Surveying the selections for Moving the Still, the recent curated show of animated GIFs at this year’s Art Basel Miami, it’s evident how much the GIF has matured, both as a file format and as an artistic medium. The pieces at the show covered a good deal of ground: There were ultra-short-form time lapses and other tiny portions of trick photography, non-sequitur follies and scraps of meme fodder, enigmatic still lifes that happened to incorporate motion, and a smattering of things that could accurately be described as glitchy, trippy, or druggy.
But at some point in the animated GIF’s lifetime, after the banner-ad era but before the glitz and glamor of Miami Beach, the whole GIF-as-art thing was dominated by a narrow aesthetic—crazy computer-generated shapes and cortex-tickling optical illusions. So in some sense, you could say Paolo Čerić is a traditionalist.
With his GIFs, which he creates with the popular creative programming language Processing, Čerić continues to explore that territory to mesmerizing effect. The Croatian artist’s blog features all the hits—your pulsating blobs, your infinitely unfolding tubes, your dancing lines and wiggling dots.
At this point, the style is a familiar one. But comparing Čerić's pieces to some of the more avant-garde material collected for the Basel exhibit—or even the average GIF you see on, say, Buzzfeed—one distinction does emerge. As GIFs have moved into the mainstream, we’ve increasingly seen them used simply as a low-impact platform for sharing bite-size bits of video. They’re highlights that don’t require you to press play. Take, for example, the Atlantic Wire’s GIF-heavy Olympic coverage from last summer. And it goes for "art" GIFs, too; many of the Moving the Still pieces comfortably pass as video art if they played out across minutes instead of seconds.
But the types of computer-generated GIFs made by Čerić and others are something a bit different. True, they’re looping the same sequence of frames ad nauseum just like the GIFs mentioned above, but they’re much more aware of where that loop occurs and how it looks to the viewer. It’s certainly something Čerić keeps in mind when he’s making them. "Yes, a perfect loop is very important to me," he says. "Sure, there can always be exceptions, but generally I like them to loop nicely, without interruptions and going out of the flow. It breaks the meditative feel I want to give them."
With video-based GIFs, you’re acutely aware of the frames you’re watching; in Čerić's, the idea of "frames" never really comes into the equation. His are things that exist out of time—or at least, out of hyper-fragmented Internet time. In some cases, the motion they present seems almost organic, with forms that pulse and breathe like living things. In other instances, they’re like tiny perpetual motion machines. But however you think of them, and however excited you are (or not) about GIFs getting exhibitions all their own—it’s nice to know someone’s staying true to their roots.