The GIF Turned 30 and We Went to Its Birthday Party
Photos and GIFs by Walter Wlodarczyk via GIPHY


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The GIF Turned 30 and We Went to Its Birthday Party

An IRL GIF art show curated by GIPHY Arts celebrated three decades of tiny looping videos with a jungle of digital art installations.

Yesterday the GIF turned 30, and the internet rejoiced. Outside of the internet, GIPHY turned its attention from serving a billion GIFs per day to hosting an IRL 30th birthday extravaganza for the file format as part of their ongoing show, TIME_FRAME, at Gallery 151. Flashing lights, projections, laughs, and surreal imagery gave the party last night a vibe somewhere between Blade Runner and your meme-filled best friends' group text.


GIPHY Arts worked with TRANSFER Gallery and Rhizome to commission 30 artists and animators' sculptures and installations, most of which eschew the file format entirely. Looping videos projected on screens or displayed in unique, sculptural monitors. There's Nitemind's rainbow glowing Pyramid, Ooni's VR experience Sticker Time, a column of TVs blasting glitchy animations called Untitled Reactions by Robert Beatty, and a kaleidoscopic selfie tunnel to prove you were there.

Upon entering the gallery space, visitors are treated to Moments of GIFstory from its creation in 1987 to the present. There's a GIFoscope of the first ever animated GIF, an animated timeline by GIPHY Community Curator Ari Spool, and a visual mnemonic for the controversy over how to pronounce "GIF": a modified Jif peanut butter jar.

TIME_FRAME is a reminder that the times are a' changin' for the GIF. "A better, but less sexy name for a GIF would be 'short looping video,'" GIPHY artist Mr. Div said at a Muesum of the Moving Image panel, also organized by GIPHY, earlier this month. Platforms like Instagram video, Electric Objects, and even GIPHY offer alternative formats for what he describes as "the essence of what a GIF is." Like Loop Dreams, GIPHY's first GIF art show last year, TIME_FRAME shatters even that loose definition. Is a sculpture or a life-sized projection what the GIF looks like when it's all grown up?


There are plenty of GIF loyalists in the world of short looping animations. A master of the animated collage, Lorna Mills began working in the medium just a few years after the GIF was invented. At the same Museum of the Moving Image panel, she defended the .gif. "It's the rules, and finding ways to outsmart them, or work within them, or expand them, that makes it interesting," said Mills. "It's the restrictions of the format that give us everything we have."

The big takeaway from TIME_FRAME is that the GIF, in whatever form it take, has plenty to look forward to in its 30s. Spool says the future of the GIF can be summed up but the three Ds: "The future of digital art is democratic, distributed, and dope!"

Check out GIFs from the GIF's 30th birthday party and TIME_FRAME below.

TIME_FRAME opens to the public at Gallery 151 starting this Saturday, June 17–22. See the full list of artists here.


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