Remember those unsettling dancing babies? The ones that got passed around the Internet in the days before social media and eventually made their way onto the Fox TV show, Ally McBeal? Those were GIFs.
GIF stands for graphics interchange format. It's a series of still images, looped -- and last month, after 25 years of existence, it was named the Oxford English Dictionary 2012 American word of the year.
This week, the Moving the Still festival is celebrating those low-fi flashing images during one of the many satellite events surrounding Art Basel Miami Beach. You can also see them on Tumblr and the online auction house, Paddle 8.
"Hopefully this show can kind of elevate the GIF to the next level," says Johnny Misheff, the New York Times T Magazine art columnist and all-around man-about-the-Internet behind the festival. The GIFs have taken over a 35,000-square-foot warehouse in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood during Art Basel. Some were commissioned specifically for the show, and some were submitted via open call on Tumblr and chosen by a panel of judges referred to as "council members" (including REM's Michael Stipe, who named the festival via a text message exchange with Misheff.)
The GIFs will be elevated, literally, from computer screens to the walls and accompanied by title cards, just like in a museum or gallery.
Year of the GIF
"I think the Moving the Still exhibit, it's all fitting in with the zeitgeist. This is, in some ways, the year of the GIF," says art critic Carolina Miranda, who sometimes uses GIFs instead of words to offer critiques of artwork.
Not Just Dancing Babies Anymore
The show in Wynwood features works by Philadelphia artist Alex da Corte, who usually works with physical objects and says he spends all of about one hour a week online: "I get so bored, I'm like, I don't know what to do on here. There's nothing on there, you know?" (Actually, no.) He says his GIFs (his first attempts at the artform) are about slowing down in the face of Internet culture.
And conceptual artist Joe Kay's GIFs build on photographs the iconic artist Cindy Sherman took of herself. (Misheff had desperately hoped to get Sherman to contribute a GIF herself but, when his attempts didn't pan out, Kay "stepped up.")
All the Single Ladies
Buzzfeed staffers Krutika Mallikarjuna and Chris Ritter came up with their "Sassy Obama" GIF to accompany a post about what Obama could do if he lost the election. (She made one for Romney too.) It went up on election night and quickly went viral.
"Weird Internet is good Internet," says Mallikarjuna.
Moving the Still: A Festival of GIFs runs through Saturday, Dec. 8, from noon to 7 at 318 NW 23 St. (enter on NW Second Avenue), Miami. A party tonight (Friday) goes from 8 to midnight and is open to the public.
Make Your Own GIF
Wanna make your own GIF? Here are some apps to help and some tips from the New York Times Gadgetwise blog.
Show us what you got. Post your links in the comments section below.