I put on this GIF (Are GIFs put on? Can they be reproduced with the same intention as we play a record or watch a movie? Or do their real effects only operate when they pop-up all of a sudden, when they create an accidental fracture in continuity?), and I’m immediately drawn into a restless daydream. Caused, of course, by the continuous repetition, the loop, common to every GIF and which, as shamanic cultures very well know, is one of the essential ways to access trance. But there’s something more. It’s what these images have of a window overlooking a hidden kingdom, a disturbing other side of the looking glass in which ordinary things take inconceivable shapes and reveal nightmare geographies. “Extinguishing alien worlds”, the writers of Gizmodo suggest.
In fact, they are heirs to a better-known tradition: that of photography as a technical medium to portray what the eye cannot see. We should look for their origin in Ultraslo, the production company with which Alan Teitel shoots at super slow speeds such processes as explosions, animal movements or storms. However, the original video is a lot longer, and the appropriation of his works by many GIFs –this one taken from the portal OhMagif is only one among many– condense combustion in just a few seconds. And that acceleration intensifies the discovery sequence; the arcane magic that is the raison d’être of the most powerful of imaginations: the revelation of the invisible.
Though I suspect that if these images have such a strong effect on me is because I read into them a yet more sinister allusion. They show that there’s another fire going on, one that is consuming and devastating us. We’re that match: the fire of time inscribes its monstrous scars upon us, even when our senses aren’t capable of noticing.
I want to stop looking. But before I do, the cyclic watching of the scene grants me an unexpected and sudden relief. The match is whole again; it’s barely started to burn down. And then the GIF displays its secret power: it’s a mystical ouroboros announcing the eternal return. Our death, but also our rebirth.