Glitchbreak

 

Glitchbreak.

Iman Moradi

11/11/11

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.

Bonus Questions

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.

Concluding thoughts:

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.

Comments

  1. Carlos Faustino says:

    Hi,

    I’ve read your text and I agree with a lot of essencial points that you “touched”. However, responding to your “frustration” with the lack of emotional response from visual glitches in relation to auditory ones, I think it is quite simple to understand why… First of all, any person can feel something from any piece of music played, even if it is the worst music ever… The same thing doesn’t apply to imagery. There is a much more reluctance to show emotions right after viewing a painting or a sculpture.

    Then, about your dissertation, I think I was a great starting point to theorize about glitch. Actually, I am doing my master’s thesis and I use a lot of references from you, but not as citations like “how things are called or should be named”.. but to improve particular aspects of your theory. Honestly I look at it as a very simplistic way of analyse glitch events or even glitch artworks.

    As soon as I finish write it, I will share a version of it online (since I am writing it on portuguese).

    Apart of all these “vague” annotations, I hope you continue to work in the field, helping to improve it as you said in your own text.

    Best regards,
    Carlos Faustino

  2. FFD8 says:

    great read. and nice to hear your thoughts on the last couple years of practice since writing your dissertation. while i doubt that i was that one person, i still have to disagree with the hangup over pure glitches and/or the glitchalike™. unless i’m getting it all wrong, there seems to be scrutiny over a glitch that is inflicted or cultured to do so. while i too would poke question towards a glitch that is the product of the select tool and moving pixels around via photoshop for the aesthetic… i would suggest abolishing any distinction between the glitch that happened autonomously and that which occurs with the help of mishandling media [my personal mo.. precisely mishandling media] – because if we grow too concerned over the glitch el natural, then the glitch artist becomes little more than a photographer who happened to catch the moment when it spontaneously hiccuped. since growing obsessed with the aesthetic/concept/genre i too have collected my share of glitching or malfunctioning tv displays in shop windows or subway stations.. but if anything i would merely call those glitches ‘unintentional’ as the advert is probably paying for clarity over abstraction. perhaps this leads towards well explored territory over what makes an artwork art.. is it simply the intention of the ‘artist’? with that last statement i’m chewing on something bigger than i can carry.

    so i can’t agree more with the fact that i too would love to see glitch artworks hit a bigger stream of access in large collections and exhibitions.. sharing this visual fetish that has so many of us obsessed. nevertheless due to the subcultural aspect of its practice + practitioners, i can easily imagine a series of backlashes upon such status- ie. commentary on data-moshing/pixelbleeding in pop music videos for example. perhaps all the genre needs is for a Thomas Kinkade glitch art ‘original’ to hit the marketplace and soon houses across the land will relish in the beauty that is this medium.

  3. Matthew says:

    Hey Iman Moradi,

    I have read all your work on the topic. I especailly found Glitch Aesthetics really really interesting.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Iman,

    I wish that I could get in touch with you a bit more directly. I’ve been paying attention to yours and Rosa Menkman’s writings on Glitch Art and appreciate the somewhat polemic stances you take to certain key issues. I’m trying to formalize my own thoughts in relation to yours and Rosa’s and have started a project, Year of the Glitch as an attempt to address through applied research some concerns you both raise. At the moment, most of the posts are studies, exploring various file formats, software, hardware and techniques. Some of the file formats and processes follow a rather modernist interrogation of material, somewhere between seeking purity, and simplicity as a way of arriving at a conceptual foundation for subsequent works. While I worry about the project as a whole becoming a rather excellent demonstration of surface aesthetics, I hope that the scale of the project leads to the whole endeavor being taken more seriously.

    Though I would consider myself an artist producing Glitch Art (certainly not exclusively), I’m still not convinced that I have a clear picture of what Glitch Art really is, what it is about (if it is about anything at all), or whether all the theorizing about it being a critical media practice is really justified. I’m hopeful that there can be useful critical dimensions to the practice, but find the dependence of much of the Glitch Art I’ve been exposed to on the smooth operation of the very systems they seek to critique highly problematic. Without going too far down that path, I want to respond to some of the points you bring up in Glitchbreak and ask for your help in clarifying some things for me.

    What is a real glitch and what is a “glitchalike”? Is the distinction along the line of natural/anthropogenic intervention? How does bad programming or poor system design factor into the definition of a real glitch? I wonder if you could clarify not only your working definition of a glitch, but your intentions behind the categorization of staged and found glitches (and their fabricated counterparts). Could you also explain more the role of documentation in relation to the establishment of your categories? These distinctions that you make point to an underlying emphasis of authenticity. In your view, what is the role of authenticity in Glitch Art. In fact do you make similar distinctions as to what is and is not Glitch Art long what is and is not a true glitch?

    When I first became consciously involved in making Glitch Art, I had similar concerns as to whether what I was doing had anything to do with actual glitches. For a while I was convinced that any staged glitch was not a glitch at all, but a sort of deception. Recently I’ve come to understand a glitch as the process of entropy acting within a digital information system, which results in a perceivable artifact. Working from this point, it is inconsequential whether a random voltage fluctuation (caused perhaps by cosmic radiation), or a human mucking about with the data in a file is the source of entropy. There are staged and found glitches, but these are still glitches. Of course, there are other things which are complete fabrications (my dither studies have less to do with glitches and more to do with the artifacts specific to the limitations of a certain procedure), but the point remains that they way we share these artifacts, whether authentic or fabricated, depends to a large degree on the smooth operation of the very systems we are either witnessing malfunction or are intentionally, for lack of a better verb, “glitching”. We haven’t really critically addressed the medium, only pointed to the existence of the frame, which we kind of already knew about. This is where I feel that Glitch Art may suffer from that “cool, so what?” indifference.

    The general trend among what is being accepted as Glitch Art is that artists are appropriating the processes, systems, and artifacts responsible for the existence of glitches as raw material. Whether a glitch is authentic or not is rather inconsequential, but that doesn’t mean that all Glitch Art is good or deep. Glitch Art appears more as an art of artifacts, and does suffer from an over emphasis on procedure and product rather than substance and concept. The obvious identification of the processes with corruption, error, failure, etc. are not deep enough to sustain the practice as a whole, but serve as good platforms against which to pursue alternative approaches and theories. Because the form of Glitch Art and the media involved in the practice as a whole are still very new, I think it will be a while before something deeper emerges. I think we are still finding our eyes for seeing Glitch Art as something more than images of broken things. The form is too new for it to suddenly appear in museums, and I would be suspect of both the institution and artist if that were to change in the next few years.

    I agree to some extent that procedural obsession is something of a problem, and I think that until the practice matures, people will be preoccupied with the how, rather than the what, or why. I’ve tried in the past poetically naming images, suggesting certain readings, but at this point, I don’t know that uninitiated viewers have the eyes to make these associations without somehow understanding what it is they’re seeing and how it came to be. That said, I think that a brief statement on the process is little different that listing the materials used in a work of art. It helps in understanding a little the process, which can shed light on an underlying concept, facilitating metaphorical associations. With anything that we do, there is some part of the final product which is intentional, that we can explain in great detail both the how and the why, then there are those choices which we are not aware of making, which are not so easily explained. I don’t think it is necessary to be able to explain everything about a work, all the choices involved—part of appreciating a work is imagining those things which are not explained by the work or accompanying text, as a viewer, creating a narrative (personal significance) beyond the work itself.

    I think that part of the obsession with the procedure has more to do with conveying its simplicity, even to show how inconsequential the procedure is in the read of a work. If a work speaks to you, understanding how it was put together isn’t going to help you make sense of why; wonder doesn’t work from understanding, but starts somewhere prior to and on the way towards. I’m reminded of Roland Barthes attempting to explain the punctum of a photograph and why certain ones effected him so deeply when others did not. It is my hope, with Year of the Glitch, that I’m able to somehow arrive at a concept through aesthetics and procedure. It is still not known exactly what sort of concepts are appropriate to the form of Glitch Art, whether it has a clear form at all, or what the role of other disciplines or media has in forming the impression of a concept within the viewer.

    At this point, I don’t have any clear conclusions. I still find myself unsure of the definitions I’ve been working with, in particular, noise, artifacts, glitch, etc… I think that since you wrote the article above, that Rosa Menkman released Glitch Moment(um) and Daniel Temkin & Hugh Manon published Notes on Glitch. I’m curious if you’ve read these and what your thought are now.

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