Physical GIF is a kickstarter project that’s slated to be funded later this summer. The product they’re hoping to develop is a rotating sculpture comprised of a series of laser-cut figures animated by a strobe light–basically a stroboscopic zoetrope. There are a couple of things about this project that I think are really interesting.
1) Unlike a lot of contemporary strobe/zoetrope sculptures that are made as singular art objects, the use of Kickstarter to generate interest and funding for development indicates the desire for a larger audience. While the folks at Physical GIF are partnering with artists and plan on the production of several limited edition models, the basic concept seems to imply a hope for wider dissemination. The production of these things as kits (sculpture + strobe) on a larger scale could potentially mean the return of the persistence of vision toy as a popular domestic amusement. It’s interesting to imagine these as conversation starters at parties or as novelties perched on people’s coffee tables.
2) While plenty of contemporary zoetropes take advantage of technologies that enable the rapid prototyping and manufacture of figures, Physical GIF highlights a really fascinating fidelity between form and content, and between old and new media. Obviously using a strobe and and laser-cut figures for the animation brings a nineteenth century idea into the present, but the fact that the animations are modeled after animated GIFs, a popular (and often hilarious) web format, even further likens them to earlier optical toys. Just like the zoetrope animated a short cycle of movements (typically in 12 formations), the animated GIF is similarly cyclical and its humor/effectiveness is strongly tied to its brevity and ability to loop an endless number of times.
3) This is more of a documentation note, but I really appreciate that their Kickstarter page explains how the animated sculpture was shot (using the camera’s frame rate to animate the figures rather than trying to film the sculpture as animated by the strobe). A lot of really cool projects are horribly recorded on video because of the discrepancy between the frame rate and the rate of the strobe flashes.
The idea of a tabletop optical toy that so nicely combines attributes of old and new media is really exciting, and I look forward to seeing these sculptures as production starts!
More on the people behind Physical GIF, Greg Borenstein and Scott Wayne Indiana.