German GIF-maker Thoka Maer is on a mission to change the way we think about the artform with which she has made her name. In fact she doesn’t even really like the word “GIF” and prefers the term “animated illustrations” to describe the work that has become a huge online hit over recent years, and has been recognised by the Association of Illustrators for its creative skill.
“We are storytellers,” she says. “We have an inherent and undeniable need to tell stories. GIFs, or animated illustrations, are a new medium to tell these stories. They are the chocolate bar of the internet; snackable media content.
“Through GIFs we are able to describe the human condition in the attention span of the internet, experienced within a scroll. GIFs can add emotion and context when words are too clumsy, and they can create everlasting life in a few frames.”
For Thoka, who only graduated from Berlin’s University of the Arts a couple of years ago, the GIF gave her a new creative space in which she could develop her illustration skills.
“As an animator you think like a filmmaker in frames, cuts, scenes, etc. Illustration lives in a flat, two dimensional world where nothing moves. So being able to add movement opens an entirely new level of narrative, depth and nuance to an otherwise still world.”
Thoka’s work is clearly narrative driven. Although the scenes she creates seem simple, they are gently provocative, asking questions and inviting us to provide the answers.
And while some may sneer at GIFs and the way they have taken over the internet in recent years, Thoka maintains that they are vastly under-appreciated. She is particularly eloquent about the loop as a mechanism.
“It is an artistic device that mesmerizes,” she says. “It has musical rhythm, it magnifies, exaggerates, and dissects a specific moment to behold. There is rarely much embellishment because of the economy of space and time. With each repetition, the story develops and lets us internalize what we see as it becomes ever more relatable.”
So next time you send or receive a GIF – and the chances are this will be soon – pause for a moment and reflect on how Thoka wants to reinvent the conversation around GIFs, and raise them to their rightful artistic place.