15 Folds, a New Host for Original GIF Art

The founders discuss the magic of the format and why it's such an attractive medium for artists

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Of all the good things the internet has brought us—increased connectivity, the ability to look up anything anywhere, music streaming, weird animal videos and so on and so on forever—perhaps one of the most universally appreciated is GIFs. Starting out as little more than quirky animations (flames that moved; website titles that spun around), when the internet was in its nascent stages, GIFs have evolved to a point where they’re now an art form of their own.


London creative collective 15 Folds (made up of Margot Bowman, Sean Frank and Jolyon Varley) has taken GIF art to its natural next level. Rather than Tumblr-ing down the internet rabbit-hole to look for the best GIFs, 15 Folds collaborates with artists who create original GIFs for the site. Contributors so far include Reed + Rader, Matthew Stone and Joe Currie and fashion designer Iris van Herpen with digital production company Random Studio, among many others.

The name “15 Folds” references parlor game Exquisite Corpse, in which players take turns writing on a sheet of paper, fold it to hide part of the writing and then pass it to the next player for a further contribution. At 15 Folds, the collaborative spirit of the game is alive and well in a 21st century version—anyone can respond to a posted GIF by creating their own and submitting it. We spoke with with Varley, who shared some of 15 Folds’ favorite works with us and discussed the magic behind GIFs.

What made you decide to start 15 Folds?

Sean and Margot always wanted to make a project around GIFs. This was when the medium was still regarded as the preserve of web 1.0 and had yet to enjoy the renaissance in popularity that has brought it to global attention. As the co-founder of a digital studio [NEVERBLAND], I had some ideas about how that might manifest online. Over a series of meetings we decided on a concept we all loved.

For instance, what might death look like in gif form?

Your latest themes for the site are “Sex” and “Everything All At Once.” How do you choose the themes?

Each month we meet to discuss the next month’s theme. We’re interested in themes that are variously provocative, timely and likely to inspire interesting work, but also ambiguous enough to provoke a broad spectrum of interpretation. We like to explore what ideas we’d personally like to see interpreted through the lens of GIF art. For instance, what might death look like in GIF form?

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What do you think it is that make GIFs so attractive to the viewer?

GIFs are inherently more dynamic than stills photography and (often) faster to produce than video. They offer unrivaled flexibility in how they are viewed and shared and present a vast scope for creativity within the format. They are immediate, mesmeric, arresting.

How do you think the use of GIFs will evolve in the near future—for example, will we see more of them on mainstream sites, such as news media?

We think so. There are some objective qualities about GIFs that make them highly suited to an online environment and suggest they’ll be a permanent online option on stills or video.

The qualities of the format that make them unique: the infinite loop, share-ability and the lack of a play button

Tell us a bit about why GIFs are an interesting medium for artists to use.

There are two sides to this. The qualities of the format that make them unique: the infinite loop, share-ability and the lack of a play button. Then you have the social context of the medium; the internet’s native creative space—a medium reclaimed from the clutches of quick weight loss ads. This combination means that GIFs feel like a new and exciting space to be making work. Perhaps most crucially, one without precedent or the weight of history.

What’s the secret to creating a really good GIF?

In truth there probably isn’t any secret. Like everything else, it’s just about being totally honest with your thought or vision.

GIFs courtesy of Jack Cunningham, Mark Dorf, Bart Hess and Laurent Segretier; portrait courtesy of 15 Folds