Designed by Sharp, The Wall has been created to tie-in with the reopening of the gallery, where it will be used to exhibit various digital exhibitions in the coming years. Katrina Sluis, digital curator at the gallery, says, “As part of the re-launch the director was very keen to start addressing the way in which photography is so often consumed on the screen, produced on the screen, where even the cameras we look at today appear as a screen with a lens attached.”
I was really intrigued because this is an image file format that can only be experienced on screen
The first exhibition to go on The Wall is a celebration of the Graphic Interchange Format, known to most as the GIF. Sluis thought the exhibition, entitled Born In 1987: The Animated GIF, was particularly apt for debut show. “When I was approaching the exhibition for the opening I thought, ‘where can I start? This programme can cover so many aspects of photography and computer networks and so on but I thought, ‘well, the animated GIF is an interesting example of image file format that is both extremely old, it is 25 years old this year, but is having a bit of a creative renaissance through sites such as Tumblr.’”
The GIF was created by CompuServe, one of the world’s first internet service providers and incidentally where Sluis worked at one time. It was a compressed file format that made it easy to be transmitted across the web in the days when the networks were incredibly slow.
Sluis says, “I was really intrigued because this is an image file format that can only be experienced on screen. We couldn’t print them out and stick them in the gallery upstairs, so it’s exploring an image file format that is both high art and low art.; it’s participatory; it’s made by people who take it seriously as their major art form as well as guys in their bedrooms, and it is an image file format made specifically to deal with the limitations of computer networks.”
Everything has gone 80s in popular culture these days and the return of the GIF falls in line with this trend. The certain naivety of the graphics -there is only a choice of 256 colours – gives the GIF a particularly quaint appearance.
There are a number of interesting artists who have been asked to submit work in the animated GIF format making for some striking and at times quite disturbing images. One of the standout works is by Kennard Phillipps, a collaboration between political artists Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps. Their animated GIF shows David Cameron’s face on which a montage of last year’s riots is played out.
When Sluis was developing the idea for The Wall, she originally thought the easiest solution would be to put up a projector and play video through a computer. However, the issue of light coming in through the windows created a problem. Sluis realised Sharp’s panels were the ideal solution. Sharp’s Helen Sheldrake says, “The digital wall is facing a large glass two storey window which means lots of sunlight is continually flooding the building. At 1500cd/m2 the screens are bright enough to not only be seen through glass but for the image not to be distorted by direct sunlight.”
The image jumps out from the screen and all that blackness disappears
Another important feature is the screens’ local dimming facility made possible by using full LED backlighting. It intelligently controls brightness in the dark areas of the image, thereby greatly improving the contrast ratio and dramatically lowering power consumption.
Sluis says, “One of the things you see, is the way in which the local dimming creates a completely matt black appearance on the screen…the image jumps out from the screen and all that blackness disappears and that is what made these panels amazing for this project.”
For any GIF enthusiasts, they are also allowing open submissions which will be streamed on their Tumblr page. In the last few weeks of the show they will display these GIFs on The Wall alongside work by the commissioned artists.