When you think of the word “loop,” different definitions might come to mind. You might think of a simple circle, or a rope that’s made into a circle. Maybe it’s a pattern you make while driving, or something else entirely. One of the definitions of the word “loop” is: “a structure, series, or process the end of which is connected to the beginning.” This particular instance of a loop shows up a lot in the fields of art, music, computing, and electrical circuitry. In the figurative sense, it’s still a circle, just a repeating one.
You might be familiar with looping in music when an artist uses a loop pedal to make repetitive patterns and phrases. They record themselves, hit play, and the clip is repeated over and over. An example from the band Tune-Yards can be seen here. You might be more familiar, however, with a visual form looping, in the form of an animated GIF (as seen on the popular platform known as, the internet). It’s seen all over the web, from the early days of tacky clip-art, to memes on Tumblr, to reaction GIFs on Facebook and Slack, and even as a built-in texting feature on the iPhone. Without getting too much into the history of the GIF, and why it’s so popular, let’s just concede that they’re everywhere and people love them. In The Rise of the Animated GIF, Elise Moreau writes: “...it’s the cross between image and video that makes the GIF so incredibly appealing. Regular photos in JPG or PNG format already do fine on social media, because we’re quickly moved by visual content, but the GIF format adds something much more special – a mini video, with no sound, that can be watched from start to finish in as little as one or two seconds in a simple, auto-looping fashion.” The popularity of GIFs and their inherent looping nature have spilled over into how artists make content, and how we as viewers refer to pieces of content.
This spillover effect is very popular right now in art and design, especially in the fields of animation, motion graphics, and web design. The news site The Outline, for example, is a beautifully/progressively designed website that incorporates looping animations throughout its entirety, sometimes in the form of animated ads, or even looping editorial animations. To a lot of people, anything they see online that’s presented in the form of a short, repeating video, is called a GIF (even when it’s not necessarily in GIF format). We have co-opted the word for use in the broader sense. The main animation on The Liberal Landgrab, for example, acts like a GIF, but is produced in the code. And on instagram for example, videos naturally repeat on endless loop, just like GIFs; however, Instagram doesn’t accept GIFs, they accept short videos as .MP4s or .MOVs, so you’re not technically seeing a GIF, but a looping video that acts like a GIF. But this isn’t really the point.
The point is that we, as a culture (right now), are really into digesting bite-sized pieces of content – the shorter the better. And if they repeat, even better. A lot of times on Instagram, you see short video clips as memes. They’re technically playing over and over like a loop, but they’re not seamless loops (because you can see where they restart). This classification of seamless loop takes a little more skill to produce, and the result is very satisfying. The viewer doesn’t know where the end meets the beginning, and the experience seems to last forever (if you want it to). There’s even a subreddit devoted to it.
Some artists really take it to another level, incorporating levels of surrealism and clever transitions that are mesmerizing. They use this technique for personal work, as well as branded content, producing seamless loops to beautiful effect. Here are a few artists in this vein worth checking out: