In 2004, as a fledgling academic on the final year of my undergraduate degree course in Multimedia Design, I had a choice to research any field that I was interested in. I set myself quite a lofty challenge to discuss the qualities and characteristics of Glitch Art, a term I had first come across on Ant Scott's weblog at Beflix.com as early as 2001.
Back then, for the most part, I found myself juggling 'learning how to research', 'writing' and eventually putting into practice what I was exploring and learning. This was also my first chance to seek out, converse and form friendships with designers and artists utilising the Glitch Aesthetic in their work. The highlight of it all was a long term collaboration with Ant Scott, which led to the publication of is possibly the first book showcasing contemporary Glitch Art and Design (Designing Imperfection ISBN: 0979966663) incorporating work from a multitude of international artists and designers who primarily use the Glitch Aesthetic.
Since then on a handful of occasions, I have also found myself in a position of evangelising Glitch Art or defining what can be construed as the Glitch Aesthetic. This article is a semi reflective account which tells the brief story of how I personally dealt with this topic, and summarises some key points from my early writing, it concludes by presenting briefly some of the challenges one might face if looking at the field of Glitch Art today.
How I investigated Glitch Art
I started by writing a dissertation which partly defined and examined my findings in the field of visual glitch aesthetics (http://oculasm.org/glitch ) . It was my personal conviction that discussing the glitch might make it more accessible to everyone and therefore I could create a suitable language for work which would effectively externalise the feelings and concepts I wanted to get across to my audience.
In my dissertation as well as looking at some interesting works and individuals, I addressed the following areas:
A- Definition / Classification of Glitches
I stated that Glitch Artists either synthesise glitches in digital / non digital mediums, or produce and create the environment that is required to invoke a glitch and anticipate one to happen which they then present, capture or document. In some ways, what I really wanted to do was to reach a general definition that embraces the different works and practices prevalent in the production and presentation of Glitch Artwork, in order to document and understand the field better.
The classification of Pure Glitch and the Glitch-alike was conceived in response to this necessity.
I simply proposed that Glitch-alikes are a collection of digital artefacts that resemble visual aspects of real glitches found in their original habitat.
B - Detail / Visual Definition
As early as when I started viewing other peoples glitch work, and collecting my own, I began to delineate what I thought were common visual characteristics that define the visual glitch aesthetic.
To me these were Fragmentation, Repetition, Linearity and Complexity.
As defining characteristics they were fortunately inclusive enough to cover most of the work I'd come across without being overtly specific in any way about the qualities of their host medium.
(Slides from my presentation in 2005, on Glitch Aesthetics, for Digital Arts North in Halifax, England. http://log.organised.info/downloads/halifax_talk/halifax_talk_2.htm )
C - Appreciation
I was naturally curious as to why we appreciate glitches and are drawn to them within the context of creating and consuming Glitch Art. The following list is hardly exhaustive, and alludes to some of the possible reasons behind the draw of Glitch Art. I have since seen others independently refer to some of these points as well, which makes me think there might be some consensus and concordance.
For those born in the 1980s and earlier, 'nostalgia!' Glitches remind us of a time when things worked imperfectly. They remind us of artefacts from our childhood. Quite a number of people I have spoken to over the years, express a longing for a time when our use of technology tolerated what we now class as imperfection, It seems a proportion of our memories of using consumer electronics are intertwined with accounts of waiting for things to load, intermittent crashes and interesting forms of malfunction, usually manifested visually. The ability to tinker and manipulate things manually also seems to be a quality a lot of people appreciate. A visual glitch is like a reward waiting to satisfy an inquisitive/persistent hardware, software or data manipulator who seeks it. A Glitch can turn an inherently predictable activity into an uncertain exciting, performable art.
Being able to align or put forward Glitch Art as acceptable addition to an existing historic artistic proposition/movement (i.e. Auto-destructive Art) gives Glitch Art a richer history and the artist perpetrating the alignment, affinity with that movement. This may be another reason for its appreciation and appeal.
The fragmented, splintered visual form inherent in many notable cubist masterpieces and their historic appreciation could also be legitimising and informing the appreciation of Glitch Art today.
Refining a style: I discussed how the abstract expressionists and impressionists, subtly wove imperfections within their brush strokes, and how contemporary painters such as Richter and Hays are masterfully fine tuning the photo-realistic aesthetic to include surface characteristics and sometimes imperfections of the host medium the original image was captured from. See Colorado Impression (2001) by Dan Hayes . http://www.eyestorm.com/works/detail/Dan_Hays/10377.html
Exposing an almost human trait: It seems a glitch, humanises the machine by aligning it with our own capacity to err. The machine somehow becomes less threatening when it ss vulnerable, The films of our time villianize, autonomous or complex, omnipresent and perfect computing, expressing a malevolent streak in any divinity presumed by complex machines, and the glitch disrupts that illusion.
Glitches are used in emotionally charged scenes in hollywood blockbusters in heightening a sense of peril or simply a decisive loss of communication.
A Glitch can be an object of fetish, an extension of the fetishisation of technology.
A Glitch can be a revelation, showing us the building blocks of a complex system or technology as it dismantles and malfunctions before our eyes.
Its scarcity, and short lived nature in many instances grants it a special platform. With our ever increasing drive towards signal perfection it becomes even more collectible and appreciated.
Completing the dissertation brought me me a step closer to understanding how Glitch Art, fitted in with my design experience and a much broader artistic context. Subsequently, I went on from there to create an interactive art installation entitled Neuromirror (http://transition.turbulence.org/blog/2005/05/26/neuromirror/ ) (Neuromirror.info) (http://flickr.com/photos/tags/neuromirror/ ) which sought to use the glitch as an expressive medium to convey an individual visitors' neuroses.
Minor challenges and some parting thoughts on researching Glitch Art
When I wrote my dissertation in 2004, my opening justification for the study included the bold claim there have been been very few discussions on the practice of creating or capturing visual manifestations of glitches, and to this day I'm willing to stand by that claim. On a very practical level, Glitch Art is not the most straightforward topic to research. Simply put, there aren't that many practitioners out there who have a substantial body of Glitch Art, and there certainly isn't a huge amount of critical discourse to accompany their work either. The word glitch itself is used quite frequently by news outlets to describe wide scale computer malfunctions and the practice of finding and exploiting video game glitches still occupies many thousands of hits when searching for glitch related media, especially videos. However, with the rising maturity of social networking, bookmarking and photosharing its not too difficult to find active groups dedicated to Glitch Art and individuals who keep amazing blogs marking their forays in the field of Glitch Art.
Despite being around for the better part of the last decade, you could say that visual Glitch Art could still be considered very much to be in its infancy, and as a recognised visual and conceptual genre, it remains pretty obscure and niche. At the time of writing this, it doesnt even have a dedicated wikipedia entry. Much of the work I've seen in this field deals primarily with the visual aesthetics and doesn't progress much beyond it. My personal preferences would be to see the Glitch itself as being key to an artwork. Although the aesthetic experience might contribute to a work of art in a significant way, I don't believe aesthetics alone make a memorable piece of Glitch Art.
Its also worth bearing in mind that as with any artistic field, subjectivity reigns in the discussions of glitch aesthetics too, in describing Scotts work Jonas Downey (http://half-a-world-away.com/about), explains it as an "overall body of work portrays a compelling search for beauty and art in code" for me, it was always about the mini narratives that accompanied Scotts works in the form of interesting titles. I feel the power of narrative is often underestimated and ignored too in Glitch Art.
What does encourage me however is that there are far more exceptionally talented people interested in this area than ever before and some welcome discourse is finally happening which makes for interesting reading, (Neural magazine Issue 28, winter 2007 http://www.neural.it/art/2007/12/neural_28.phtml)is an example of this growing interest, and over 700 submissions to the book also makes me think that there are people out there very passionate about exploring, using Glitches and Glitch Aesthetics in their work.
* Iman Moradi is a Senior Lecturer, in the School of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Huddersfield, England.
He is currently working on his PhD in Glitch Art.
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