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Infinite Corpse: Crowd Sourcing New Media
by Thea Liberty Nichols

Most of you are probably familiar with the Surrealist game “exquisite corpse,” where a composite drawing is created in sequence by a group of artists adhering to some predetermined set of rules (no peeking, for example, and, pick up where the last artist left off).

Local Chicago comics collective Trubble Club recently began an online project entitled Infinite Corpse. Unlike its Surrealist precedent, it harnesses the energy and inexhaustibility of the internet by being limitless in duration. As of the writing of this article, it is comprised of over 255 artists’ contributions of three panel comic frames that pick up the thread of a narrative about a wayward corpse named “Corpsey.” This style of “jam comic,” where several artists contribute frames to a singular, linear comic narrative, is not a new way of working for the Trubble Club, itself a sprawling forty plus member collective, but by taking this project online, they’ve exponentially expanded their number of collaborators.

This fast and dirty ability to crowd source is one of the internet’s windfalls, and there are probably literally countless—if only because they are unknowable in number and scope—artists experimenting with both this medium and mode of working.

Aaron Koblin, The Single Lane Superhighway; Courtesy of the artist


One such higher profile artist whose approach is a bit more tech savvy is Aaron Koblin, Creative Director of the Data Arts Team for Google. In addition to arresting data visualizations, he’s executed several such crowd sourced art projects over the past half dozen years that normalize a set of random contributions from internet users the world over, including The Single Lane Superhighway, which features an endless stream of hand-drawn cars, and The Johnny Cash Project, also drawing based, and set to the music of one of Cash’s last recorded songs, “Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold This Body Down).”   

By developing dedicated software capable of performing proprietary algorithms which construct and perform these pieces, Koblin leverages a fuller range of this medium’s capabilities—but it’s interesting to note that both Trubble Club and Koblin take the individual artists' hand drawn works and collate, and at times animate it, rather then having computers and computer programs generate the source material itself. Whether it’s a Tumblr based blog that houses the final product, or something with the power and pull of a Google-endorsed wunderkind behind it, the thrust of the work is surprisingly similar.

The democratization of the tools of the trade used to create new media work is exemplified by their ready availability to the lay consumer, and apps like GifMill, which stitch a finite number of your digital pictures together to create an animated GIF, and Magisto, which score and add effects such as cross fades, dissolves and soft focus to your digital videos, do just that by making the technology accessible and easy to use. In the process, they blur the boundaries between art and entertainment, thereby eliminating some of creativity’s exclusivity.

Patr1ck Qu1nn, d0æaä00000000@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@000mmm; courtesy of the artist.


ArtSlant has just launched an online exhibition of new media work culled from applicants to its inaugural juried competition ERROR 415, with an additional live screening at ArtPadSF. As the trend of exhibiting new media work continues to develop, several interesting manifestations bloom along with it. Recently, the website Giphy emerged; its sole function is to act as a clearinghouse of existent animated GIF’s. (For a short history on what exactly an animated GIF is, check out this glib little video on the subject.) GIF’s will be added to the archives continuously, but it won’t be an exhaustive collection, it will be a curated one, promising to present the connoisseur’s hard-to-come-by or absolute ace GIF's. And where there is exhibition and curation, there is collecting—just last week, at NADA New York, Art F City’s booth at the fair featured Mobiado designed limited edition luxury USB’s. Crafted from a single piece of sapphire crystal and loaded with work by the eleven inaugural “AFC Selects” artists, they feature videos, screen savers, GIF's and software patches and sell for $650 each.

This idea of new media artwork as finite, something rare and possess-able, is not new—institutions from Hollywood studios to fine art museums own the rights to specific work and can control how, and by whom, it is viewed. But it’s not just their ownership which separates these works from projects such as Infinite Corpse and The Johnny Cash Project; the aforementioned works are fixed and typically have singular authors, whereas the latter are generated by a group of artists, often who have never met, and their work contains an element of chance and ephemerality given its unknowable expansiveness. These projects are presented to the public in an unfinished fashion because the public themselves contribute to, and ultimately complete them. They shape shift and snowball before our eyes, but they also age and fade away as well—the Cash project has lapsed and subsequently fallen into obsolescence, and Infinite Corpse may one day meet a similar fate. (Ironically, the subject of internet project obsolescence is a theme which artist Cory Arcangel took as the subject of his infamous “Sorry I haven’t Posted” piece in which he culled blog posts containing that phrase and re-blogged them.)

So how to reconcile these fine art impulses of exhibition, curation and collection, with the slippery, still nascent new media discipline? Projects like TwoHundredFiftySixColors attempt to do so by inserting the animated GIF specifically into a larger art historical discourse. By contextualizing the GIF within that master narrative, very real and very interesting connections between it and the most primitive, most basic beginnings of photography and film are revealed—think Muybridge frame-by-frame photos or zoetropes which, like GIF’s, produce the illusion of motion through the rapid sequencing of discrete, static, but related, images. It also reveals parallels between the way that early work was created and consumed and the way current apps and ubiquitous hardware and software alike make the creation and dissemination of digital photography, video, and GIF’s available.

A distinction should be made however, between virtual archives like Giphy and projects, no matter how infinite or collective, by groups like Trubble Club. Giphy catalogs and preserves animated GIF’s which are, by and large, works comprised of re-animated, but already existent, visual culture imagery and moving image works—think Arrested Development gaffs etc., etc. The artists working with and within Trubble Club create something from nothing using drafting skills and imagination. The web is their launch pad and home base, and it greases the wheels of their work, but conceivably, projects like Infinite Corpse still primarily exist in hardcopy format, tucked away between the pages of the artist’s sketchbook.


Thea Liberty Nichols


(Image on top: Art F City's limited edition Mobiado USB drive; photo courtesy Art F City.)

Posted by Thea Liberty Nichols on 5/17/13 | tags: video-art new media ani-gif

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