Glitch as an aesthetic signifier of technological presence dates back at least to the 1980s. Look at The Vaught-Kampf machine in Blade Runner (1982) or the titular character in Max Headroom (1985). The use of Glitch as an artistic aesthetic in itself has accelerated with the democratization of newer technologies that make older glitch-prone technology obsolete. When a technology becomes redundant, its previous technical inefficiencies become available for aesthetic recuperation and appreciation.
The hiss and crackle of vinyl records, to be ignored or reduced as far as possible by the mid-20th century audiophile, became signifiers of historical authenticity in 1990s Trip Hop. The lens flare, light seepage and colour shift of cheap mass-produced chemical film-based cameras have been turned from annoyances to fetishes with Lomography (experimental analogue film photography) and Instagram. And the glitches of poor video connections or corrupted floppy disks have followed a similar path in Glitch art.
This is a process of ironisation. Irony changes or inverts content without altering form. Meaning is introduced into systems by ironising non-signifying forms. It is modified and modulated by further ironising those forms. The glitches that once frustrated media professionals and home users of electronic media are ironised into aesthetic form in Glitch Art.
Glitch Art sits in the historical tradition of process art and chance art. Automatism and chance acts in Dada, Surrealism, Situationism and the Oulipo, and Scatter art. Generative and algorithmic art. Action painting provides the useful concept of “all-over composition” as a way of avoiding a requirement of specific, localisable intent in aesthetically, evaluating an image.
Glitch art also sits in the historical traditions of remix art, detournement and décollage. The knowledge that the image has been altered is key to its aesthetic reception. It’s tempting to talk about the creative destruction of capitalism and to damn Glitch as neoliberal apologia, but that’s too easy and would leave the speaker too comfortable. It is also very tempting to try and place Glitch Art within the traditions of anti-aesthetics or of nominalistic/found art, or to compare the use of image corruption to artistic outsourcing or crowdsourcing in terms of artistic abrogation of authorship. But Glitch is at least curated by the artist, and its generation requires an engagement with the specificities of digital media that they are not supposed to have. The Glitch artist is artisan, not manager, and Glitch Art is sublime, not ordeal.
Panofsky’s extension of the idea of symbolic form to perspective can be applied to Glitch as form. Glitch is effect (a body of effects) that generates *critical* form. The patterns of noise or confounding signals that result from analog or digital image corruption and the effects on displaced sections of the corrupted image are form, presented for positive aesthetic evaluation rather than removed to avoid negative technical evaluation. This complicates Shannon’s diagram of information transmission. Noise is ironised into signal.
The smooth running of inhuman systems is disquieting. Glitch reasserts their materiality. To the extent that it did so to generalise specific failings to a general system in order to make them appear fallible and human this would be kitsch. To the extent that it did so to remind us of older technology, it would be Cory Arcangel-style leveraged nostalgia. And to the extent that it generationally positioned itself against the previous generation’s perception of value in its own culture would be adolescent, social positioning.
Glitch art avoids these failings by producing tension and contradiction rather than jouissance and confirmation. It is disquieting in a way that disturbs the new without allowing a return to an idealized earlier social and aesthetic order, and it is aesthetically creative in a way that does not hide the destruction involved.
The 8 and 16-bit console software beloved by some Glitch artists is comprehensible to them and to their audiences in a way that 64-bit cloud-based network software is not. The former is therefore a useful artistic proxy for the latter. Defamiliarising the one familiarises the other, and provides a way in to critique its unseen operation through visible means.
Art makes invisible order tractable by making it visible. Glitch aesthetics are all-over irruptions of the hidden technological order that reveal its operation through its failure. They assert not a reactionary nostalgia but a potential challenge to closure. Engaging with Glitch aesthetics allows us to exercise and develop our regard in a way that increases our fit to the smooth operation and to the catastrophes and contradictions of our post-digital environment.
The text of this review is licenced under the Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 Licence.
Don’t forget the Glitch Moment/ums exhibition at Furtherfield
Curated by Rosa Menkman & Furtherfield.
Opening Event: Saturday 8 June 2013, 2-5pm
with Glitch Performance by Antonio Roberts at 3pm