One of the many GIFs in threehundredand

One of the many GIFs in “threehundredfiftysixcolors” (screencapture from film clip)

CHICAGO — In the GIF world of twohundredfiftysixcolors, there is no time to process visual imagery; viewers are left with reaction options to each short GIF much like those found on a Buzzfeed post. It’s all <3, LOL, WIN, OMG, CUTE, WTF, UNBELIEVABLE, SCARY, FAIL TRASHY, OLD, EW, <heart break!<3 > or whatever and then it’s over. Even for a person who spends many hours a day at a computer, this film is torturous, and a painfully accurate experience of today’s over-saturated Internet media environment. Depending on what type of imagery you’re intuitively drawn to, those images in the GIF form will keep playing over and over in your mind long after the credits role. The video is a perfect, breakneck portrayal of the Internet world we live in.

A GIF — actually a cinemagraph — of a woman watching a movie makes it into the GIF move. #meta (via

A GIF — actually a cinemagraph — of a woman watching a movie makes it into the GIF move. #meta (via)

The average GIF is a brief, soundless animation, and lives on social sites that we love to hate. In Jason Lazarus and Eric Fleischauer’s 16mm film twohundredfiftysixcolors (2013), produced with assistance from Theodore Darst, is named after the palette of colors available in a single GIF. Over the course of 97 minutes, it soundlessly and without any narration whatsoever visually charts the trends of this cultural phenomenon. In other words, the viewer gets to experience thousands of mind-numbing GIFs one after the other. It is a single portrait of a momentary medium that normally spreads one-by-one across the Internet, attaching to websites, social networks, blogs and other spaces like parasites. By condensing it into a single movie that’s longer than it should we, the only thing we can really say is: “Shake your GIFs, shake your GIFs,” and then swing your dick, swing your dick.

The first half of twohundredfiftysixcolors features more cliché or popular types of GIFs, like cats, pizza, pothead new media art, Cory Arcangel’s “Super Mario Clouds” floating across a blue sky, and references to early animation devices such as the phenakistoscope, a circular disk with series of images drawn on the perimeter that, when spun, creates an animated affect. The second half of the film exhibits the progression of the GIF, focusing on its cultural uses from 9/11 to the Tumblr coverage of presidential debates, white fetishization of black speech, and adolescent sexuality.

Scott Blake's "Chuck Close Filter animation tests, aka 'Chuck Close TV'" was one of the many unattributed GIFs we spotted in the film. (via)

Scott Blake’s “Chuck Close Filter animation tests, aka ‘Chuck Close TV’” was one of the many GIFs we spotted in the film, and according to the artist the GIF has only lived on Hyperallergic site for the past few years. (via)

Toward the end, the GIF reaches a sort of fever pitch, raising questions that feel more existential in nature about the Internet, human mortality and virtual lifespans. A photo of a tombstone with “last login” dates flashes across the screen; Mac desktop folders of “wants” and “wishes” are dragged from the former to the later. The end of the film edges into art historical territory: Cindy Sherman’s eyes blink,  Op-art goes even more psychedelic, and the jaw of Damien Hirst’s diamond-studded skull flaps and flaps. And a single, glorious Disney GIF acts as the film’s finale. Throughout the film, viewers come across various internet “WAIT” symbols, such as the Mac rainbow spinning ball, the “One moment, please” loading logo, and the flip-flopping hour glass, which makes the rapid-speed time of the internet feel slowed down and like for fucking ever. And no GIF film would be complete without the famous “Under Construction” symbol, which marks the beginning of the GIF. We’ve come along way from that day.

Unfortunately the film flashes through thousands of GIFs, moving so fast from cliche to trend to tongue-in-cheek joke that anyone who isn’t already familiar with the form will find themselves struggling to keep up. And every artist who has a GIF of some variety in the film is included in a very long attribution list that runs at the film’s finale, after the audience has endured a complete brain meltdown. Should the artists have attributed the featured works in a different way?

Artist Scott Blake, whose Chuck Close Filter gif of a famous Eadweard Muybridge image makes an appearance in the film, notes that he was not contacted at all.

“I do have a creative commons thing on my website that allows for people to share and remix,” says Blake. “Perhaps the filmmakers read my license agreement and didn’t feel the need to contact me, which is fine, [but] I still would have liked a simple heads up.”

Artist James T. Green, whose POST-BLACK GIF appears toward the end of twohundredfiftysixcolors, says that he doesn’t have an issue with the way the directors chose to attribute his piece, but he does have an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND on the work in order to preserve the piece’s intended dialogue.

“I originally made it for the film when I did a studio visit with Eric Fleischauer at the ACRE Residency back in 2011,” says Green. “They were in the early stages of talking about making a feature-length movie with gifs, and told me about it.”

This film has been two years in the making, and most definitely a long time coming. In March 2012, Fleischauer, Lazarus, and Darst worked with TAGTEAM — Jake Myers and Christopher Smith — to present Downcast Eyes, a one night-only event at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in which artists and culture makers brought their laptops, tablets, or mobile devices, and showed their GIFs. Some of the GIFs featured at that event did end up in twohundredfiftysixcolors. This collaborative community aspect brings a Chicago flavor to this very much American zeitgeist trend, and also highlights our Midwestern city as a hub for cultural production.

But if you decide to embark on the watching of this film, consider yourself forewarned. Without any narration, pauses between GIFs, or an explanation of the GIF cultural trend, the film ends up feeling more like a net dorks’ curation of a bunch of cool GIFs than anything of real substance. Much like staying online too long, the flashing images in this film will fry your brain, and you’ll leave the screen unable to think straight or speak coherently.

If you want to get a sneak peak, AFC has published a two-and-a-half-minute snippet of the film.

Twohundredfiftysixcolors will be screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center (School of the Art Institute of Chicago
164 N. State Street, Chicago) starting April 18.

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED Magazine and the Chicago...

3 replies on “twohundredfiftysixcolors Flashes One GIF Too Many”

  1. In each GIF made, there by nature always exists a narrative of some kind whether of its live creation or deeply embedded in the time it takes to express itself fully repeating itself or otherwise. Left in the hands of more adept artists twohundredfiftysixcolors could have quite possibly strung together an opus of meaning over form.

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