Tom Moody Publicly Agrees With Will Brand

by Will Brand on April 28, 2011 · 29 comments Graphics Interchange Format

Tom Moody is pretty sure we’re fighting over something, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. We got in a little tiff – over the course of thirty or so comments – over on the GIF exhibition website post three weeks ago, and I think it’s a decent read. This week, Tom gave us some parting shots, and since he doesn’t allow comments on his blog, I feel the need to respond here.

First, the facts. The paragraph of mine he takes issue with:

The preference for GIF as a medium, it seems to me, has nothing to do whatsoever with its compression algorithms, a teensy bit to do with the retro appeal of a limited color palette, and a whole lot to do with the fact that – as the very existence of your remix culture indicates – it’s so easily interchanged.

And Tom’s reply, revised to start a new discussion about a GIF by dump.fm user stage:

The reason the GIF above, by stage, got six “faves” on dump.fm and five “likes” on Google Reader probably isn’t because people thought, “oh this is something I can remix” but rather because it appeals on a more fundamental level: a combination of visual poetry, psychological investigation, critique, and humor.

Tom goes into more detail, and these two posts on his blog are worth reading in their entirety because he’s an excellent writer whatever his position. In essence, he thinks I’m pigeonholing GIFs with “whoa internet image culture social remixing”-type thinking, though he should know me better.

The first issue is that Tom seems to believe that my thoughts on “the preference for GIF as a medium” refer to a preference for GIFs by viewers – as indicated by his citing “faves” and “likes” – rather than a preference by artists. I make my position pretty clear in my previous paragraph, which he helpfully omits:

There are plenty of ways to animate things; you’ve chosen the medium that’s most universal and most dependable, and that’s not a coincidence. If GIF support weren’t integrated into every layout engine worth considering, you’d be working in Flash or Quicktime. If GIFs didn’t play instantly and unstoppably, without plugins or play buttons, you’d be working in Flash or Quicktime. And if you were working in Flash or Quicktime, the nature of those formats dictates that this animated remix culture could not exist.

I mention “you” – that is, Tom Moody the artist – four times, and his audience not at all. In fact, I’m not sure I mention the viewers of GIFs anywhere in the discussion; they’re just not as interesting as the artists and their decision to use GIFs instead of online video formats. Tom himself echoes my thoughts on the GIF’s universality and dependability when he later says, “This mesh of effects and counter-scenarios exists by the simplest of means, a couple dozen frames that can be read instantly on any computer browser.”

Tom also has a bone to pick with my phrase “your remix culture”. He implicitly relates that phrase to relational aesthetics when he later says:

[stage’s GIF] could be juxtaposed with other images, placed on web pages with ads and porn, accompanied by text struggling to explain it but it’s always going to read as an autonomous work. This is why the GIF format appeals to artists: the possibility that a quirky, inviolate, individuated expression can emerge that will be better than bulletin boards, better than process, better than overdetermined academic ideas of relational, groupcentric, faux-interactive art.

The issue here is that Tom knows my phrase was in reference to dump.fm. Tom understands that the reason GIFs are important to dumpers is that they, and this is dumb simple, work in dump’s image chat. He implies as much when he says GIFs can “be read instantly on any computer browser”. Further, he goes to great lengths to explain that stage’s GIF – like his own work – is “always going to read as an autonomous work” (something I never disputed), while simultaneously filling the rest of his blog with his favorite image juxtapositions from dump. These juxtapositions are possible because of the technical properties of GIF as a medium – that is, as I said, without them dump’s “animated remix culture could not exist”.

Tom and I agree that “interchange” is a specific term for moving data from one place to another, and not some nebulous idea of sharing and relationships. Tom and I agree that remixing context is as valuable and as deserving of the name as remixing content. Tom and I agree that GIFs can be appreciated for reasons other than their GIF-ness. So what’s the problem?

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    As long as we’re helpfully omitting information, here’s a reminder of what we’re disagreeing about. A vector graphic from 1997 (later converted into a GIF) says “the art happens here” and points to a cartoon lightning bolt (the only moving element) somewhere in the network space between 2 computers. This image was used as a defining graphic for a show of artists currently working with animated GIFs, even though its creators aren’t particularly interested in GIFs, and think that talking about the network as the locus for art is more interesting than any final product that springs from that location. You insist it’s a great image for the show and that “interchange” is the most important story here. You can find examples of where I’ve remixed GIFs and talked up the interchange aspect but it is of secondary importance. If you’ve changed your mind about that (and agree that’s the wrong image to represent the show) then you are, in fact, publicly agreeing with me.

    The photo of the middle aged man in the bathrobe–is that your Dad?–was funnier when it was paired with flaming text that said “you are curated” (by SeacrestCheadle on dump).

    • Will Brand

      So do we agree on the thing I actually wrote this about or not? If you’re just looking to list differences rather than having a discussion, I’m sure we also disagree about fish (I’m anti). I just wanted to tie this particular line of thought up.

      Also, proving I’m young isn’t proving I’m wrong, but actually there is a certain resemblance.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    If you agree that “The Art Happens Here” graphic has dated badly and probably shouldn’t be used to symbolize the rather more sophisticated things people are doing with GIFs these days (and no, we’re not talking about cinemagraphs), then we definitely do agree and the title of this post is actually true. That *was* what we were arguing about–anyone can read the earlier thread and see that’s the issue I raised.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t agree with that and I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. The show is survey of GIFs made between 1997 and 2011, not a collection of the best GIFs of 2010-11. Now, I’ve made it clear that for the show to better reflect my own intentions as a curator I should have included more made between 1997-2004 and that’s going to change in the next version of the show. Since you lodged complaints about the website we added an image by Stephanie Davidson to the press release, but those are all the changes that will occur.

      It’s important to me that the exhibition show a time line of gif makers, and that includes the old gif you think is crappy. The use of that GIF isn’t meant to be a lauding gesture that should elevate it above all the other GIFs in the show. It is the earliest GIF in the show and is highlighted for that reason. I also think the concept of communication and exchange is important and this GIF talks about this. Finally, I liked the narrative to this particular GIF because it was very telling of the time. The Art Happens Here was made because on a very basic level MTAA was having problems explaining their art to people. Many assumed it was a static web page that hosted images of their paintings and sculptures. Did the explanation work? According to M.River, no, and I feel like that’s still the case when trying to explain net art to a lay audience. I think that narrative is important particularly in a survey show because it reveals something very specific about the time.

      To your point though, you are right that The Art Happens here not the GIFiest of GIFs, or that important to the GIFs you make. That’s fine, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have a spot in the show or even on the front page of the website. You are also right that from a strictly I think the GIFs being made now are far more interesting than they were in the early years of the net. The show itself makes that observation self evident though, and no one expects the full narrative of an exhibition to be imparted through the lead image on the website.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ sally

    Tom Moody is an artist represented in the show, Will Brand designed the website for the show, and Paddy Johnson curated the show. These insidery GIF-related flame wars don’t do a lot for me, as a reader. I would LOVE to hear from someone who has seen the exhibition IRL (and I wish that person was me, but it’s not).

    Are GIFs a medium that is exclusive and inherent to the internet (as opposed to, say, video)? yes.
    Do GIFs have a compelling and unique aesthetic? yes.
    Are GIFs robust and ubiquitous and well-suited to fast-paced re-mix and exchange? yes.
    Does acknowledging any of this make one a formalist or a proponent of relational aesthetics? no.
    Do the GIF theorists engaged in these debates have more in common with each other than almost everyone else in the world? yes.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Speaking of mountains and molehills, where does a post titled “Tom Moody Publicly Agrees With Will Brand” fit in that spectrum? Also, who am I arguing with here? I didn’t say the show was bad, I said Will is wrong about GIFs. He still is–we don’t agree. “Lodged complaints” is a bit strong.

    • http://twitter.com/wrbrand Will Brand

      You went to a lot of trouble to explain on your blog how you disagreed with these particular statements of mine, based on what I think I’ve convincingly shown to be a misunderstanding. I’ve clarified that misunderstanding. It is clear, now that we have both explained our sides on the importance and meaning of the word “interchange” in the show’s title, that we agree on it.

      If you want to argue a different point, that’s fine. We disagree about other things. Have the decency, though, to discuss this one with me honestly and straightforwardly, especially after writing so much on your blog about it. Whatever happened to this: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/how-to-have-a-rational-discussion/ ? “Do not introduce new arguments while another argument has yet to be resolved.” This running battle – both in terms of venue and topic – doesn’t do anything for anyone, except presumably our personal visibility.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    To paraphrase Keith Olbermann, “you talk of decency, sir, below a picture of a smug, middle-aged man in his bathrobe?”

    I see Sally is making her usual “pox on all their houses” contribution.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ sally

    A pox on all your houses! (also, “I say good day, sir!”)

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    OK, I’ve had my morning coffee and here’s a “decent” reply to Will:

    “Tom seems to believe that my thoughts on ‘the preference for GIF as a medium’ refer to a reference for GIFs by viewers rather than a preference by artists.” Wrong, Will–I knew you were presuming to speak for the artists’ reasons for making GIFs. You still are–you think that remixing is the main appeal of GIFs to artists. As for “your remix culture,” you do know I started working in this vein 7 years before dump, right?

    • Will Brand

      For real? I “think remixing is the main appeal of GIFs to artists”? You’re writing this beneath about 600 words that I wrote specifically to explain the opposite. Since you didn’t bother to read any of them, I’ll quote myself: the main appeal of GIFs is “that it’s so easily interchanged”, insofar as it is the “most universal and most dependable” animated medium. This also, as it happens, allows immediate animations when putting pictures next to pictures (one major venue for which is dump.fm). I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that subcultures – like dump.fm – which are largely reliant on animations would not exist without such an (again) immediate, universal medium for animation. Hence, the “very existence” of those subcultures – one of which you are indisputably a part at this time, whatever its relation to your entire practice – “indicates” GIFs are easily interchanged – which is to say, can reliably transport animations to others which will appear predictably and immediately in their browsers. I’m not sure why I think the tenth time I’ve explained that will do the trick.

      Who are you trying to fight with here?
      Why do I get to be the ~datamoshing~ boogeyman?
      Can’t you go talk to someone who actually espouses the views you’re trying to disprove, or has everybody else learned not to indulge you already?

      • http://tommoody.us tom moody

        “Has everybody else learned not to indulge you already?” is an ad hominem argument. (You asked for examples.)

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    I agree with all the commenters and “likers” who think this discussion is silly but not because “hey we’re all artists together in the same new media pod.” There are valid differences we are working out here, Will’s ad hominem attacks notwithstanding. if you don’t think GIF doctrine is important, read other blogs.

    • Will Brand

      If you could produce some evidence of “ad hominem attacks” or the “name-calling” you refer to on your blog, that’d be awesome. I’m not even sure I’ve called you “Tom”. You’re not a victim here unless you want to be – frankly, if you need pity to win this argument, I’ll take that as a compliment.

      As for the other formal stuff, it’s a lot easier to replicate pixel positions and limited color palettes in another lossless medium (TIFF, PNG) than it is to find another medium that – and I’m really getting sick of saying this – is so universally supported for animation. If you were a sculptor and built stuff out of arsenic, I’d assume it was because of its toxicity and not because of its weight, since only the former characteristic is specific to arsenic; arsenic would be an imperfect medium in which to express weight, since something like lead would be more direct. The relative weights I put on characteristics of GIFs follow the same logic. If that logic isn’t your logic, fine. That means we disagree on a fundamental method for looking at art, not that I killed your dog.

      I’m sick of this. You can write well, Tom, and you know a lot about GIFs. You’re not some kind of guru that I need to listen to without you putting forward a reasonable argument, but I thought maybe we could have a real discussion here. I’ve changed my mind.

    • Will Brand

      If you could produce some evidence of “ad hominem attacks” or the “name-calling” you refer to on your blog, that’d be awesome. I’m not even sure I’ve called you “Tom”. You’re not a victim here unless you want to be – frankly, if you need pity to win this argument, I’ll take that as a compliment.

      As for the other formal stuff, it’s a lot easier to replicate pixel positions and limited color palettes in another lossless medium (TIFF, PNG) than it is to find another medium that – and I’m really getting sick of saying this – is so universally supported for animation. If you were a sculptor and built stuff out of arsenic, I’d assume it was because of its toxicity and not because of its weight, since only the former characteristic is specific to arsenic; arsenic would be an imperfect medium in which to express weight, since something like lead would be more direct. The relative weights I put on characteristics of GIFs follow the same logic. If that logic isn’t your logic, fine. That means we disagree on a fundamental method for looking at art, not that I killed your dog.

      I’m sick of this. You can write well, Tom, and you know a lot about GIFs. You’re not some kind of guru that I need to listen to without you putting forward a reasonable argument, but I thought maybe we could have a real discussion here. I’ve changed my mind.

      • http://tommoody.us tom moody

        “You’re not some kind of guru that I need to listen to” is another ad hominem argument. Since you asked.

  • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/ sally

    The SNAD is ‘wrong’ because it is techno-utopian, suggesting some kind of futuristic AI environment where networks make art all by themselves. It’s also dated for the same reason. Nowadays it’s pretty well understood that nothing uploads or links to itself. Behind every instantiation of a GIF, in dump.fm or wherever, is some human who put it there intentionally.

    This is where aesthetics come in to play. Aesthetics are about perception and affect, bodily functions that happen in the presence of perceptual stimuli. Art adds intentionality and choice to aesthetic experiences — as viewers, we exercise our discretion and choose whether or not to spend time under the influence of certain artworks. As artists, of course, the agency is pretty clear (you make the thing look a certain way, you choose whether to post it or share it or remix it).

    Something I like about so-called remix culture is that participants are artists & viewers at the same time, so the artworld heirarchies and power structures carry way less weight. Unlike relational aesthetics projects in art galleries — where the participants basically just provide the anonymous person-power to manifest the famous artist’s idea — GIFs exist in a culture with different stakes, where authorship is not always an important contextual feature. Sometimes authorship is important, especially when GIF artists build up an oeuvre, and that’s cool too. Because the same GIF can live in multiple online contexts (forums, blogs, artists’ archival pages, etc), the whole practice is nice and fluid.

    The Graphics Interchange Format Exhibition takes place in a gallery. But it isn’t about relational aesthetics either; as far as I know there’s no “remix” station in the gallery where viewers can sit down and “make their own GIFs” (thank goodness). In the exhibition, artists’ names are firmly attached to their works, and there is thereby some historicization going on. I haven’t seen the show, but I understand completely when the curator insists that it is a kind of survey. Paddy could certainly have put together an online GIF exhibition, but in this instance she didn’t. In this context the ‘wrongness’ of SNAD is not a problem. It’s an archival, historic document.

    I’m all for people who have expertise duking out the fine points of a theory – but the good thing about colleagues battling is supposed to be that they can agree on the battlefield. Otherwise it’s just mudslinging and defensive posturing that obfuscate the real stakes in the argument.

    • Mriver

      Hi Sally

      For what it is worth, I do not think of it, and I did not think of it back in “Ye Bygone Ancient Olden Days of Yore (aka 1997)” as utopic, let alone whatever “techno-utopian” is. It was about my (ours really, Tim made it and I just said “Yeah, right on” and continue to take 50% credit for it) interest in the ability for people to exchange/ share/ modify/ delete an artwork within a network environment. It was a way to say that an internet, or any digital artwork for that matter, could be an active rather than passive object. It was, and is, about a relation of active viewers and active artist.

      See, back in “Ye Bygone Ancient Olden Days of Yore (aka 1997)”, I wanted to ask – Why is this space interesting as a site? Why make art in this space? For me, the answer was (and is) that it is an active space between. It is a relationship of people.

      If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.

      Actually, I don’t care if I’m right or wrong, I’m just making art and I always thought art should not have that kind of bottom line.

      Anyhoooooooo…Here is random parting side note that will go nowhere – Ya know what really interest me in Gifs or whatever name or bracket ya toss on them? It’s that they, for the most part, are infinite loops. And, just as a reminder, infinite loops go back farther than “Ye Bygone Ancient Olden Days of Yore (aka 1997)” and will continue after both you and I are gone.

      Also, from your search for someone who saw the show IRL – my mom saw the show. She lives in nearby Columbus. She thought it was all lovely.

      Best,
      M

      • http://www.digitalmediatree.com/sallymckay/gifs/ sally

        Hey Mriver,
        thanks for this response. I like the active object explanation a lot. I hope it’s clear that my use of the word “wrong” was intentionally hyperbolic. I do think that there is a through-line from the Bygone Days of Yore to now, rather than some kind of flip-flop (avant guard) revolution. And GIFs have been there all along. Also, glad you point out the long cultural history of the infinite loop, (which is why I made this GIF back in 2008). On a side note, that loopingness is part of what makes some people hate GIFs – their closed-systemness can be infuriating. It’s also what makes them feel like little entities/commodities – things that can be traded – and, I think, it’s also what makes people want to mess with them and remix.

        It makes me feel good that your mom saw the show. Moms, and mothers-in-law can sometimes be the best (ie: most rigorous) critics. Good that she endorsed it!

        • Mriver

          Hi. Like your Ouroboros GIF.

          Yeah, loops. You have GIFs as well as some MIDI, video and some non-digital things like film loops and lock grooves. Then back to Zoetropes and other early optical objects that function on persistence of motion. Yes, as you point out a closed system can be purposefully grating (Nauman’s animated hang man neon or Hamster Dance). They can also be lush with out being cheesy (for the cheese end, please refer to the animated model Paddy posted last week). Say Thomas Demand’s Recorder, Jack Goldstein The Jump or online works by Jimpunk or Mathwrath.

          Although, I’d like to again beat the dead horse and point out that online objects like GIFs or MIDI loops function differently as artworks in a networked environment. They occur less like narratives or films and more like…like…like…ummmm…GIFs. Ya know what I mean? (insert image of the SNAD with a couple humping on it that some dude made last week here)

          • http://tommoody.us tom moody

            “Active objects” – could be a puppet show. “[GIFs online] occur less like narratives or films and more like…like…like…ummmm…GIFs” is positively tautological.

          • http://jessepatrickmartin.blogspot.com/ Jesse P. Martin

            Is a GIF of an Ouroboros tautological? Is an Ouroboros the ur-form of the GIF? http://dump.fm/p/j1p2m3/4428382

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Thanks, Sally. Re: “agreeing on the battlefield”:
    Paddy Johnson’s statement in the press release “Like any product of the Internet, sampling and remixing is a dominant method of working with GIFs and a theme in the show” has been enlarged by Will Brand, who worked on the website, to say that “the main appeal of a GIF is that it’s so easily interchanged.” We have been arguing about that change in direction of the show’s rhetoric.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    ^at least I have.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    When Paddy said “sites like Dump” a while back and Ryder said “what other sites are like Dump?” it should have been obvious that building historical precedents for it was going to be a hollow exercise. (I’m mentioning this since Will is very big on the importance of these historic timelines.)

    I’m not the forerunner of dump and neither is MTAA’s faux-participatory art–it took a particular kind of software/design/community/filetype to make this happen and it never did before in history.

    This has been lost in the ridiculous discussion of “where the art happens” and remixing. It will always come back to MTAA as long as we’re talking about what happened in 1997 but MTAA could never have created dump. If they could have, they would have. I would have said more on this but I’ve been busy trying to separate my own work from their non-precedent in the face of Will’s angry harangues.

    The piece in the show, “Gold Machine Cosmos” has many dump contributors that added little bits and pieces, including Mirrrroring and possibly LAVAR_LAMAR. Frankhats’ tiled version was probably the definitive take but I was thinking of a way to make it more portable. Some of this history was linked to/referenced on my blog.

  • http://tommoody.us tom moody

    Afterthought:

    Will Brand does get angry and personal in this thread and the previous one (“If I wanted to suck wizard cocks for a living I’d be under a magical bridge of some sort,” from the previous thread–that’s just bizarre). I was a little surprised that Paddy Johnson relaxed the front page standards of a blog I’ve long respected to allow this post. I can take a joke (old man surfing in bathrobe, ha ha) but let’s correct some stuff in the headline and lead paragraph:

    –“Tom Moody Publicly Agrees With Will Brand” – Well, no, I don’t and that “publicly” has a bit of a dominance ring to it
    .

    –“Tom Moody is pretty sure we’re fighting over something, but he can’t quite put his finger on it” – Implies I’m thickheaded, thanks.

    –“We got in a little tiff” – I found it ugly, what with the wizard cocks and all.

    –“I think it’s a decent read” – Not really, it was so unpleasant some people told me they didn’t want to leave comments. This thread is also pretty bad.

    –“he doesn’t allow comments on his blog” – Not true, my email is on my FAQ page and I often publish people’s comments and complaints. Paddy once said that people who brought this up had very little to say, since everyone has a right to configure their site in the way that best suits them. I was surprised and disappointed to read this in AFC.

  • Anonymous

    I’m closing the comments on this thread as I don’t see an end to this bickering.

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