Street art and GIFs might seem an unlikely pair: the former exists out in the physical world, often only fleetingly, while the latter are infinite loops that live forever on the web. Yet, many of us know street artists and graffiti writers primarily through the documentation of their work online, in photographs and videos. And the two share the common trait of being geared to jump out and grab your attention.
In 2010, INSA began turning his street art into GIFs, not just by using incidental photos of works he’d done, but by purposefully painting and repainting his surfaces to create new composites for the internet. “Graffiti and street art are about reaching eyeballs and there are more eyeballs interested in his work online than anywhere INSA might paint, so he made something to specifically reach those eyeballs,” RJ Rushmore writes in his new book, Viral Art. INSA called this new form GIF-iti.
Artists Jilly Ballistic and Ryan Seslow have recently begun creating their own version of GIF-iti. In a collaborative process, Seslow has been animating Jilly’s street artwork, which consists of interventions in the subway — usually black-and-white paste-up images of retro figures in gas masks or contemporary computer icons (“Move to trash”) placed on top of corporate advertisements.
Seslow, who teaches a class on graffiti and street art at Long Island University, explained that he and Jilly initially started collaborating in a more analogue way, on a series of collages. “It was in the discovery of e-mailing our progress to each other that I became inspired to animate the works using the GIF format,” he told Hyperallergic over email. Then, three weeks ago, he approached her with the idea of animating some of her existing street pieces.
“I said yes to the GIF format because I was curious to see how my physical work could be transformed digitally,” Ballistic explained. “It adds a whole other dimension to my subway project, so it’s been an honor and simply fun to work with Ryan and the format in general. It’s another medium to work with, that anyone is free to use.”
“Things are happening organically,” Seslow wrote. “I love the immediacy of receiving a still image from Jilly, and then animating it right away. My intuition takes over and it becomes about expressing the moment through that particular image. It is a challenge where I can compliment or contradict the content. From producing results I can then start to work thematically if I want to. … Most of all, this is FUN.”
That sentiment comes across in the work. Jilly’s art thrives on a sense of humor and absurdity, and Seslow plays up these qualities using bright colors and jittery, glitchy effects of motion. The GIFs have their own aesthetic — like how you might imagine Dadaist collages to look if they were animated.
“I do think that GIFs, video art, experimental film, and the use of projection will start to play more of a role in public art, street art, and graffiti,” Seslow said, and within that, GIF-iti seems like an excitingly novel and evolving category. As Rushmore writes in Viral Art, “as more artists pick up on the idea, it could be one way for street artists and graffiti writers to stay relevant in an increasingly digital world.”