The Spanish artist and illustrator Isabel Chiara makes some of the smartest GIFs I've ever seen, with punchlines that really do justice to the literal meaning of the word: The moving images are funny and gorgeous, but they're also allusive, sinister, and political. Chiara, who was born and lives in Seville, Spain, uses the new(ish) medium to make a more dynamic kind of collage, mixing influences from a large expanse of art history; her work has been compared to Monty Python, but it also recalls Dada, surrealism, pop art, the Renaissance, and some flair and gravitas of the baroque and rococo, too. Her piece "George Clooney Is Inside" won the 2014 Giphoscope Award for best collage. (The honor earned her the eponymous "giphoscope," an analog GIF machine that flips still images in quick succession to bring GIFs to life.)
Her current project, a sort of video collage called Open Memory that brings together her distinctive GIFs with performance art and film, is a collaboration with the video artist Isabel Pérez del Pulgar that the pair plan to take offline into installations and performances. We spoke over email about artistic influence, the role of women in her work, and how to pronounce her favorite file format.
BROADLY: How long have you been working in GIFs?
Isabel Chiara: I have worked with moving images for the last seven years. I started experimenting with the 2D animation and the idea of moving classical art [to create] a variety of new scenarios. Years ago I worked with The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, and I experimented with the footage in a short film called SHOT. These are the basis of my current work.
What attracted you to this form? Is "GIF art" even the right way to refer to what you do?
The GIF allowed me to test motion and emphasize an intention through image repetition. I deliberately choose not to categorize my work in a certain way but use instead various formats to express myself, such as GIF or video, and I mix them whenever possible. Each of them contributes to a wider and richer end product.
A lot of your pieces use the human body, morphing it or mocking it or some combination of the two. Why do you return to it?
The human body is both a suggestive machine in its parts and movements identical in each of us, yet unsettling in its external adaptability, resilience, and individual and social transfiguration. These aspects give me ideas as to how to play with images of our bodies according to any criteria, established or not.
Are you trying to be funny? Where do you think the humor lies in your pieces?
Humor is a defining aspect of my work; it helps me express my perception of the world, the problems that concern me as a woman and artist, and it makes bearable those things I rebel against. I see my work as leading to smile through empathy with the situations I expose—one of the most recurring themes of my work is to show women and their unrecognized place in the world. At this point in the history of humanity, it continues to be pathetically funny the idea that women are still [considered] below the level of men in thought, rights, security, and freedom.
I'm noticing more and more artists (particularly female artists) working in collage. Why do you think the medium is gaining steam right now?
We live in a time of abundance of printed and digital images, and collage allows artists to deconstruct what appears as reality. I think this resurgence has to do with the social critique that remains so necessary in the art world; the relevance of collage remains associated with the idea of reflecting everyday life and mass culture in the work. [And] women have always used their hands in an effective way. Scissors are always in good hands when used by a woman.
How long does it take you to produce a piece?
Each project is different and requires unique processes and timelines. I like to work through full series, and it often takes me months to find the right images. I normally work on several projects at a time to keep the momentum going, and to avoid any vacuum.
Let's talk about the video project, Open Memory. How is it different from your GIF work? Can you describe the project—is there a narrative?
Open Memory is an evolving and experimental project with another artist, Isabel Pérez del Pulgar. We want to build a theoretical approach to "visions," and to the archetypal models and roles attributed to women, using humor as a tool to parody and irony in order to demonstrate social concerns and criticize stereotypes. The parodies and exaggeration guide the narrative thread in the video performances, to make it clear [that we are] ridiculing the roles culturally assigned to women. And we do not forget [to critique what is considered] unacceptable behavior by many women.
You also have a great eye for color. How often do you think about it?
I learned to distinguish and appreciate a striking color palette when I was very young; I paid attention to the works by painters such as Munch, Chagall, and the Impressionists. Then, when I grew up, I was fascinated by baroque colors—white lead, vermilion, earth tones. The search for the right color is a constant in my work. You could say that I'm always thinking about color.
How do you pronounce GIF?
Genius Is Free.