01 – Animated GIf

Inspired by Matthew Kirkpatrick’s 2019 novel The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art

The novel is primarily made up of fictional museum placards for the titular fictional museum. Each of these GIFs is inspired by one of the placards.

GIF 1 – Two Birds, Blue BallShows an image of Davidson College on a sunny day, with two pink birds ignoring a jarringly blue ball down below.

Excerpt from the novel:

“The presence of the blue orb, like an alien billiard ball in the otherwise pastoral scene, suggests a scar or a hole. The ball is so obviously out of place, and yet the birds pay it no heed.”

I was inspired by the strange idea of significant contrast between a “pastoral scene” and a blue ball, as well as the idea that birds would for some reason choose to ignore such a thing. As a photographer, I knew that for some of these GIFs I wanted to create a contrast between abstract objects created in PhotoShop and photographs that I had taken.

I chose this background image because it is a peaceful day, which would evoke a similar feeling to a “pastoral scene” without trying to be an exact reproduction. The birds were inspired by Flappy Bird, and, if you look closely, their eyes move away from the ball. The ball itself has two different texts related to it, (1) “pay it no heed” as an instruction to the birds, and (2) “scar or hole” which questions how we perceive this foreign object just as the novel does.

GIF 2 – UntitledDepicts a kitchen, alternating which cabinet is open, with a computer display spelling out "ART???"

Excerpt from the novel:

“Imagine you can see through this painting to the wall behind it. Imagine the painting is a window. Imagine there is no painting at all, only a gold frame…. I can tell you’re not buying it…. You nod, though secretly you are thinking maybe this is a bit of a gimmick, maybe a practical joke played on not just you, the viewer, but also the museum, the curator, and perhaps even the artist.”

I was surprised that early in the novel there was a direct criticism of modern art. While in the book this critique is in the form of a blank painting, just framed dirt on the wall, I felt that producing my own critique of modern art could be a decent response.

I had just reorganized my kitchen cabinets the night before and my roommates and I had commented they were beautiful. Yet, surely they are not art. Or, is something beautiful, that was created intentionally, inherently art? Is the cabinets’ organization beautiful, or do I merely appreciate the work I put into it? I don’t really have an answer to these questions, but it seems to me like they are the sort of questions Kirkpatrick was prompting with his text.

GIF 3 – Heap #3

Paper piles up on a chair as text on a whiteboard states "A heap"

Excerpt from the novel:

“[Matsui] constructed his Heap series from these materials, using broken desk chairs as pedestals… Heap #3 is regarded by many to be one of his finest heaps because of its enormity, but also because of its symmetry and craftsmanship. Matsui is often referred to as a critic of modern American office culture – many of his sculptures seem to cynically comment on the failure of the dream of a ‘paperless office’ – but here, he seems to be celebrating capitalism, commerce, and waste, creating a monument rather than a critique.”

This was one of the more fun, yet more difficult, GIFs that I created. I knew from the start that I wanted to embrace the “enormity” and “failure of the dream of a  ‘paperless office'” aspects, but did not want to aim for symmetry or craftsmanship. Instead, I wanted to create a chaotic mess of paper that formed a heap that would ultimately dominate the frame. To do so, I printed out articles of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win from the night before, crushed them, and created ever-larger masses of paper. But don’t worry, I recycled them afterwards.

GIF 4 – Elephants

Two poorly drawn elephants appear as the viewer is prompted with the question "Why NOT"

Excerpt from the novel:

“One of the most profound criticisms of contemporary art and Abstract Expressionism is some variant of ‘my child could have done that.’… As a twelve-year old, Lababera smeared brown and blue watercolor onto paper, framed it, and sold it to the Seagrave Family Trust, troubling the notion that children cannot create works of genius, for in Elephants, everything is contained – the history of Western art, the answer to what it means to be human, to live, and to die.”

This GIF is inspired by another excerpt critiquing modern art. However, this one does it sarcastically, claiming that a child “smearing” paint onto paper contains “the history of Western art, the answer to what it means to be human, to live, and to die.” After seeing that sentence, my mind immediately thought of the question “Why not?” and, even after a time pondering alternative phrases, I could not think of a better one. So, I did my best to recreate a childhood drawing of elephants, and then tried to create a short animation of the question “Why not?”

GIF 5 – Infinte Regret Hole

The viewer is invited to "succumb to the void" by text that rapidly approaches the scream, simulating falling.

Excerpt from the novel:

Infinite Regret Hole, even in its abstraction, tells another story – suggesting the motion of falling, as if the view is about to step over the edge of the painting and succumb to the void of infinte sorrow and darkness.”

This is probably my favorite excerpt from the novel. The phrase “succumb to the void” immediately fascinated me, especially if isolated and not paired with “of infinite sorrow and darkness.” Without that pairing, the phrase can plausibly be interpreted as optmistic or pessimistic, exciting or frightening. I also spent far more time on this GIF, trying to perfect the feeling of “succumbing to the void” in the animation by altering when each word originates.

GIF 6 – Nautical Disasters

A fictional news broadcast shows a boat grounded on a beach, and the network claims the artist, Wallace, accidentally caused it as he tried to intentionally sink it.

Excerpt from the novel:

“Wallace created approximately three hundred animated GIFs – appropriated from internet videos showing boats and ships sinking, exploding, and catching on fire – for Nautical Disasters, which displays one hundred rotating, randomly selected animations. Nautical Disasters comments on the twenty-first century obsession with disaster, its twenty-four-hour news and surveillance, and its constant, overburdening physical and digital violence.”

In this final GIF I imagined Wallace intentionally sinking ships instead of merely finding images online. What if one of his sinkings went wrong, and the boat ended up beached? I took this photo in Antibes, a town on the French Riviera, so had the news network (ND, for Nautical Disasters) reveal that as the location of the beached ship. The network was made to look like CNN, but suffers a glitch that causes the graphics to move around the screen in an increasingly chaotic manner, until, at the bottom of the screen, the text “Only 99 animations now?” is briefly displayed.