The magical loop of the ordinary

An animated GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is a graphic image that contains, within one single file, a set of photograms that are presented in a specified order and loop endlessly. Introduced in 1987, the GIF is one of the earliest image formats native to the web: due to its compressed size, it was ideal for performing digital picture transfers across the slow modem connections of the time. But it is in the last bunch of years that the GIF has become very popular, especially in the realm of social networks, where it is often used to express a specific feeling or in response to something that has been written in a discussion thread. Such a format is a creature of the web and Internet is its natural habitat: in a world overloaded with visual content, where the average view-time becomes increasingly shorter, the unsophisticated GIF is designed for immediacy and viral sharing.
Nevertheless, a number of implications that go beyond the virtual space are attached to this language. First and foremost, the GIF questions a fundamental classification that has dominated the visual field throughout the Twentieth century, that is: the subdivision of the image between static (a characteristic mainly connected to photography) and moving (mainly attributable to cinema) [1]. At the core of this subversion there is the loop, which introduces the seed of movement within the stillness of the frame through a cyclical, repetitive action.
Vika Eksta extensively adopts the GIF format in her practice to explore the effects of conveying movement to an apparently still photographic image. Her GIFs are based on staged photo-shootings, where she is often the unique subject of an elementary everyday task: drinking a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette, picking a phone call and so on. The single GIFs are small worlds on their own, self-concluded and autonomous paths where the senses of space and time walk together in circles. This reflects how the GIFs have actually been created: in a very spontaneous way, along a period of time of over two years and in a number of different countries visited by the artist.

_DSC8981 copy

Vika, who has a background in cinema studies, has initially exploited the GIF as a learning-by-doing tool, as an access to a deeper understanding of the meaning and functioning of montage though its practical implementation. While proceeding in the exploration of this format, the awareness on its prospects grew wider and the following question arose quite naturally: what if the idea of narration is introduced? In Snakes and Ladders, the originally individual GIFs are put together and become the single scenes of a larger narrative. Not a classical type of narrative, though, but rather one that is in the hands of the visitors to create. In certain joints of the plot, the viewers are required to choose between two options that lead the story to different results. In this way, they discover the various developments of the initial story, experiencing the exhibition in a very personal, always different and potentially endless way. The end of each possible variation in the plot, in fact, brings back to its very beginning, creating an anti-linear configuration that repeats itself in a centerless succession of wheels.
Behind this structure lies, again, the repetitivness and intermittence of the loop, that recalls a primitive notion of animation rooted in the early stages of cinema. Accordingly to Tom Gunning’s theory of the “cinema of attractions”, the first silent movies were seen “less as a way of telling stories than as a way of presenting a series of views to an audience, fascinating because of their illusory power” [2]. In Snakes and Ladders, the story simply provides a frame upon which to string a demonstration of the magical possibilities of photography, especially when it comes to animated images; it is a montage of moments which engages the spectator with the fundamental essence of cinema: the look. By crawling up or sliding down along the narration – like in the ancient board game the exhibition takes its title from – the visitors are also made to experience the course of fate, and the consequences attached to the many apparently meaningless choices we take every day. As a very ultimate result, the mesmerizing loop of the GIF can transform even the most ordinary succession of actions in an intriguing adventure; and while unraveling the events of Snakes and Ladders online, or while watching its trailer in a real cinema, we can’t help but see the reflection of ourselves.


[1] Cf. Chiarini, Alessandra, “The Multiplicity of the Loop: The Dialectics of Stillness and Movement in the Cinemagraph”, in Comunicazioni Sociali nr. 1 – Snapshot Culture. The Photographic Experience in the Post-Medium Age, Vita e Pensiero, Milano, 2016.
[2] Gunning, Tom, “The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde”, in Film and Theory: An Anthology, Eds. Robert Stam & Toby Miller, Blackwell, 2000.

[Click here to go back to the show]