Jānis Jankevics sits on a swivel chair, looking to the left of the frame in a room set up for photography. He wears a red baseball cap, a zip up sweater, dark trousers and dark shoes.

How a school in Latvia takes part in GIF IT UP

Jānis Jankevics uses the annual creative competition as a way for his students to hone their digital skills, and discover ready-to-use cultural materials from Europeana.eu

Jānis Jankevics (Liepaja Music, Art and Design Secondary School)
Beth Daley (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Teacher Jānis Jankevics tells us how introducing Europeana’s collections to his students hones their technical skills and activates their artistic flair too.

Hi Jānis, Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m head of audiovisual communication design at Liepaja Music, Art and Design Secondary School for 16-20 year olds. I also teach new media art to students at Liepaja University in Latvia. In both places, I teach video technologies and animation.

I have a Master's degree in Art and a Master's degree in Philosophy. Last year, I began writing a PhD at the Art Academy of Latvia in Riga.

In my free time I do parkour and free running, and make videos to prove it! Here’s one from 2020.

How did you find out about Europeana.eu and what do you use it for?

I discovered Europeana through the GIF IT UP contest. When a colleague sent me a link about it, I thought ‘Yes! I can integrate this into my classes!’ So we started to take part, and have joined in for the last five or six years. Five of my students got prizes in the competition this year.

Children's Book Flowers GIF, by Leons Skudritis (Liepaja, Latvia), 2023.
Based on 'Leesboekje met illustraties uit Thailand' published by Museon, the Netherlands, CC BY.

Having participated in the GIF IT UP contest for two years and receiving awards for both years, I can say that this event is really cool. In my opinion, creating a small story in GIF format is both creatively challenging and technical, but each year it is like a small challenge for our course. The fact that this is a competition, in my view, also inspires us to try harder, because everyone wants to represent the school's name. I would gladly participate in contests in several other subjects because then it's not just a learning process but an artistic challenge.

Leons Skudrītis, student

Before we joined GIF IT UP, I ran a similar task with students, asking them to animate a still image - to cut it into layers and animate it. With GIF IT UP, they could do that task and participate in a competition.

The students enjoy it - taking part in GIF IT UP has become a tradition. There is some competition between themselves - every year, I show the previous year’s works and the new students try to make something better. I really like that there are a lot of prize categories, not just one grand prize, and that makes it more attractive for the students too.

Kill Me Now Language Learning GIF, by Nikola Tērauda (Riga, Latvia), 2023.
Based on ' English 3 third step, children’s book with illustrations from Mauritius' published by Museon, the Netherlands, CC BY.

As a teacher, it’s a nice exercise to do with students. All I do is show them how to search Europeana.eu for material with the right licences. Often, students use materials that they shouldn’t and then they get into trouble because they can’t publish them. So GIF IT UP is a good opportunity for them to learn about resources they can use safely, without infringing copyright.

Everything else is up to them. I don’t intervene. They do the work. It’s quite easy for them. It’s not a complicated website.

Dance like nobody is watching GIF by Rainers Dāboliņš (Liepaja, Latvia), 2023.
Based on 'God Krishna Dancing on the Head of the Snake Demon Kaliya (Kaliyadamana)' published by Art Institute Chicago, USA. CC0.

Joining GIF IT UP consolidates students’ skills. Before the contest, I show them all the tools and then they get on with it. They already have the technical skills, it’s the artistic part that they get the most out of. I always say they should make it clever in the sense that it’s not just a showcase of their technical skill, I want them to make something that’s funny and clever. That’s what they can express with their GIFs.

In my opinion, it is cool that our teacher offers us to participate in GIF IT UP. It is a good way to showcase our skills to a wider audience. Those works are seen and evaluated by creative professionals. And when I found out that I had won, I felt especially pleased. From GIF IT UP I learned to make my works more personal, based on my feelings.

Ulvis Grenovskis, student

Smoke Skull GIF by Ulvis Grenovskis (Liepaja, Latvia), 2023.
Based on 1. 'Smoker' by Georges de la Tour from Tokyo Fuji Art Museum 2. Portrait of Reiko by Kishida Ryusei from Tokyo National Museum via Japan Search 3. Head of a skeleton with a burning cigarette by Vincent van Gogh from Van Gogh Museum.

They’ve created some really good GIFs over the years. I particularly like these ones…

Fly Away Spinning GIF, by Mareks Ziemelis (Liepāja, Latvia), 2021.
Based on 'Turnerinnen am Reck' published by Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Germany, CC0.

Teotihuacan Gifitup2019 Gif , by Gatis Štempelis (Liepaja, Latvia), 2019.
Based on 'Arkeologiskt föremål från TeotihuacanSigvald Linné' published by Etnografiska museet, Sweden, CC0.

Foodie GIFITUP2019 GIF by Janis Zeps (Liepaja, Latvia).
Based on' Correspondance entre Maxime Payel et son frère LéonceE' published by Europeana 1914-1918, the Netherlands, CC BY-SA.

What are you feeling inspired by currently?

I haven’t made my own artwork for about two years, but when I do, I always work with other people. For me, as a teacher, it’s very good because I have artists all around me all the time. If I need something specific, I can always find someone who can help.

I don’t follow artists a lot on social media. I mostly follow freerunning and parkour athletes and some local artists. I am more inspired by reading philosophy books. I’d recommend Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes.

In my PhD I’m focussing on virtual reality as a medium. It’s a bit different to what I teach - I teach classical flat animation. My PhD is on virtual reality and more especially VR in documentary contexts - VR experiences that are reconstructions of real events.

I have an ambition about a virtual reality experience that I want to make. My masters degree in philosophy looked at technological metaphors applied to people in various times. For example, Plato compared the human soul to a chariot with two horses. Freud used a metaphor of a hydraulic system when he was talking about human emotions. Today, we tend to use a metaphor of computers - mind as an information processor. Sometimes we use them unreflectively and start to believe it’s real and not a metaphor. I want to make a VR documentary experience that goes through these metaphors chronologically. I think it’d work well through the VR medium. I think Europeana could be useful for some references here, like old drawings for mechanisms like the chariot.