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Pioneering Insanity: Gifs From the Victorian Era


Insanity can take the form of repetition, which allows for the creation of tiny narratives. This is how GIFs began.

Modern GIFs erupted in the digital scene to animate (and perhaps unhinge) it a little. Designed to match and grasp our short attention span, GIFs present a micro-narrative, often surreal, that cyclically repeat ideas. This repetitive format is not a product of modernity or of the Internet –– it was actually invented by 19th century analogue animators.

Invented in 1832, the Phenakistoscope is a revolving disc that fetured continuous movement for the first time. Comparable to films –– for it used sequences of images with minimal differences to create the illusion of movement ––, the Phenakistoscope was the original GIF. Later on, in 1833, the Zootrope, also known as the Wheel of Life, was invented; it used mild variations in the indentations of a structure and the passing of light to create infinite repetitions, with the purpose of amusing the viewer. In 1877 they built the first praxinoscope, which was a more sophisticated way of producing these endless repetitions, it used mirrors to reflect these playful images.


Most of them, to be honest, are simply nightmarish creations. As if the repetitive format was directly tied to monsters, feverish dreams and hallucinations. Others merely portray simple situations like dancing or someone riding a horse. The invention of this moving and repetitive dynamic alludes to our urge to ‘bring to life’ the inanimate objects that surround us in everyday life. Perhaps deep within us there is an inherent urge to create magic or fantasy, a need to spread life to immobile things that will keep us company.


These animations are part of the Richard Blazer Collection, the video explains the inner workings of these devices.


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