Here is the abstract for Daniela Wentz’s paper on the panel “Digital Seriality” at the 2015 SCMS conference in Montréal:
The Infinite Gesture: The Serial Culture of the Gif
Daniela Wentz (Bauhaus University)
The looping digital moving image format of the animated gif enjoys an extremely high level of popularity at present within (digital) media culture. Although gifs are one of the oldest image formats on the web, they have established themselves as a dominant part of the aesthetics and image practices of today’s networked media. At the same time, these images challenge the conceptual frameworks within which we understand moving images, demanding in particular that they be accounted for in terms of a robust and multifacted notion of seriality.
This paper addresses the multiple dimensions in which seriality is crucial for the logics and functions of animated gifs: firstly, their occurrence as loops, repeating the same gesture or facial expression ad infinitum; secondly, the part they play in the production and spread of memes, which circulate on social networks and other platforms; and thirdly, their assemblage into “supercut” videos, fan-produced compilation videos that strive to collect a comprehensive set of recurring actions, phrases, camera angles, or other elements into a single montage. Memes are themselves processes which are based in a thoroughly serial processuality, in processes of coupling, doubling, replication, repetition, imitation, and more or less independent distribution (Shifman 2014). Supercut videos, for their part, can be understood as analytical tools to reveal patterns and notorious clichés also far beyond the borders of Internet culture. Serial repetition thus represents the heart of the aesthetic and analytical potential of the animated gif, as well as the larger media ecology of which it is a part; accordingly, these mechanisms of serialization must be taken into account in any analysis of the basic characteristics of networked, digital media.
Fuller, Matthew: Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture. Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press, 2007.
Hagman, Hampus: “The Digital Gesture: Rediscovering Cinematic Movement through Gifs.” Refractory 21 (2012), Special Issue on “Digital Cartography: Screening Space”: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2012/12/29/hagman/ 6/9, 2012.
Shifman, Limor: Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge, Mass. and London: The MIT Press, 2014.
Daniela Wentz is a researcher and lecturer at the “Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM), Bauhaus-University Weimar. Her main fields of research are media philosophy, seriality, diagrammatics, and television studies. She is the author of Bilderfolgen: Diagrammatologie der Fernsehserie (Fink, forthcoming 2015) and co-editor of a special issue of Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft on “The Series.”