to infinity and beyond
Feliks Konczakowski makes a lot of animated GIFs. In saving an animated GIF file, of course, one is given a choice. You can either specify a set number of times for the animation to play (one or more); or else you can let it continuously loop forever. (an infinite number of times) Konczakowski almost always chooses infinity.
In some of these GIFs, he takes a dizzying dive into the recursive imaginary spaces that we call “Droste effect” packages. In some cases, he’s made both color and black & white versions which I’ve enjoyed pairing together here. (See also: Jasper Johns and Trix)
Animated Droste-effect labels
I once wrote a post about the impact of the Royal baking powder can on many people’s concept of infinity. (See: 7 quotes about Royal Baking Powder)
In that post, I had quoted Joseph Wood Krutch writing about his childhood Royal baking powder epiphany.
The can and the package were both adorned with pictures of the container itself. Therefore, the advertisements included a picture of a picture. And that picture must of necessity include a picture, of a picture, of a picture. In practice, of course,
the series finally ended with a dot. But it shouldn’t have. And thus I became simultaneously aware of two stupendous facts. Infinity can be neither represented nor imagined, but logically it must exist.
Joseph Wood Krutch
If you don’t mind my saying so…
The American Scholar, 1958
When Krutch wrote that “the series finally ended with a dot,” he was really talking about the limitations of a printed label. Similar to what I wrote in 2008:
If the resolution of the printing process—(and the determination and eyesight of the illustrator)—were not limiting factors, it would go on forever.
Indeed, in my own surveys of Droste-effect packages, I’ve resorted to a sort of Droste-effect fractal dimension, counting how many smaller packages can be clearly identified in each case.
Krutch also declared (as a “stupendous fact”) that “infinity can be neither represented or imagined.”
Konczakowski, with his animated Droste-effect labels, however, seems to have done both.
But rather than go on and on, recursively quoting myself, maybe I should just ask the artist about these animations…
(An interview with Konczakowski and more GIFs will follow, after the fold…)
A conversation with Felix Konczakowski
Randy Ludacer: Yesterday I happened to find your Royal baking powder GIFs (and other Droste effect packaging GIFs, as well) on the Giphy site.
It struck me how many of these miniature recursive worlds you had already explored — the classics (like Royal Baking Powder, Droste, Land O Lakes, Laughing Cow) — but also some more obscure brands. (like “Smile” tobacco and “Don Pepino” pizza sauce)
I’d been content merely collecting an occasional static image of these self-referential packages.
You, on the other hand, have been exploring them more deeply, I think. Entering into the illustrations, as if they were portals to some (name-brand) fractal dimension.
I recognize that the packaging thing, is really just a small part of your work, although most of your GIFs do seem to have a similarly “self-similar” geometry, even when the subject is more abstract.
So let me start by asking you a few general questions. I’ve read that you were born in Kraków. Is that where you still live?
Feliks Konczakowski: I am living in South America at the moment.
Ludacer: Wow. What led you to move to a different continent? (And are you willing to reveal which specific country it is you’re now living in?)
Konczakowski: My (now) ex-wife works for a big corporation and she was relocated a couple of years ago. I am flexible and we moved to Brazil together.
Konczakowski: That is correct!
Packaging & Parallel Mirrors
Ludacer: Some people have cited different Droste-effect packages, encountered at a young age, as their introduction to infinity. Was that your experience?
Konczakowski: Yes, I was very intrigued by the Royal baking powder label or the infinity effect of parallel mirrors at a young age.
Ludacer: It’s funny how people will sometimes project themselves into an illustrated scene of a package. I remember my brother-in-law once telling me that he felt emotionally drawn to the room depicted on the old Sleepytime Tea box. (With the bear sitting by the fireside.) Not a Droste-effect pack, but it just goes to show how we sometimes long (desire) to enter that world.
Your GIFs certainly offer us entrée into these worlds, although we can only explore them along the single vertiginous route that you’ve devised. Has anyone ever complained about that?
Konczakowski: Sometimes the illustrated scenes found in Jacobsen Danish Butter Cookies tins produce a similar effect on me.
On the other side, the most common complaint I receive about my GIFs is they are nauseating.
A Musical Analogy
Ludacer: Thinking about your work remind me of “The Song that Never Ends.” Are you familiar with that song?
Konczakowski: That is a good one. No, I have never heard about it. The musical reference I knew is that of the Shepard tone.
Ludacer: I didn’t know about “the Shepard tone,” but reading about it now on Wikipedia (and playing the sound clip) I like it. The illusion of an endlessly ascending or descending scale is a good analogy for the endless zooming in (or zooming out) that we experience watching your GIFs.
I think what I like about the never-ending song, is that it’s just long and varied enough that it seems like a completely acceptable song, that just happens (though the inner logic of its lyrics) to loop back to its beginning again and again and again forever!
It makes wonder whether it’s possible to make an animate GIF of a Droste-effect label in which the route was not so direct. That maybe a detour is taken before the inevitable looping begins. What do you think?
Konczakowski: Sure. But the fixed point and the continuity of the animation increase the hypnotic effect in most people.
Infinity and file size
Ludacer: I know that long GIF animations are a file-size challenge and that looping a shorter animation is usually a good solution to that problem. What’s the longest animated GIF you’ve made?
Konczakowski: I am tempted to say they are all infinite loops. But seriously, I am planning to make a big loop someday. For now most of them are a one second loops due to filesize limitations in tumblr. The longest last six seconds if I remember well.
Ludacer: One thing I’ve noticed with your animated Droste-effect packs, is that you sometimes employ different (virtual) “camera techniques.”
In the GIFs of the Land O Lakes butter and the Royal Baking Powder, for example, it’s like a straight zoom lens. In other GIFs, however, when the package-within-a-package is shown at a different angle, you transform the angle during the animation. Almost like a camera panning and tracking to keep the label (forever) centered in the frame.
Your GIF of the Bons Mayennais Camembert label (shown in the lower right corner, above) is an especially good example. I have only a vague understanding of what your process might be. Was it hard to do that?
Konczakowski: It was a little bit hard, but a friend of mine (sort of sorcerer) helped me with the Laughing Cow and the Bons Mayennais for making it seamless.
Re: Source Images
Ludacer: Do you ever purchase things (packaging or other items) in order to make a GIF? Or are all your source images found online?
Konczakowski: Yes, I bought some stamps with the droste effect, odd banknotes, old magazines and “La vaque qui rit“ packaging. For commissions I tend to buy from Getty Images. But due to my laziness, a great deal of them are from the interwebs.
Ludacer: Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t think to ask you?
Konczakowski: I am immune to the hypnotic effect of my own GIFs. Thank you Randy for the interview!
Oh no, thank you, Feliks (for the interview)!