GIF exhibition tests ability of format to tell stories

“Odds Are” is just what the world needs to move past the tired “how do you pronounce GIF?” debate.

Curated by Patrick Torres, whose graphic design firm, Freight, is headquartered at Blockfort, “Odds Are” will feature looping animated images by upwards of 25 artists from around the country.

“Graphic designers, animators, illustrators, a photographer and a video artist are all represented in the show,” Torres said in an interview at Blockfort. “We wanted to have people make things that weren't client work, to express themselves in what they were making.”

Overlooked for most of its 30-plus-year history (the format was developed by a team at CompuServe in 1987), the GIF is neither high art nor high tech, Torres said. “It's really a bad compression, technically. But it's the only animated looping file like that, so it's sort of a perfect merge between an image and video, somewhere in between those two.”

Social media and other electronic communication has given the format a new purpose, providing tone and context to communication forms that often lack one or both. Torres' hope was to capitalize on the format's storytelling application to offer artists a chance to recall a memory, perhaps, or some other experience that plays over and over in their minds.

“I thought, ‘Why not … see what creative people can do to communicate something that's hard to communicate?'” Torres said.

Given the word prompt “coincidence” — as in, “what are the odds,” to play into the show's title, Torres said — artists were asked to produce GIFs that looped at either 3-, 5- or 7-second intervals (also a nod to the title). Submissions varied in tone and technique, not to mention the software used. Still, Torres was able to get the entire exhibition on a flash drive, which led to new challenges, such as how to present the work in a gallery space.

“There have been projection shows and screen shows,” Torres said. “I don't want people to feel like they're walking into the TV section at Best Buy.”

Torres, with the help of some friends, worked on a four-part presentation. Marketing agency OBLSK is creating a projection system for one wall, to run adjacent to another wall of screens that will present the looped animations with the help of Raspberry Pi computers. Another wall of the gallery will feature digital prints of each frame of each animation, a la pioneering motion-photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Finally, with some help from an industrial designer, Torres will have boxes with flip books that can be hand-cranked to create moving images, submitted by affiliates of the Columbus Society of Communicating Arts.