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.”
[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?