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Mixed Media with GIFs

Mixed Media artist Jesse Darling, selected by guest editor Rhizome, uses GIFs as her stage

For part of her Hack Your Future takeover, Heather Corcoran of Rhizome has selected the technology driven artist Jesse Darling who works with video and GIF forms in her practices. Originally having started out as a performance artist, Darling has since preferred to focus her work on gesture as opposed to image, as she crusades to “force the messiness of the living body back into digital media”. Her most recent project revolves around the form of GIFs and their position as a reflection and reaction to society. Here we spoke to Darling about her thought provoking work and uncovered a new world of Hito Steyerl’s theories and dial-up dinosaurs.

Dazed Digital: (In reference to Brecht’s opinions on art’s connection to reality), would you go as far as to say that a GIF is a reflection of life in the sense that actions are repeated constantly and nothing really ever changes?

Jesse Darling: Nothing really changes. You read poems written in 40BC and they're going on about the same libidinal, careerist, petty, heartbroken shit. It's the big profitable fiction of post-internet (or any new technology: it was just the same way with the printing press): digital natives versus the dial-up dinosaurs, and the former are all like: we understand the future in ways that you old farts never will, while the latter are like: technology is changing society for the worse. And they're both wrong, although it doesn't stop everyone making careers in journalism and academia while they fight it out. I'm not interested in claiming any particular technology or form as an authoritative reflection of life. Brecht himself was all about making an artificial or symbolic space rather than a realistic or naturalistic one, and I'm with Hito Steyerl on the gif as a 'poor image' that represents [the conditions of its own] circulation, dispersion and temporality, which are pretty contemporary conditions.

Also, nothing ever changes but everything dies and rots, and that's also why I like the GIF: it's a zombie medium, neoliberal capitalism's worst fear lol. It can't live outside the ether - drag it to your desktop and it's inert - but in its natural environment it just keeps on keeping on, undead, all gross and decayed and never getting any worse or better. Gifs are the original digital natives and they've been around since 40 BC. Jpegs came along way later, and there's no evidence that we'll be able to look at our slickest tiffs on the technologies of the future. Having said all that, this is definitely a discourse of its time. Humanity doesn't change, but our technologies do. Some of these will fall by the wayside and some of them will change the way we live. And some of this stuff we're talking about will mean fuck all to our descendants and that's pretty funny to think about.

DD: ‘Social media is a stage and a theater where we're all supposed to play ourselves’ - what do you think is the most effective tool in self-representation today?

Jesse Darling: Truthfulness, integrity, compassion, courage and a sense of humour. On and offline.

DD: You seem very interested in art as a reflection of society or oneself, how personal is your art? How much of yourself is mirrored in your work?

Jesse Darling: I think all art is personal, in the sense that all self-initiated production and research is personal to some extent. And of course it should also be - can't help being - a reflection of society as well, even if all you're saying is: this is how people feel in these conditions. Which is valid and important, but I'm less interested in literally telling my own story than in producing objects and texts and proxies for myself. I'm too pussy to stand there in public being looked at from all sides, but if I make a sculpture then it doesn't mind to do that for me, although my sculptures and installations are pretty awkward as well. For those reasons I think I'm done with performing my own body in my work - at least for now - but I do think that the body is political as well as personal (some bodies more than others), and so this series was a way for me to celebrate and venerate artists and art works that share that conviction, explicitly or otherwise. I commissioned the artists in this series because I feel like what they do is important, and I love them for their courage and bravery and transformative vanity in the face of everything. I don't see those things as a reflection of society: I see them as a reaction to society.

DD: Do you think the message of your work would be as strong if it wasn’t presented in a medium that constantly repeated itself? Is something stationary just as powerful?

Jesse Darling: Repetition is just one technique. Stillness is another. Peaceful protest is another, armed struggle is another, sex is another, celibacy is another. Clay is good, paper is good, canvas is beautiful, LCD screens are beautiful. No medium is innately powerful or powerless. Which tools do you need to tell the story?

DD: There is something about the personal computer-raised generation and the online work they are creating that feels ‘emptied-out’ as you have said. Do you think there is a danger in basing your work around this online consumer realm that it too will become 'empty'?

Jesse Darling: is hardly an online consumer realm, worse luck ;) and my own work is made and exhibited mostly in realtime and real space nowadays, but thanks for asking because of course I have to REMAIN VIGILANT or else I, too, will become an ARTIST VOID that sucks all meaning out of everything I touch, and nobody wants that! Kids out there at home: THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU TOO, so be careful out there on the internet. Ok stay safe. Lots of love, JD xxx

Follow Jesse Darling on Twitter at She has just curated a Rhizome series which can be found here.