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The 1,000-Year GIF

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The last frame of “AS Long As Possible,” which you won’t see unless science increases our lifespans (all images courtesy the artist)

Right now, a single church organ in Halberstadt, Germany, is playing a rendition of John Cage’s “As Slow as Possible,” a score with no specific length, as its composer chose to exclude a designated tempo. Notes fill the instrument’s home in the old St. Burchardi church, sounding from the same keys that have been held since October 2013 and will continue to be through September 2020. The notes of Cage’s composition will keep on flowing, slowly, for the next 625 years.

Next year, however, artists in Helsinki will hit play on a 1000-year-long animated GIF loop in an homage to Cage’s piece. Titled “AS Long As Possible,” the work features 48,140,288 frames, and unlike Cage’s it has a designated speed and no end: each frame will last for about 10 minutes, so the file will reach its end only in the year 3017 — until it loops back to frame number one. The visuals of each frame are minimal, simply showing — On Kawara-style — white numbers on black that indicate each frame’s position in the whole loop: from one all the way up to 48,140,288. The artist, Juha van Ingen, who collaborated with sound artist and developer Janne Särkelä, is part of the FixC cooperative, which often produces Teletext art, so the text adopts a similar blocky, pixelated style. The work turns eternity into a composition, unraveling the dimensions of time into chunks we can comprehend while also invoking questions of digital decay.

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Enlarged photographic prints of “AS Long As Possible” in FISH Gallery (click to enlarge)

“We chose to make the loop 1000 years-long because it is a duration people can still relate to, and yet, it is long enough to stimulate the person to think about time in a way which we normally don’t,” van Ingen told Hyperallergic. “If nurturing a GIF loop even for 100 — let alone 3,000 years — seems an unbelievable task, how much remains of our present digital culture after that time?”

Prints and a preview file of “AS Long As Possible” are currently on view at FISH Gallery in Helsinki, but the animation will start in 2017 to coincide with the 30th-anniversary of the GIF as well as Finland’s Centennial of Independence. van Ingen is still finalizing a location, and the form of presentation is still open. It may be projected, shown in small monitors, run in a secret location, be livestreamed, or be shown only online. No matter its display method, however, the artists will store a mother file somewhere and create many iterations of the loop in various locations — and if one fails, it may be easily synchronized with, and replaced by, another. The risk that surrounds the single-organ performance of Cage’s arrangement in Halberstadt, then, is eliminated. And as time marches on and technology continues to inevitably evolve, the various platforms on which the work may exist will shift and expand as well.

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The “AS Long As Possible” animation and a preview file, on display in FISH Gallery

AS Long As Possiblecontinues at FISH Gallery (Alppikatu 17, Helsinki, Finland) through September 26.

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