If Salvador Dali had had access to today’s animation software, he might have made GIFs like the ones Chilean photographer Jon Jacobsen makes. In these surrealist animated self-portraits, Jacobsen’s body swirls and drips as if seen through a melting kaleidoscope.
“As a child I dreamt of becoming an astronaut, now I create a universe myself,” Jacobsen says in his artist statement. “Daily life lies between the real world and fantasy.”
He uses digital techniques to make art that visualizes this intersection between the real and the imagined. These animations in particular are an attempt to visualize feelings of being out of control: going through a rough emotional experience, seeing or hearing or smelling something overwhelming, for example. Celestial explosions, heads melting into hands; contorting faces; and random flying creatures make for a disorienting and hauntingly beautiful GIF series, which he calls “cinemagraphs.” Jacobsen channels not just Dali but also the dramatic lighting techniques of chiaroscuro, favored especially by late 17th- and early 18th-century artists like Caravaggio.
The self-taught Jacobsen started creating conceptual self-portraits at age 15 in his hometown of Quintero, Chile. His surreal fashion shoots have since been featured in magazines from Vogue Italia to Dazed and Confused, and in galleries like Saatchi Art. His paintings and drawings, too, channel absurd dream states.
Jabobsen is one of many contemporary artists managing to elevate the .GIF into fine art–recently, Saatchi and Saatchi hosted a Motion Photography Prize for artistically animated loops. Also adding to the medium’s prestige are researchers at MIT, who are currently trying to create a universal language from GIFs matched to every possible human emotion. What emotion do Jacobsen’s cinemagraphs best capture, that of being possessed by aliens?