Published on February 22, 2014 | by Catherine Van de Stouwe & Rosie Atkin


1840s GIF party at Tate Britain

people look at art works at tate late

Late at Tate is a bi-monthly event that fuses art, music, film, fashion and live performances. [Bethe Dabbs]

Art is ever changing. From the Renaissance to Neoclassicism, the Romantics to modern art, and late 20th century contemporary to the latest craze of moving image.

To keep the new with the old, art galleries are seizing the opportunities to showcase the latest in moving image art.

This February’s late night at Tate Britain offered a plethora of new moving image interpretations in art.

Internet-born mediums are now re-imagining the idea of art in film – producing a new wave of artists experimenting with what the web has to offer.

GIF art, in particular, is growing in popularity and is featured heavily throughout the Tate event; emerging GIF talent was showcased in the form of artists Zack Dougherty, Greta Larkins, Hilary Faye and many more.

Just to clarify, the GIF is that jerky, two-dimensional flickering image you find on every BuzzFeed page. But GIF art is the use of modern forms of art – portraiture, sculpture or photography – and the playful filtration that these forms undergo.

Late at Tate is a bi-monthly event that is aimed at young people between the ages of 15 and 25, designed to feature music, film, fashion and live performance. One of the masterminds behind Late at Tate is Collective Producer for Tate Britain, Jen Ohlson.


Since graduating from Leeds College of Art, Ohlson has always worked for art institutions and charities, stating: “I’m particularly interested in the role the gallery plays in society, and the resources it can provide for young people interested in furthering their education, or looking for a career in the arts. Keeping that central to my decisions, [my role] has allowed me to work on some really exciting gallery education and outreach projects both physically and digitally,”

As a Collective Producer, Ohlson oversees the Tate Collective’s digital platforms (a microsite, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine) and projects that exist to encourage young people to discover, share and discuss art: “The intention was to host a playful visual intervention within the gallery – calling it a GIF Party but bringing the party bit into a physical space.

“We wanted to investigate if people would be interested in using traditional artworks as a starting point to either make or consume these GIFs.” Jen Ohlson

“We wanted to investigate if people would be interested in using traditional artworks as a starting point to either make or consume these GIFs,” said Ohlson.

Having set up their own workshop spaces, everyone was able to come along and create their own GIFs. Whether using small, everyday objects, or even themselves, GIF artists were on hand to show the technical side of GIF making. These were then played on loop throughout the evening.

This 1840s GIF party was set up in the adjoining room. Ohlson invited Tumblr users to “reinterpret artworks from the 1840 gallery into animated GIFs.”

These original artworks included Harmony in Grey and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander, by James Abbott McNeil Whistler (1872-74) and The Lady of Shallot by John William Waterhouse (1888).

A particular one Ohlson was looking forward to see was James Kerr’s response to John Brett’s Lady With a Dove (1864).

Accustomed to seeing endless streams of GIFs on computers and mobile phones, these 1840s GIFs were displayed on 30 vintage Sony Cube TVs, surrounded by the original artwork.

“We chose to show the submissions on [the] TVs because we were interested in the juxtaposition of these new, digital animated GIFs, being played on retro monitors,” said Ohlson.


Aside from commissioned artists, submissions were also open to the public, and the variety and response was incredible.

Since Whistler’s Harmony in Grey was posted on the Tate’s Tumblr site, it has been re-blogged more than 60,000 times.

Ohlson thinks artists enjoy making these style of GIFs as “animated GIFs are a playful way of reinterpreting an existing still or moving image.”

With there being a trend of moving art among the young, it seems as though GIF art is here to stay.

According to the Collective Producer: “We saw huge increases in the number of page views to the artworks within the Art and Artists section of our website, which was exciting. For me, the 1840s GIF Party celebrated the way young people engaged with our collection, both in the physical space and online.”

While it’s easy to get lost, staring blankly at the millions of GIFs that are readily available over the internet, next time you trawl through them, take a few seconds longer to appreciate the technical and artistic aspects that make these seconds-long films something special.

This combination of tradition with the unusual fruits of the internet makes for an exciting and interactive blend, showing what experimental new artists can produce within, at first glance, quite a limited medium.

35 year old Montreal native and GIF artist James Kerr, who also goes by the alias Scorpion Dagger, spoke to ALN and helped shed some light on the GIF revolution.

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming Scorpion Dagger? 

The name Scorpion Dagger came about when a friend and I were organising an exhibition at a gallery owned by a buddy of ours. When we were making the flyers for the opening party, we thought it would be fun to modify our names as a way to annoy our gallery owner friend (amongst others), and so I became James ‘Scorpion Dagger’ Kerr. It worked, people groaned, and it stuck. So, a few years later when I started the blog, I figured it should be called Scorpion Dagger – essentially, to continue to annoy my friends.

Did you study? If so, where and what did you study?

I studied Politics and History in University. I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember. While in university, I was a founding member of an arts collective (The Yuri ‘Prongface’ Fauntleroy Camp), who were active in Montreal from 2003 to 2010. With The YPF, we ran a small local gallery, and showed all over North America.

exhibit space at Tate lates

Whether using small everyday objects, or even themselves, GIF artists where on hand to show the technical side of GIF making. [Bethe Dabbs]

I was playing around with animations and was making extremely short videos that I was posting on Youtube – some were literally 2 seconds. A friend of mine, who I was sharing my little videos with, suggested that I try turning some of the shorter ones into animated GIFs, so that he didn’t have to hit play all the time. That first day I learnt how to make animated GIFs, I must have made a dozen or so. That’s when I made the decision to start the blog and make one GIF per day for a year straight. I thought it would be interesting to then shop it around as a gallery show. I figured, what better way to learn how to animate than to subject yourself to doing it everyday?

I started experimenting with animating the work in my portfolio, and it was fun seeing my work move, but I quickly ran out of pieces to use. So I looked towards other image sources to collage from, and that’s how I came across using work from art history.

Do you think that the GIF and other internet-propelled mediums are going to play a large role in the future of art?

Definitely. The Internet has revolutionized so many aspects of our lives, so it only stands to reason that it will play a similar role in the future of art. To be completely honest with you, I haven’t given this too much thought, but the internet has allowed for new players to enter into the art game, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the art establishment reacts.

Do you think there is a lot of freedom in GIF art?

Yes and no. There are certain restrictions inherent in making and posting GIFs that are incredibly frustrating (only 256 colours, for example), but at times those restrictions are also incredibly interesting. There are times where I can’t upload the GIF how I want it, and I’m banging my head on my desk. But there are other times where I’m amazed at how much I can actually fit into such a small file, and therein lies the challenge.

I’m always blown away at some of the work that other people are putting out there, and what they’re able to do with what’s available.

What themes are you trying to comment on in your art?

Having a background in politics and history, I tend to lean towards those types of themes. I don’t think it’s any secret that religion is one of my favourite targets, but I really do enjoy the more mundane issues that I see being played in our daily lives. There’s an interesting space to explore where things seem so extremely boring and inconsequential, and trying to figure out where they intersect with greater themes like politics and religion. I was recently inspired by a water cooler and immediately thought ‘what would the water cooler be like in the Vatican?’ This kind of stuff is fascinating to me.

With regards to the themes you cover, do you think there are parallels between the renaissance period and modern day?

Man takes pictures at Tate Lates.

Kerr uses his friends, whom he describes as fun and talented, as inspiration for his work. [Bethe Dabbs]

I do think there are some very interesting parallels between the renaissance period and the modern day. It seems to me that we are really not that much more evolved as people compared to back then. Without getting too much into it, it seems to me that similar paradigms are still at play, and we have yet to recognise that most of them are completely useless to the betterment of humanity.

What is your main inspiration?

This is going to sound completely corny, but what inspires me are my friends. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly fun and talented group of people that it is almost impossible to not be inspired to go and create something.

How important is humour to your work?

Humour is huge. I think it best reflects who I am, and keeps me interested in the work.

How does it feel to be involved with the Tate Late Night project and to be exhibiting an exciting new art form in such a prestigious venue?

I am so completely honoured that I even showed up on their radar!

Do you think projects with Tate Britain are a good platform for up-and-coming artists?

They look great on a CV! In all seriousness, I think this is a great opportunity to see what everyone else has come up with at the open call and hopefully get inspired by the imaginations of others. The Tate has such great reach that I’m sure the public submissions are going to be incredible. I’m really excited.

What does the future hold for Scorpion Dagger?

Right now, I’m working on finalising details on a gallery show and putting the finishing touches on a way to be able to sell the art to people who might want to collect it. I’m pretty excited about a couple of other things in the works, but I can’t really talk about it too much. Essentially, it’s putting all these recurring characters and places into a bigger world that is constantly evolving. It’s hard to explain right now, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

The next Late at Tate will be held on Friday April 4, and will focus on fashion. Admission is free.

James Kerr’s GIFs can be found at


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