“There should be more room for fun in art” – Animated Gif Mashup Studio Workshop with Evan Roth

By Anna Jacobs
Evan Roth - 'Animated Gif Mashup Studio Workshop'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Evan Roth - 'Animated Gif Mashup Studio Workshop'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Last Thursday (10-03) I attended a workshop about animated gif mashups led by the artist Evan Roth. Twenty minutes before the start of the workshop the room was already filled with enthusiastic students, no doubt because of Evan’s well-documented reputation when it comes to lively workshops. The audience included a variety of New Media-, Interactive Media-, Audiovisual Media-, Media & Information- and Media Design students, some from the Netherlands, but also a few exchange students from Austria, Curacao and Argentina. All the participants were asked to bring their computers for the workshop. Evan Roth immediately gave his session an informal tone, by kicking off with: “I’ve never done this workshop before, I just want to have fun and make some video mashups with you guys”.

He quickly introduced us to his earlier projects for the Graffiti Research Lab and the Free Art & Technology lab. As an artist, Evan is outspoken about open source and free culture. This is exactly what the F.A.T. Lab is about: an organization dedicated to enriching the public domain, by keeping all the content in the public domain. Its disclaimer states: ‘you may enjoy, use, modify, snipe about and republish all F.A.T. media and technologies as you see fit.’ However, the workshop during the Video Vortex wasn’t about activist issues or promoting free culture, but about making gifs.

We all know gifs, or graphic interchange formats, probably as those geeky granular images of dancing people or singing cats. Their old school image is why Evan things they’re cool. But I was still wondering why Evan decided to let us work with gifs. I had in mind that his answer would have something to with open source and free culture, since everyone is free to collect and spread gifs and use them for other purposes. But he surprised me by saying that his main point for that day was just having fun. “There should be more room for fun in art”. He told me how his other lectures and workshops were more directly linked with politics, but that he felt like really doing something else this day. He wanted us to just play with gifs, get our hands dirty. He did add that he clearly sees how gifs are important in an ideological sense, since they create some sort of overall image of the internet right now, they’re all small time capsules. So from a historical point of view it is important to curate them somewhere where they can’t get lost.

The future of the ubiquitous gifs? Hard to say, according to Evan. He feels they had their peak in 2010, when ‘We Make Money Not Art’ started growing bigger and bigger. At the beginning of the internet era gif and jpeg were the standard form, but slowly they were overtaken by png and flash (for movies). This is why Evan isn’t sure how gif will develop in the upcoming years, so most important is to make sure that all previous gifs are saved in a good database.

Since there weren’t any students in the room who already had any experience with making mash ups, Evan gave a quick demonstration and showed us some of his work. After making sure everyone was connected to the internet, he showed us Private Pad, the ‘public chatroom’, we’d be using for sharing links and FileZillah where we could put the gifs we’ve found on the internet. Using gifmashup.evan-roth.com (an open source animated gif mash-up software built by Evan), we could add a couple of gifs together to make a mashup. He gave us a few links to GIF collections, like Dump, Heathersanimations, Gifsoup and Tumblr. The rest of the workshop there was filled with the buzz of a great atmosphere. Everyone was actively searching and sharing gifs and Evan filled the room with songs varying from Biggie to the Beatles, looking for a suitable song to accompany our collective mash up. When the server started crashing since the input was so great (we filled three folders with gifs), Evan decided to let us vote for a song and started to create the mash up. Sadly we were running out of time, so we only got a sneak peek of our work, but it already looked great.

Evan’s mission was definitely accomplished, his workshop surely was a lot of fun.

The results of the workshop: