GIFs — which stands for graphics interchange format, don’t you know — have made the Internet an even more enjoyable place than before, and we have the receipts to prove it.
These digital designs were technological wonders back in the days of AOL and Netscape (Google it, kids). But they eventually went from high-tech animation to cliched novelties.
In recent years, the retro aesthetic of GIFs has been making big comeback. Nowadays, instead of flashing text, they often reference classic signifiers in pop culture and have become a sort of emotional shorthand, a form of emoji.
They’re now a hip way to express a gamut of feelings — excitement, annoyance, surprise . . . Name an emotion and there’s bound to be the perfect GIF for it. That’s why sites and apps such as Giphy and Nutmeg are becoming the must-have tools for when a smiley is just not enough.
They are not only being used just to express LOLs and winks, but recently GIFs have entered the realm of boda fide art. This year Japanese artist Toyoi Yuuta set Tumblr ablaze by posting a beautiful series of 8-bit GIF creations depicting sometimes melancholic, sometimes surreal scenes of life in Japan.
Thousands of users reblogged the pieces as the designs invoked memories of the Nintendo Entertainment System and took the seemingly trite medium of GIFs to a new level.
The artist Segawa 37 took the genre a step higher for Adobe’s GIF contest by giving a modern twist to classic works of “the floating world.” Segawa 37 humorously tweaks the time-honored woodblock prints by including things such as a spaceship swooping in and beaming up Mount Fuji or a group of kimono-clad travelers watching a shinkansen train zoom by.
Segawa 37’s GIF set also includes pieces that rely more on aesthetics than humor, including paintings of the warm glow of lanterns in Edo’s Yoshiwara district and people watching the Sumida River fireworks.
It seems that GIFs are beginning to get the artistic credit they deserve, and some are even making the jump from computer screens to galleries. The GIF Exhibition will be held Sept. 5-13 at Tokyo’s Tetoka and will feature a variety of works from around 10 artists. Although the pieces may be over in a flash, visitors are encouraged to slow down and take in every frame.
GIFs have gone from Internet meme to art, but where will they go next? It’s anyone’s guess.