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SAN FRANCISCO — I’ve often called internet ephemera, like visual memes and animated GIFs, the street art of the social web. But as with physical street art, the ability to make a masterpiece requires a wide variety of technical skills. Sure, image macros are easy enough to craft thanks to meme generators online, and apps like Vine now make it easy to put together a short video clip, but creating a truly interesting animated GIF doesn’t come quickly.
UPLOAD.gif, apparently San Francisco’s “first homage and celebration of the GIF,” was not just a celebration but a workshop. The project was a collaboration between the Gray Area Foundation For the Arts (GAFFTA) and NewHive.com, an online canvas platform, and fittingly for a city known for its hackathons, it featured a series of workshops for skills building.
“We want to lower the barrier to entry for digital art,” noted curator Josette Melchor in an interview with Hyperallergic. “By teaching those that had never created a GIF before to create their first GIF-work we promoted a level-playing field between new and experienced digital artists.” Workshops included a 3-hour “crash course” on D3.js, a data visualization suite, and a series of lightning talks on creative coding.
Apropos of the street art analogy, the exhibition took place at The Mission Dispatch parking lot, a spot Melchor says “was originally the location where most of San Francisco’s traffic signs were made. A few years ago, there used to be ‘stop’ signs and ‘no parking’ signs scattered about the lot.” The top GIFs, on view on a dedicated page, run the gamut from glitchy to psychedelic, a diverse collection of both technical skill and aesthetic sensibilities.
“Now that the GIF is considered a ‘vintage’ file format, dating back 26 years, its about time that we all learn to create them,” noted Melchor. GAFFTA and NewHive will be collaborating on more exhibitions soon, and it’s great to learn that they’re exploring further avenues for display in physical space. Situating this classic file format in one of the city’s most rapidly changing neighborhoods speaks to the paradoxes of the GIF’s ascendance: like the once-gritty Mission District, it’s a neglected, forgotten form that is suddenly back in vogue.
UPLOAD.gif (1975 Bryant Street, San Francisco) took place Saturday, October 12.
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