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O Magazine
2015-2017

GIF
AS ART:


BILL
DOMONKOS

“I experiment by combining, altering, editing and reassembling using digital technology, special effects and animation to create a new kind of experience. I am interested in the poetics of time and space—to renew and transform materials, experiences and ideas. The extraordinary thing about cinema is its ability to suggest the ineffable—it is this elusive, dreamlike quality that informs my work.”

GIF AS ART: BILL DOMONKOS – O Production Company

BY
DÉBORAH GARCÍA

Some time ago, it became viral on the Internet a GIF in which there appeared a guardian in a museum in which the walls were full of GIFs in motion. Thanks to Bill Domonkos, that GIF that seemed to fantasise with a sort of digital museum is already real. His work consists in working with archive images and animating them using digital technology. Domonkos, like other digital artists, seems to culminate a path initiated in the sixties that is worthwhile revising. Now that we tend to work and relate through memes, love creating GIFs (I download pictures to alter them and add emojis to them) we forget this is the result of a process started in the mid 20th century.

It was Michael A. Noll who created the first images with artistic goals in 1963. But before that, Joseph Beuys, with his concept of expanded art, had foreseen that anyone would become an artist because everybody has creative capacities. And not only Beuys: bloody Duchamp did it too with his ready-made, Futurism with its values associated to urban and industrial life or Dadaism with its irony and cheap provocation erasing the limits between art and life. And also the constructivism uniting technology and society, pop art, and even the activism of the Fluxus group. All this culminated in 1968 in the first exhibition of electronic art, which included graphic and sound robotic experiments. Those works were inclined towards mechanics, but the most significant thing was that in all of them there existed an aesthetic intention. Revising those pieces, although we can perceive that “artistic” intention as described by Frank Popper, there exist few from before the eighties worth mentioning.

The digital starts flourishing when computers start invading every home, their use becomes popular and, of course, images start being part of digital language after being scanned. The digital art we know today starts when appropriation art begins. Technology advances towards interactive art requiring the participation of the spectator to be complete. In 1995, there were already 5,000 artists on the net with a web page. Diffusion and exhibition platforms are created, spaces such as Rhizome, Syndicate, äda web or irational.org. The first digital mutations suffered by Leonardo’s La Gioconda date from this time and we owe them to Yval.

There also appear virtual reality creations, animations and audiovisual installations like the ones by Otto Pine or Norman Ballard and Joy Wulke. Artists start developing these works only conceived to live in the net. These works will mark the different points this new practice is characterised by: self-reference, experimentation with and in the medium, cooperative creation, non-linear identity and activism. The network of the times socialised with creative fact and from it emerged the art of collaboration. I’m thinking of Andy Deck and his project COLLABYRINTH, a work in net.art based on collaboration with users. Without them, the project has no meaning.   

Here’s where we connect with the work of Bill Domonkos, which supposes a collision and a recombination of ideas. His work develops gradually. As he says, work comes up spontaneously, using materials found on the Internet, like archive images or photographs. His method has to do with experimenting and combining, altering through editing, using for this digital technology and special effects to create a new kind of experience. What he does, he calls films; the extraordinary thing about films is suggesting the ineffable, that elusive, dreamlike quality that we can truly find in his work.I think there’s a feeling of amazement in some of my works. The idea is creating an alternative universe. I want to take spectators to a world that is completely different from the everyday world they take for granted.”

Since 2001, Domonkos has worked in more than thirty little black and white films; they have all caught the attention of the media. The final work always ends up being an HD video, between one and two minutes long, but what’s imbricated in them is a 35mm, super8 or video format. Domonkos seems to prefer forties and fifties pop culture and surrealism, generating with his GIFs, that he creates from his videos, a completely new space in which the unreal and the real combined seem perfectly natural. The work of this artist ranges from the dark to the playful but always with a sinister touch. Bill Domonkos proposes a very unusual work, a vision that makes past and present collide, a space at the same time accessible but operating from the subjective.

His works sprinkle the net, in Twitter and Tumblr, but it’s the artist’s channel on Vimeo where we can find almost all of his pieces. Domonkos, as the perfect digital artist, confesses not having any problem with people, users, appropriating and mutating his work: I also appropriated images from others. I think it’s only fair to leave all the work there. It’s funny because from the beginning, when I was making films, I spent a lot of time and energy in the film festival circuit. It became very frustrating, particularly for a filmmaker, especially when the Internet was booming. It’s a lot easier to upload it all on Vimeo and reach a wider audience.”

Bill Domonkos meets all the requirements, he’s the archetype of digital artist with which people like Beuys or Duchamp fantasised without knowing it. His work is born within the digital space, is transformed within the digital space, and dies within the digital space. That is, if dying in the digital space is possible; maybe we should rather say that the digital doesn’t die, but transforms itself: it’s transformed in layers when a GIF is shortened, or when it’s re-framed and its size varies, or when the speed of the animation changes. While he appropriates the works of others, we alter, cut and mix his pieces, generate a new story, give it a new life. He’s done something like this with Comic Tale based on Nervous, a story by Robert Walser that, as any work by Domonkos, acquires a new dimension after reaching his hands.