Watching the Pot Boil: Artists Who Use Anticipation in Their Work


Anyone remember that scene from The Office where Steve Carell’s Michael Scott gives a presentation beside a very distracting DVD screensaver? Here’s a screen shot from the gag, which you can watch on Hulu. For those at work who can’t view the video, the screensaver is nothing more than a box that changes color as it bounces against the edges of the TV. The staff get very excited by this moving box because everyone wants to see it land squarely in one of the corners. They watch it ravenously, like sports fanatics might follow a game.

As the scene illustrates, anticipation is a powerful means of engaging an audience and a viewer. After the jump, we collect artworks that have done just that.

Olafur Elliason

The contemporary artist who is probably best known for his use of anticipation is Olafur Elliason. Pictured above is a video documenting the artist’s piece, Wall Eclipse, displayed at MoMA in 2008, during Elliason’s retrospective.

Rafaël Rozendaal

Net artist Rafaël Rozendaal’s classic 2006 website uses interactivity as an essential element to building anticipation. We’ve all wanted to unroll toilet paper without having to clean up the mess. But getting to the end of the roll has a consequence we did not expect. Rozendaal is something of an expert in the field of either anticipation or just screwing with the viewer. is a website that refuses to change its Facebook “like” number, despite notifications that it has or hasn’t done so, and has viewers push a colored shape across a line to watch it change. Both are incredibly addictive in the same way the DVD animation so enraptured the staff of The Office.

Tom Moody

Artist Tom Moody posted this classic, found animated GIF he dubs “Rube Goldberg baby” back in 2007. As is demonstrated in many of the other works, pacing is essential to building anticipation. This work demonstrates this in spades, as the chain reaction in this domino-like maze occurs excruciatingly slowly.

Justin Kemp

On a lighter note, artist Justin Kemp created the video “Anticipating Toast Pop-Up.” It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect — a self portrait of the artist waiting for toast, until he’s finally startled with its “popping” — but the piece also demands restraint on the part of the viewer. Waiting with Kemp for the toast to pop up without simply moving the status bar to the end feels almost impossible. Unlike Elliason’s work, which loops the viewer’s anticipation, we did not want to repeat “Anticipating Toast Pop-Up,” but we suspect this reaction varies from person to person.

Daniel Leyva, Window.gif, 2011

Daniel Leyva

Currently on display at 319 Scholes’ Read/Write exhibition, Daniel Leyva’s sunset cityscape is included as an example of an art work that uses the opposite of anticipation as its working principle. Here, the artist has used moving sheets of cellophane paper to create the illusion of moving water when light is shone threw it. The light box also has the option to play therapeutic beach sounds, but since the work approximates a GIF, Leyva left the sound off. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to snap a video of this work at last night’s opening, so you’ll just have to check out the moving image in person.