Breaking The Spell – Exhibition

On April 9, 2011, my first MFA exhibition opened at the Penny Building, downtown Lethbridge, showcasing the progress and the work I have done in regards to my Master’s research. The theme of the exhibition centered around the corruption of digital image files, and the unexpected effects that chaotic interruptions, and mishandling of the code had on the look of the image itself. I also presented a video projection of corrupted digital TV signal on various channels, which I was lucky enough to stumble upon and record two weeks prior to the exhibition. The exhibition also contained a looping soundtrack of an 8.5 hour recording of a text-to-speech recording of an ASCII art image which was produced using one of the free online ASCII art generators. Since I can’t upload an 8.5 hour file to YouTube or anywhere else, I may present a sample here at a later date.

Here is a recap video of the entire event:

Here are some shots from how it all went:

Here is the actual work that was shown at the exhibition. First is the video piece that was projected on the wall:

Exhibition Images:

One of the exhibited images included a display of the ASCII symbols from a single JPEG file, 4 by 6 inches in size, and 300dpi in resolution. Of course that JPEG image was not shown, but in it’s place I have put up 5.5 panels, each 4 by 6 feet in size, with a 9.5 point Monaco  typeface. I had to break down these panels into 11 by 17 inch pieces to print them affordably and store them easily. It was titled: ‘A Sultry Blonde in a Red Dress Touching Her Lips Seductively.’


Other work included corrupted images of various types. Below are Canon Raw v. 2 (CR2) files, and their details.







Some images were compared for differences. The ASCII (.txt) versions of the JPEG image below, and its non-distorted companion are deemed identical by Text Wrangler software (Mac OS X).

Below is a corrupted CR2 file which has two different visual interpretations (First in Photoshop, then in Preview; Mac OS X).

The BMP image below was corrupted by inserting a short exerpt from a book, and single words in random spots in the code of the file displayed in TextEdit (Mac OS X).

One of the driving thoughts in my work is the notion that we learn what things are made of by observing how they break. The digital medium is of special interest to me, as our visual and auditory world is saturated with the virtuality of computing devices. The digital medium is governed by strict rules of the code, and therefore it is very vulnerable to any chaotic and illogical changes, which may cause it to malfunction.

My process is focused on using a combination of randomized and systematic methods of exploration. By opening an image file with a text editing software, which encodes the binary data as a set of symbols from the ASCII table, I am able to engage in non-visual editing and manipulation of pictorial data, preventing my mimetic impulses from gaining control over the editing process. I subject the seemingly ‘gibberish’ code to actions of displacement and copying within the body of the document, inserting foreign elements such as plain sentences in the form of quotes, replacing a symbol of one type to another, and combining multiple images together by fusing ASCII chunks from several files.

With a careful enough approach, I am able to produce files that are still readable by image software, yet visibly disturbed in their rendering. The aesthetic results may differ depending on how different software attempts to construct a meaningful visualization from the remaining corrupted information. This process reinforces the fact that a computer image is just a matrix of digital information, that is vulnerable to all kinds of interference.

In general terms, this collective body of work aims to free the digital form from the domain of realistic representation. In the final product I am deliberately attempting to interrupt the illusionary connection that is formed between the viewer and the image by breaking the mimesis of a digital photograph, and shifting the focus to exposing the elemental parts of the medium, which consists of numerical data.

In response to the above actions, the portrait loses its connection with realistic representation, and becomes a colorful composition of banded digital artifacts or ‘glitches’. Here the picture is no longer a window, but a surface. The medium engulfs the subject, and becomes the focus of the overall composition. Strangely the corrupted or misinterpreted digital data enables the liberation of the abstract machine aesthetic and allows the audience to see the image for what it essentially is: abstract set of information made to simulate visible reality.


4 thoughts on “Breaking The Spell – Exhibition

  1. Great work!
    The story about those two images being recognized as identical by text wrangler software is really interesting. Can you elaborate a bit? I don’t know text wrangling.

  2. Hey Knighten,

    Text Wrangler is just a simple text editor for Mac OS X, where you can edit HTML and plain text, write a program and compare different files for differences.

    What I did is I took an image, and edited it heavily in Photoshop, fixed imperfections, airbrushed it and saved the edit. Then I took this image and its unedited original version and converted them both to ‘.txt’ format instead of keeping them in the ‘.jpg.’ I opened both files in Text Wrangler and asked the program to show me differences between them (they were now shown in their ASCII ‘gibberish’ code).

    Text Wrangler showed me lines where the symbols and characters were different and offered an option to ‘even out’ the differences between these two files. Therefore, I applied all the differences from the original unedited image to the edited one to make it identical with the original. However when these two resulting text file were then again converted back to their ‘.jpg’ format, the two files looked significantly different with one being ‘glitched’ even though it’s text version was identical with the original image.

    I found it really interesting!

  3. Hi Marta,

    Thanks a lot for sharing these photos and videos. I found your MFA exhibit fascinating. Makes me want to blog about your exhibit a little. Very creative stuff.

    Also got me thinking and into a creative mood re your “‘A Sultry Blonde in a Red Dress Touching Her Lips Seductively” piece. May be I can fulfill my hidden desire to be an “abstract” artist after all, will see about that. If it pans out, may be something to brag to my abstract artist friend Christine Cheung about. That will be cool.

    Keep up the good work,

  4. Pingback: Reflecting on Marta Blicharz’s Exhibition – Self-Referenced Abstract Art « Kempton – ideas Revolutionary

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