language" was halfly stopped by so many glitchy images. Still, I believe that gifs, in resemblance of the kinetoscope (by the way, completely cut off by cinema) have the possibility of developing a completely new language and narrative on its own. I believe in the possibilities of a personal cinema that relies on cyclic time and location as axis in its discourse.
I leave you the link to a little animated gif tribute I made. It´s an art magazine cover that grows every week depending on how the new posts behave.
3.Todd Holmes
August 21, 2010 1:07 AM
F.A.T. & Today and Tomorrow regularly host "salons" in Berlin called "Speed Shows" where they go to an internet cafe, rent all of the computers, and have an art show. The focus is often on animated GIF artwork and/or mash-ups, as can be seen on this page covering the last exhibition from July:

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