Gif and Take: dump.fm, where registered users post and modify animated images
Dump.fm (http://dump.fm) is a chatroom in which images, primarily in jpeg, png, bmp, and gif formats, text, and animated gifs are posted in real time by registered users. It was created by Ryder Ripps, Tim Bakerand Scott Ostler and became available to the general public in 2010. Users range in age from their teens to their forties with a majority being in their twenties. They use pseudonyms like hypothete, noisia, timb, mirroring and frakbuddy. These and such dumpers as tommoody, frankhats, mrkor, ryder, jeanette, minty and zoesaldano, among many others, produce images and animated gifs that are worthy of the imprimatur of Art. The problem is that for all the radical, chic talk about it since the 1960s, the art establishment does not know how to deal with the actual dematerialization of the art object represented by this unfetishizable medium.
Dump.fm is a digital version of the old Surrealist genre of the exquisite corpse, a “show and tell” for the polymorphously perverse. The art of dump.fm is genuinely interactive. Social relations are inherent to the entire art making process for these artists, rather than just getting tagged on when a conventional, art world artist begrudgingly begins the promotional stage for their work. The creators of dump.fm have allowed users to post images by pasting URLs into a box or uploading them from users’ computers. There is a convenient interface that allows users to post stills from webcams that dump.fm users often modify. The text is usually chatty and has an insider feel to it. Long time users appear to have developed genuine friendships. However, as long as you can keep up and communicate something using the visual grammar and syntax that lies behind the at times seemingly random flow of images you can join the fun. It’s easy to save any of the still images or animated gifs that appear in any given thread, allowing users to easily modify them. Users can also click on an image and drag its URL into the submission box, making it that much easier to build on some theme or joke or commentary, to use juxtaposition and modification to make something new.
Dump.fm is a unified field in the sense that there are a number of things going on at once and they all tend to flow by seamlessly. The description I have given above might give some flavor of the site, but to try and define exactly what the dynamic on dump.fm is by looking at one facet of it would be like examining one neuronal firing to discover the origin of consciousness. Users post images found on the Internet and re-contextualize them, celebrating in a devil may care fashion what Duncan Alexander calls “remix culture”, where authorship becomes meaningless, and composition takes precedence. Images and animated gifs can be used in place of words, and they can represent a complex notion. There is a lot of recycling on dump.fm. Images that have been around for a long time have been radically transformed, lovingly modified, again and again.
The very act of posting on dump.fm calls into question the burdensome concept of the unique object. One and all welcome borrowing/stealing and celebrate the creative impulse in a fairly pure form. Taking someone else’s post and making something of it is the ultimate compliment. Long time users could probably point out the origins of some image that has been turned into an evolving meme through time, but new users will have no idea where or when or even how the animated gifs and collaged and tweaked digital images were made. But the creators of dump.fm are not trying to baffle or mystify the public and the fact that there is a pull down menu on the top of the homepage that allows users to go to the online programs that enable a person to create many of the effects that are on display in every thread on dump.fm, emphasizes the egalitarian ethos of dump.fm.
There is an unabashed celebration of popular culture and an awareness of current events present as well. In fact, the timeliness of the image play on dump.fm is unmatched in the world of visual arts, as is the love of archiving and sharing images. The image is truly ascendant and isn’t just a vessel for ill-formed postmodern ideology. There is a strange combination of frivolity and complexity present and in terms of authorship, there is a strange combination of anonymity and camaraderie as well as a cult of personality on display in the often modified and tongue in cheek webcam photos users post. These webcam images then get brought into the mix, get trimmed and cropped and pasted into a new context.
Users criticize the dregs of American culture while endearing themselves to it in some way, avoiding the political correctness and self righteousness one sees on display in the art galleries. Unapologetic images of the celebrity flavors of the month get posted, along with knowing winks at current events in the world of politics. Emotional sentiment swings from mockery to adoration very quickly in a thread. Very few subject matters are taboo. The blending of a weird cyber-transcendentalism, expressed through psychedelic and trance-inducing animated gifs, whose looped movements are efficient at capturing the gaze, along with a enthusiastic courtship with the obscene materialism of our capitalist culture, celebrated with coded, blinged-out reveries, often leads to frank personal discussions filled with drug references, complaints about financial woes and crumby jobs, and straightforward yearning for basic necessities, and more importantly, sex. Users are surprisingly welcoming to outsiders or newbies who don’t know the language of dump.fm, and you are not allowed to block anyone.
There is something refreshingly and unpretentiously utopian about dump.fm. No one is selling the content they post, and in one important sense everyone is treated like an artist. If you come up with the goods it gets acknowledged. And although a lot of the visual and text-based discourse on dump.fm is humorous and frivolous — when was the last time a work of visual art actually made you laugh out loud? — some of the images and animations posted are genuinely disturbing and thought provoking, with an unforced element of social critique
Each posting has the potential to be a number of different things. It could be part of a conversation, someone posting an image or animated gif that they worked on and wanted to share with the community, and something the user had in their voluminous archive of images that they built up through time and wanted to share with people who would critique or appreciate it, and more importantly use it to make something new, based on its composition and value as an image. Finally, an image or animation could be the beginning or part of an exploration of a visual theme. Thematic threads can be on any topic.
Mentally combing and sifting through the billions of images available online can generate a sense of discovery. Every user loves to experience stumbling upon something that they know will generate activity in the community or even better become part of the vocabulary. Appropriating the right image, one that has a strong visual appeal and is funny or disturbing, takes a certain skill set.
Some of the animated gifs posted on dump.fm are comparable to the many religious rituals that incorporate repetitious movements to induce trance states. Loops are stuck in time, take viewers out of linear time. Animated gifs consist of fragments of Youtube videos, usually of Hollywood movies or music videos or archival TV footage, or they are original designs, usually of a geometric nature, but not always. Watching one, you slowly become aware of the start and end points of the loop. In the animated gifs made from appropriated images, there is usually some sort of epiphany, a certain action or facial expression that gets repeated, that is pulled out of context, and becomes a symbol or the epitome of a mood, feeling, or state of mind. The animated gif is the perfect combination of movement and form. It lies outside any narrative structure and is not static. It is related to the avant-garde short films of Peter Kubelka in its use of repetition. The strategies art critics use again and again to enlighten readers about an exhibition of paintings don’t apply when it comes to animated gifs. They exist in time. They contain specific movements/transitions/transformations, of forms, lines, and colors. So change is inherent to the meaning.
The Internet has had a profound impact on human consciousness. The qualities unique to the Internet, a girth of free digital content and software and the ability to hyperlink and work with all types of media simultaneously using only one machine, provide many rich tools for talented and intelligent artists to use. Until the value of works of art is freed from their status as coveted, unique objects whose value is further determined and inflated by a highly specialized discourse, the extraordinary and innovatory art being made with and for computers, will remain outside existing market structures.