GIFs are designed to loop short clips–generally a couple seconds long–over and over until you close your browser window. But As Long As Possible is a different kind of GIF; one rendered on a geologic time scale. Created by Helsinki-based artists Juha van Ingen and Janne Särkelä, it’s designed to loop only once every thousand years.
Don’t expect a millennium-long nyan cat, though. In execution, As Long As Possible is very simple: it’s simply a black square that slowly counts from 1 to 48,140,288 in 10-minute intervals. Part of the reason the GIF is so simple is a file size consideration: even in its current stark, monochrome form, the finished GIF is over 12 gigabytes. But after experimenting with other versions of the GIF, including one that stretched a vintage film from the 1920s to over 48 million frames long, van Ingen says he found it only distracted from the essence of the piece.
Van Ingen says the original idea for As Long As Possible came to him a year ago while creating Plunge, another GIF-based project which explored the concept of slowing down GIFs to their maximum extent.
“It was a bit of a revelation to me to find out that in GIF animation, the maximum delay between each frame is more than 10 minutes,” he says. “It made me think about making an GIF loop which would last for as long as possible. We decided to go for a 1000-year long loop, which would be very long, but still short enough that people could relate to it.”
The project borrows its name, and some of its conceptual approach, from John Cage’s avant-garde organ composition. Although the actual score of the composition is only eight pages long, it is currently being performed on a specially-designed organ at a church in Halberstadt, Germany, and isn’t expected to finish for another 624 years.
It takes a lot of institutional support to set-up a project that is meant to go on that long . . . support that van Ingen and Särkelä are currently trying to drum up. Although the GIF has already been created, the goal is to have it permanently on display to the public, starting in 2017. Van Ingen says that ideally, the two will make a half-dozen portable units, which are synchronized to all display the GIF at the same time. The file itself is too large to actually slap up on the Internet, but van Ingen says that webcasting a video of the GIF might also be a possibility.
“What we’re able to do all depends on the kind of resources we manage to get, so we’re looking for people or organizations who can help us,” van Ingen says. “We’re talking about making it run for such a long time that the people who see it finish will have long forgotten about TV or the Internet. Isn’t that mind-blowing?”