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Glitch art is the aestheticization of digital or analog errors, such as artifacts and other “bugs”, by either corrupting digital code/data or by physically manipulating electronic devices (for example by circuit bending).



In a technical sense a glitch is the unexpected result of a malfunction. The term is thought to derive from the German glitschig, meaning 'slippery.’ It was first recorded in English in 1962 during the American space program by John Glenn when describing problems they were having, Glenn explained, “Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical current.”[1]

Glitch is used to describe these kinds of bugs as they occur in software, video games, images, videos, audio, and any other forms of data. The term glitch came to be associated with music in the mid 90s to describe a genre of experimental/noise/electronica (see Glitch (music). Shortly after, as VJs and other visual artist like Tony (Ant) Scott began to embrace the glitch as an aesthetic of the digital age, glitch art came to refer to a whole assembly of visual arts.

In January 2002, Motherboard, a tech-art collective held a glitch symposium in Oslo, Norway, to “bring together international artists, academics and other Glitch practitioners for a short space of time to share their work and ideas with the public and with each other.”[2]

Iman Moradi, perhaps the first official glitch theorist, has written extensively on the subject of glitch art and released the book Glitch: Designing Imperfections in September 2009.

Glitch as art

Glitches are mostly a result of miscommunication or mistranslation when transferring data from one environment to another. They occur in computers due to bugs in software or hardware. In Iman Moradi’s dissertation, Glitch Aesthetics, he divides the glitch into two categories. The first is the pure glitch which is the result of a Malfunction or Error, an unpremeditated digital artifact, which may or may not have its own aesthetic merits. The second is the glitch-alike which is the result of an intentional decision on the user side. Glitch artists either synthesize glitches in non-digital mediums, or produce and create the environment that is required to invoke a glitch and anticipate one. A glitch-alike then is a collection of digital artifacts that resemble visual aspects of real glitches found in their original habitat.[1]

In his dissertation Moradi lists some common glitch characteristics: fragmentation (shifted parts or elements of the original image as well as tonal changes), replication/repetition (the visual cloning or repetition of any given part of an image), linearity (as a result of digital’s interlacing and pixel structures), complexity, (manifestation of the immense series of code beneath any piece of digital media).

Whether naturally occurring (pure glitch) or instigated (glitch-alike) there are numerous situations that may result in glitches. They can occur as a result of a scratched DVD, a corrupted stream of video on the internet or digital television, a software crash due to insufficient memory, a malfunctioning digital camera or other device. These glitches sometimes cause garbled patterns to appear on the screen. In these ways the glitch can be a found object similar to the ready-made. An artist/user/hacker can cause these situations to happen deliberately, he/she can corrupt the code of a particular digital file or even physically manipulate (intentionally malfunction) the circuits of a digital devise forcing it to glitch its output, the same way a circuit bender would with a child’s toy to create unique sounds (see circuit bending). After the occurrence of a glitch (intentionally or not) it can be presented purely, as a corrupt file to be interpreted by a computer or other digital device. Or they can be manipulated (colors can be changed [as in Tony (Ant) Scott’s work] clips can be edited) and then saved as stable files which can then be printed or burned to a DVD or other media. “The glitch aesthetic seeks to select regions of interest from this often very rich raw material input, digitally manipulate it, and produce images which are pleasing to the artist.” [3]

The genre of the glitch and its role in a conceptual framework can be considered as an art form. In its visual and practical manifestations though, glitches and glitch-alikes have a distinct medium like quality. They exist within other media but their often out of place characteristics have the capacity to convey a message and that is what makes them an effective medium, sub-medium or accompanying medium. The Glitch imagery may be unrecognizable from its source data, but the source is usually implied or can be perceived in an obvious manner in order for the glitch process to fulfill its objective existence, in particular when it comes to conveying meaning. The creation of Glitch-alike artwork doesn’t have to result in the conveyance of meaning, it can be fulfilling and satisfying as a process in itself. ... In the world of perfect telecommunication, glitches are undesirables for which countless error checking protocols exist with the sole purpose of eliminating them. In terms of representation, the ones that don’t make it into modes of audio or visual communication are merely represented as a trace log of error occurrences that could be used to eliminate further instances before they happen. This symptomatic lack of function or unwanted function in society, gives the glitch its unique status in art.[1]

Glitch history, context, and appreciation

As a signifier of data, glitch art is often so obtuse that most casual viewers would not have the technical savvy to fully understand the processes and sources of the information they are seeing. Thus, the viewer's experience with a glitch art piece involves a personal awareness of computing and technology. Some of the work requires just menial technological experience -- any child of the 80's would recognize the familiar blips and digital warps that might arise from an incorrectly-loaded Nintendo cartridge. But the aesthetic and conceptual beauty of a visualized Unix core dump (a copy of the contents of memory used by a computing process) is thrown to those who would understand it.[4]

Many comparisons can be made between the glitch’s formal aesthetics and those of the art that preceded it. At first glance, the work’s blocky, low-res aesthetics appear formally reminiscent of the most geometric of modernist abstract art, particularly the rectangular forms of de Stijl works like Mondrian’s earlier Composition pieces and some Bauhaus or Expressionist works of Klee, Rothko, and Kandinsky. These artists avoided direct visual representations of figurative reality, in favor of experiments in spontaneity, absolutes, or studies in form, color, or shape.[4] Another similar connection can be made to the cubist works of Picasso and Braque. The incorporation of chance operations/experiments by John Cage and others in their work is a philosophy shared by many glitch artists who manipulate digital files and devices sometimes at random in anticipation of the results. This tendency to experiment with the physical medium is also very similar to the approach taken by many avant-garde filmmakers like Stan Brahkage who would paint, scratch, and manipulate in countless ways the actual celluloid addressing the medium by exploiting its imperfections. A history for appreciation of imperfections can also be seen in the works of artist like Gerhard Richter, who recreates the flaws found in photographs in his paintings, as well as in Mondrian’s work which, though seemingly perfect, is marked by varying elements which disrupt this perfection. These connections to more traditional artistic mediums may account for glitch’s appreciation today.

Today’s trend of ‘perfection’ in communication reminds us less of our past when communications were ‘imperfect’ and anything that glitches brings us closer to experiencing that past. This is partly why glitches are sometimes coupled with retro aesthetics, and it may be part of the reason for their appreciation. Glitch artists who were children of the eighties and nineties may comment on this especially.[1]

Glitch artists

Conventionally when we think of digital artists one might first imagine high-end 3-D computer graphics in video games or seamlessly composited within the latest effects-heavy blockbuster. These are artists who aim to produce with this technology the hyper-realistic life-forms found in Jurassic Park, for example. The glitch artist, however, uses the computer as a tool for exploring the digital medium and its natural aesthetics as well as a tool for instigating and manipulating it. “The glitch artist assumes a role akin to that of a photographer, exploring the environment, waiting for interesting events to happen, and capturing the image before it disappears.”[3] For these artists, glitch art is an involved process that stems from an understanding of their tools: computer hardware, software, display adapters, storage media, etc.[1]

Glitching is a process of creating work that raises awareness of the means by which we communicate and ultimately exteriorize thought. It is an attempt to integrate the nebula of video with a concrete process of interpretation and injunction, thereby incorporating the properties of a medium into the narrative of its content. At very least, glitch-art functions as a reminder that the technology of digital production and information theory remains as an inexorable collaborator in all works of digital propagation and therefore should be treated as significant.[5]

Glitches and popular culture

Though glitching may often involve a complicated systemized process of file corruption or hardware manipulation there are also very simple and commonly known methods for glitching such as the “word pad glitch.” This is as simple as opening an uncompressed image file (bmp, tif) in Microsoft WordPad and clicking save. When you open the file as an image again after having saved it on WordPad the result is a glitched version of the original.[6] One form of glitching which has recently become very popular is called “Datamoshing.” Datamoshing occurs when the I-frames or key-frames of a temporally compressed video are removed, causing frames from different video sequences to bleed together. The popularity of datamoshing can be attributed to the creator of a Chairlift music video and his on-line tutorials on his particular method.[7]

These kinds of tutorials as well as interactive works like the glitch browser (by Lima, Moradi and Scott) and Corrupt (by Recyclism) in addition to online groups/communities like the Flickr Glitch Art group have all been contributing factors to the democratization of glitch as a digital art form. There are also devices (hardware) that have been known to have common glitches. The iPhone for example has a very particular glitch that occurs often when taking pictures.[8][9]

The use of the glitch aesthetic has recently begun to appear in commercial media such as advertising/television commercials (e.g., Absolut Vodka), Hollywood films (e.g., Cloverfield), and music videos such as the Kanye West video “Welcome to Heartbreak.” This particular use of the glitch has been met with some criticism. Angela Lorenz, suggests in the case of the visual glitch, marketing executives are exploiting styles they see without considering or promoting any experimentation, according to Lorenz, they “try to make themselves appear more interesting / appealing to a 'young' audience by hopping onto a certain ‘trend’”.[1]

The aesthetics of the glitch have also recently been mimicked and re-created by other means (using traditional design tools/software) and used in a more traditional art sense. Artists and designers like metaphsk and ratsi have all adopted the glitch’s look and begun to apply it to their work. There exist web tutorials that explain how to re-create the glitch aesthetic using programs like Jitter.[10] It is important to note that there is a distinction between a work which is actually corrupted (where there occurs a kind of collaboration between the computer and the glitch practitioner) and a work which adopts some of the glitch’s characteristics and achieves similar results by secondary means.

See also


External links



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