Not everyone appreciates a GIF. And not everyone appreciates an early Renaissance masterpiece. But there's more audience overlap than you'd think. Just ask Scorpion Dagger, née James Kerr, an artist whose GIFs feature subjects from 15th century paintings creeping on Instagram and unfriending each other on Facebook.
Kerr is a Montreal artist whose Tumblr, Scorpion Dagger, is full of carefully-made GIF collages — each snipped from paintings of the early Renaissance, with a particular focus in Northern Europe. But in Scorpion Dagger's universe, the subjects of these paintings live very contemporary lives. They drink, have sex, and order pizza. They take stupid selfies and sometimes use Google Glass. They ride the subway and eat tacos. Saints of the 15th century: They're just like us!
I was curious about Kerr and how Scorpion Dagger came to be, so I asked him a few questions about his work over email. His answers follow — plus the GIFs, of course.
Giz: Tell us a little bit about how Scorpion Dagger came to be.
JK: Scorpion Dagger started when I decided to make one GIF per day for a year, and then take that collected work and have an exhibition with them. I thought it would be fun to see the progression of the GIFs displayed on the walls of a gallery, but was also interested in finding a place where I can put them up online so my friends can see what I'm up to — that's how the site started.
I'm now coming up on my second anniversary, and have no intentions on stopping just yet. It wasn't until I started getting comfortable with making animated GIFs that I realised that I could actually start doing something interesting with them.
Giz: Is there a painting you'll never GIF? A favourite that you think deserves to remain enact?
JK: I don't know if there's a painting that I'd never use for one of my GIFs. The Mona Lisa, for example, is an incredible painting, but it doesn't really inspire me the way a lot of these works from the early Renaissance do. You'll notice that my work, for the most part, is actually pretty far from the original paintings from which I source my images. I'm more interested in taking parts of existing works, and reassembling them into entirely new pieces.
Giz: I've seen some critics suggest that "modernizing" canonical works is a symptom of the internet's short attention span. I think that's off the mark, but do you have any thoughts on how your GIFs are bringing some of these works into the public eye again?
JK: I agree with you that those criticisms are a touch off the mark — is it really anything new? Artists are constantly reinventing what art is by feeding off the works that preceded them. Sure, some of the "modernization" is extremely lazy, but does that make the trend any less important? There's brighter minds than mine who could probably address this a lot better than me, but at times the criticism seems a little disingenuous. I don't know. I try not to think about these things too much — I'm having fun.
Follow Scorpion Dagger here.