glitches vs glitch art
This week I am giving a week long workshop on file formats and how to deliberately break them, to reveal and use their structures and to create new audio-visual forms out of them. Of course the question "what is a glitch" came up. How does the glitch (the accident), to which I refer a lot in the workshop, relate to this practice? I have written about the same question in the Glitch Studies Manifesto, but never posted my perspective on this problem directly on my blog. I think it is the right time to re-post the particular paragraphs from the manifesto here.
Glitch vs glitch art
The glitch is a wonderful experience of an interruption that shifts an object away from its ordinary form and discourse. For a moment I am shocked, lost and in awe, asking myself what this other utterance is, how was it created. Is it perhaps ...a glitch? But once I named it, the momentum -the glitch- is no more...
But somewhere within the destructed ruins of meaning hope exists; a triumphal sensation that there is something more than just devastation. The negative feelings make place for an intimate, personal experience of a machine (or program), a system showing its formations, inner workings and flaws. As a holistic celebration the glitch can reveal a new opportunity, a spark of creative energy that indicates that something new is about to be created.
The glitch has no solid form or state through time; it is often perceived as an unexpected and abnormal mode of operandi, a break from (one of) the many flows (of expectations) within a technological system. But as the understanding of a glitch changes when it is being named, so does the equilibrium of the (former) glitch itself: the original experience of a rupture moved passed its momentum and vanished into a realm of new conditions. The glitch has become something new and has become an ephemeral, personal experience.
As an artist, I find catharsis in disintegration, ruptures and cracks. I manipulate, bend and break any medium towards the point where it becomes something new. This is what I call glitch art. Even so, to me, the word ‘glitch’ in ‘glitch art’ means something slightly different than the term ‘glitch’.
The genre of glitch art moves like the weather; sometimes it evolves very slowly while at other times it can strike like lightning. The art works within this realm can be disturbing, provoking and horrifying. Beautifully dangerous, they can at once take all the tensions of other possible compositions away. These works stretch boundaries and generate novel modes; they break open previously sealed politics and force a catharsis of conventions, norms and believes.
Glitch art is often about relaying the membrane of the normal, to create a new protocol after shattering an earlier one. The perfect glitch shows how destruction can change into the creation of something original. Once the glitch is understood as an alternative way of representation or a new language, its tipping point has passed and the essence of its glitch-being is vanished. The glitch is no longer an art of rejection, but a shape or appearance that is recognized as a novel form (of art). Artists that work with glitch processes are therefore often hunting for the fragile equilibrium; they search for the point when a new form is born from the blazed ashes of its precursor.
Even so, glitch art is not always (or by everyone) experienced as an art of the momentum; many works have already passed their tipping point. This is because glitch art exists within different systems and can be perceived differently by the different actors within these systems (for instance the system of production and the system of reception). Not only the artist who creates the work of glitch art is responsible for the glitch. The 'foreign' input (wrongly encoded syntaxes that lead to forbidden leakages and data promiscuity), the hardware and the software (the 'channel' that shows functional? collisions) and the audience (who is in charge of the reception, the decoding) can also be responsible. All these actors are positioned within different (but sometimes overlapping) flows in which the final product can be described or recognized as glitch art. This is why an intended error can still be called glitch art and why glitch art is not always just a personal experience of shock, but also (as a genre) a metaphor for a way of expression, that depends on multiple actors.
Over time some of the glitches I made developed into personal archetypes; I feel that they have become ideal examples or models of my work. Moreover, some of the techniques I (and others) used became easily reproducible for other people, either because I explained my working process, or sometimes because of the development of a software or plugin that automatically simulated or recreated a glitching method (that then became something close to an ‘effect’). I noticed that these kinds of normalizations or standardizations happen very often. Therefore, to me, the popularization and cultivation of the avant-garde of mishaps has become predestined and unavoidable.
The procedural essence of glitch art is opposed to conservation; the shocking experience, perception and understanding of what a glitch is at one point in time, cannot be preserved to a future time. The beautiful creation of a glitch is uncanny and sublime; the artist tries to catch something that is the result of an uncertain balance, a shifting, un-catchable, unrealized utopia connected to randomness and idyllic disintegrations. The essence of glitch art is therefore best understood as a history of movement and as an attitude of destructive generativity; it is the procedural art of non con-formative, ambiguous reformations.
Nevertheless, some artists do not focus on the procedural entity of the glitch. They skip the process of creation-by-destruction and focus directly on the creation of a formally new design, either by creating a final product or by developing a new way to recreate the latest archetype. This can for instance result into a plug-in, a filter or a whole new 'glitching software'.
This form of 'conservative glitch art' focuses more on design and end products then on the procedural breaking of flows and politics. There is an obvious critique: to design a glitch means to domesticate it. When the glitch becomes domesticated, controlled by a tool, or technology (a human craft) it has lost its enchantment and has become predictable. It is no longer a break from a flow within a technology, or a method to open up the political discourse, but instead a cultivation. For many actors it is no longer a glitch, but a filter that consists of a preset and/or a default: what was once understood as a glitch has now become a new commodity.
But for some, mostly the audience on the receptive end, these designed errors are still experienced as the breaks of a flow and can therefore righteously be called glitches. They don’t know that these works are constructed via the use of a filter. Works from the genre ‘glitch art’ thus consist as an assemblage of perceptions and the understanding by multiple actors. Therefore, the products of these new filters that come to existence after (or without) the momentum of a glitch cannot be excluded from the realm of glitch art.
Even so, the utopian fantasy of 'technological democracy' or 'freedom' that glitch art is often connected to, has little to do with the colonialism of these glitch art designs and glitch filters. If there is such a thing as technological freedom, this can only be found within the procedural momentum of glitch art, -when a glitch is just about to relay a protocol.
[this text is part of the glitch manifesto and is thus a my personal reflection on the glitch vs glitch art. I published it here also because it is a very important primer to understand my research that I post on this website]