originally presented for the Glitch Reader.
Recently I was considering the future of glitch art and whether it has a future. I thought its best to start with the present and therein lies the issue, the present makes me quite uneasy.
I think there are several points that are quite unsettling about the glitch, glitch art and what glitch artists are doing. Some of these points are factors which have contributed and continue to contribute to its less than mainstream status. Not that lack of mainstream appeal is a bad thing in itself, but I feel the glitch as a genre will have a lower chance of moving beyond niche or make leaps in progress if it carries on like this. I wish it does, but I don’t know if it would be possible. Before I begin, for all intents and purposes, I’m guilty of most if not all the allegations below in any work that I’ve had a hand in.
My intention certainly isn’t to offend, it’s to spark a bit of dialogue or at best make a new explorer of this area think more carefully about how they can contribute and make way for the new, fresh and cerebral works I’ve been selfishly dying to see.
Consideration number 1: A Question of purity
First and foremost in my mind right now is the simple fact that indulging a desire to glitch or to capture and collect one, feels strangely at odds with the very nature of the glitch itself. Its pure incontestable status as fleeting error or accident is completely contested when it’s captured or re-purposed.
Ordinarily, a visual or auditory glitch rips through its host medium and interrupts a scheduled flow of information, I’m prone to think its spirit is somewhat dampened when we harness it– to harness it is to destroy one of the very conditions that makes it valid and special. I used to brush off objections people voiced of this nature with carefully justified arguments, but in retrospect, I actually think it’s quite important to ponder on this one carefully.
If you can collect and display a glitch in a controlled setting, what is the result, is it a semi glitch? Is a representation or simulation of a glitch (glitchalike™) or is it something else?
In a sense, I would suggest the production of the vast majority of glitch artwork is very much an act of rogue taxidermy, rogue taxidermists more often than not create monstrous assemblages of animals that don’t have live counterparts. Similarly I’d say that glitch artists or designers are creating works that can barely be called glitches, they’re not necessarily monstrous, they can be quite tasteful and aesthetically charming to a point, and we can agree they are design explorations or artistic and creative explorations of a process driven nature, but in as far as a relationship with the glitch stands, they offer a mere aesthetic imprint of a pure unadulterated glitch and very little will change that.
Q1. Why is the purity of the glitch special and worth considering? Does it matter that a glitch is faked? Does anyone actually care or is this a complete non issue?
Q2. Is there generally a lot of poorly constructed glitch artwork every time someone tries to apply the glitch look to something? Do they revert to cliches when trying to convey a glitch? Do they use plug-ins and on trend techniques indiscriminately or does it really have synchronicity with the content and subject matter? Is it authentic and faithful?
Consideration Number 2 : Process and Aesthetics not Art.
I think glitch as a field is so obsessed with process and so absorbed in the discovery of new tools to glitch with, that it consequently spends less time conveying anything of real merit– the conveying part becomes second fiddle to the exploration of process. When the glitch does convey something, it feels a bit contrived and deterministic. In a sense maybe we’ve reached the limits of the things it can say, maybe the glitch and its maximum conveying effectiveness is characteristically all about process? As an adjunct to this, let’s sum up some of these themes currently prevalent and over utilised glitch art… deconstruction, destruction, subversion, activism, disruption and imperfection, is there much variance or deviance from these? What about death, annihilation, disassociation, I’m sure it has more range than that but it doesn’t stick out for me.
Subsequently, resulting works have a familiar recurrent ring to them. Beyond a fleeting techno-fetishistic fascination, or a professional research interest or urge to create similar work, when was the last time a glitch work made you sad, has it moved anyone to tears, has it elated them beyond belief into a manic state of excitement? Maybe it has! I’m extremely sorry that I just haven’t seen it yet. For all its bravado, the reaction to it is strangely subdued. When we sit in our dark auditoriums / cinemas / bars / clubs and other stages soaking up what is possibly quite a violent protest of display technologies with a mixture of mild fascination and tingling sense of ‘hey look this is very cool stuff’ does the brain matter really get worked up? Does the glitch permeate a heightened sense of emotional intensity or sublimity within it’s viewers? I’ve had experience of the musical variety of glitch doing this but to my frustration, never the visual!
Too much emphasis on process or the tools can actually make for shallow exploration of the message, or a de-emphasis of what is actually being conveyed. When was the last time you heard a world renowned celebrity artist go into insane amounts of depth describing the techniques used in producing the actual artwork they’re known for? They usually talk about the thoughts behind the work, not the tools! They rarely want people to get excited about the tools and production alone, they talk about feelings, emotions, experiences and interactions.
If the glitch has run out of things to say or reached the limits of its vocal range, it should focus more on the experiential aspect. Personally, I want it to move me, I want to experience a sense of the overpowering, of Schopenhauer’s Full Feeling of the Sublime and on another spectrum, I want it to convey to me the emotionally delicate, where the glitch literally takes over and wants to rip your heart out with subtlety and gravity. Is it capable of such a range?
Who will actually rise to the challenge to explore that and actually produce something worthy of MoMA or the Tate? No one I guarantee was moved emotionally or felt a flutter in their heart by playing with Glitchbrowser! They might have gotten a little excited sure, but more than that, I think not. I really do hope it achieves its potential if it has it.
Having spent a good few years operating at the periphery and looking inwards, with few exceptions the majority of the work either focuses too heavily on the process or is mainly playing with a temporal, shallow surface aesthetic, that’s not to say there isn’t endless potential in doing either of those and exploring the glitch in such a fashion. It’s just that this is another barrier to it getting taken more seriously.
Consideration 3 : Glitch and linguistic attributes of net.art
The glitch is not net.art! Despite its anecdotally glitch induced origins and the fact that some works of net.art use the glitch aesthetic heavily, I don’t believe there is symbiotic connection. I think sometimes the glitch’s entanglement with the aesthetics of net.art and the language of it actually gets in the way of discussing it and framing works effectively. Even worse when it gets mixed up with the crap aesthetic it becomes a non delineated hodge podge that doesn’t speak volumes of the glitch but rather a genuine failure of aesthetics.
Consideration 4: The Glitch and Nostalgia
I’ve often considered that sustained objectivity is a hard thing to come by when studying something, at some point you may become so obsessed with a facet of the thing you’re studying that it potentially blinkers your senses and dulls the objectiveness of a critique or appraisal of the merits of the subject. No where is this more apparent than with the glitch, it seems you can get in a conversation with most people who appreciate the glitch with talk of the following: the lovely warm analogue qualities of a variety of dead media, Fuzzy TV reception, low-fi display methods and so on. I don’t mean to single out any particular strand of work, or any particular person, or dismiss the value of appreciating dead media…but as far as pushing the boundaries of glitch go, this to my mind, is simply media archeology laced with nostalgia, its a potent drink which prevents us experimenting with the glitch in a variety of other settings with future technologies that are increasingly more signal perfect or complex to unravel.
Mainstream adoption, ruthless curation and the power of narrative
For the glitch to gain serious collectors willing to part with cold hard cash, be featured in prestigious collections and have leading art critics comment upon it, I think there needs to be a serious body of work that is more preoccupied with everything but process, interested in the potential of large scale cross disciplinary co-production and lots and lots of serious critique from within. I think this will gradually happen, its certainly on that trajectory!
Another major stepping stone would be a harsher curatorial hand, and filtering (by non glitch aficionados) and less patting each other on the back. In a young field, its very easy to continuously give each other unnecessary kudos, throughout 2004 – 2011 only one person had something aggressively opinionated to say to me about something I had said, I’m saddened that most times people overrated the Glitch Dissertation I wrote.
http://oculasm.org/glitch (Direct PDF 2004)
Some people were generous enough to call it a PhD dissertation, it most certainly was no such thing, and a few others translated bits in totality as their own, to me that speaks volumes about how young this field is!
I feel it definitely either needs to marry into projects that combine great compelling content or be used as a dominant part of a work by a well known artist of an another field who then discusses the glitch in relation to their work.
Having said all this, the glitch is still only young and already there is an inventive, beautiful community that is formed around discussing the glitch, creating works. A charge that can’t be levied against it, is that it’s stagnant and not evolving, it is evolving, it does have it critics too. I hope they don’t hold back!
The people at the forefront of this genre who may consider themselves as old hands at it, for all intents and purposes are quite young and are always exquisitely excited and excitable with the exception of myself on a bad day and maybe my long time – collaborator Ant Scott (BEFLIX) who genuinely needs to be celebrated for bringing all this about and possibly being the first to coin this term glitch art.
As a last note, what I really liked about what Ant did on his glitch blog those many years ago was everything to do with content, he made some distinctions about the provenance of each glitch and sometimes shared fragments of stories about them but never went too far to unravel the mystery of their existence or how they came to be. Things were alluded to and that’s what made it compelling– at least that’s the lingering impression I have of it. Perhaps what made a lasting and significant emotional connection were those evocative one line abstract narratives or bits of micro-fiction. In a sense, they don’t have anything to do with the glitch itself but amplify its experience.
I certainly hadn’t heard of glitch art till I came across Ant’s work. Most people flirt with it for a while and either decide to stay or leave, some people find the vocabulary, others invent their own. The ones who do form lasting relationships with the glitch will almost certainly find it very hard to shake off.