Preserving the GIF Culture
GIFs have become an inseparable part of digital culture, spreading like a virus across the web. Despite that, GIFs have not been widely recognised as cultural heritage and have not found their way into archival collections. We are eager to challenge this. For us, GIFs are not simply a .gif file format. After all, these short looping videos are actually rendered in MP4 or WebM formats these days. No, we consider GIFs as a broader cultural phenomenon that appropriates easily-recognisable cues from audiovisual culture to convey messages that immediately move us.
These GIFs are part of a remix culture online that takes fragments from your favourite television shows and renders them into memes with silly captions, they show footage of celebrities with funny facial expressions that we can all relate to, or they capture memorable moments that we want to watch over and over again. The list goes on and on, but what all of these GIFs have in common is that they serve as a reflection of the current zeitgeist in the digital communication sphere. As an organisation tasked with preserving Dutch media culture, we cannot overlook GIFs as an important part of it that needs to be preserved and represented in our collections.
And this is where your help comes in! Visit our Instagram channel to decide what should be included in the GIF collection at Sound and Vision.
GIFs for a Dutch Collection
So what kind of GIFs could be collected for a Dutch GIF collection? That turns out to be quite a tricky question. GIFs have no national or thematic boundaries. Good luck finding GIFs tagged “Dutch” or “Netherlands”! Is it even possible or necessary to determine the “dutchness” of a GIF? We could broaden our scope and include GIFs that don't necessarily have anything to do with the Dutch culture but simply collecting everything is not an option. True, GIFs don't take up a lot of storage space but we still need some guidelines to help us curate a collection that is meaning and worth preserving.
Another big dilemma is actually knowing where to look. Where do you even start when GIFs are scattered all over the web? Often, you have no clue where they originate from and who created them. Which makes it quite a challenge for us to collect them but, at the same time, it is perhaps the most attractive quality of GIFs. As soon as these looping animations are created, they can spread far and wide to very diverse corners of the web with no ties that can restrict them.
How are we going to collect GIFs, where are we going to find them and how are we going to present them as our cultural heritage - these are just some of the questions that we will have to investigate as a collecting institution. But as a starting point, we can begin by thinking about what kind of GIFs could be included in this collection.
WE NEED YOU!
We have scavenged through the web to find what we think best matches our selection criteria (see below). But we need help figuring out what fits into the collection and what doesn’t. And this is where you come in. On the 26-28th of October, we will use our Instagram channel to let you decide what should be included in the GIF collection at Sound and Vision. We'll give you an opportunity to cast your vote and choose which GIFs should be preserved for the future.
We came up with a list of preliminary selection criteria to start us off. These are not set in stone - if anything, each category raises many questions that we are eager to investigate:
Reuse of Dutch Audiovisual Materials. GIFs that use snippets from television shows, films, online videos, visual arts, etc. These are primarily reaction GIFs and memes.
Famous Dutch Events and Personalities. GIFs that depict anything from your daily news presenters to a person who was in the spotlight for five minutes, from coronation ceremony to Eurovision, and everything in between. These GIFs are about capturing moments and emotions that we want to memorise and reference in our daily digital interactions.
Moments Documented from Daily Life. This is rather an eclectic category which includes GIFs that in some way document the life and culture in the Netherlands captured on mobile devices and camera - whether that is a time-lapse image of Amsterdam canals or a person chasing their bike in the wind during a storm.
Dutch GIF Makers. These could be individual creators or companies. Many Dutch organisations such as KLM airlines or broadcaster RTL4 make their own GIFs these days. Identifying individual GIF makers is more difficult simply because it is often impossible to trace back the original author.
Viral GIFs. We could also collect GIFs that are generally popular among the Dutch public even though their content is not essentially Dutch - think of the dancing banana or basically any cat GIF. Still, we need to assess which viral GIFs would fit into this group and how we would identify them.