Salvage Yard Love

I suppose it’s cliche to say that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, but it is true.

Last weekend Bram Timmer and I decided to go take some shots in the industrial park in Lethbridge, AB when we stumbled upon this salvage yard (National Salvage) where we were permitted to roam around for a while.

There we encountered many interesting sights where bent metal of all kinds and origins arranged itself in unintended sculptures. It was texture and light that provided all the fun, so we were snapping quick to get as much in as possible.

I liked the bent metal so much that I came back on Monday to purchase one of the crushed pop-can cubes to re-purpose it as an art piece. Luckily it was cheap as all the metal is sold by the pound.

We also had a quick peek at a tire yard, which ended with the spotting of a guard dog, but we got out just fine.

The evidence is below. Hope you enjoy!

GLI.TC/H 20111 in Chicago

On November 3-6 this year, I had a chance to attend the GLI.TC/H 20111 festival in Chicago, which also had installments in Amsterdam NL on Nov 11-12, and Birmingham UK, Nov 19. This was year #2 for the gathering, and judging from its success, there are many more to come.

Here is a short trailer video from the event:

The festival is about gathering minds and bodies who make art and develop ideas inspired by glitch, error and noise. The workshops, realtime performances, lectures, panels and exhibition serve to expose the attendee to existing practices, discourse and new perspectives developing within the Glitch Art genre. Entrance is free, and there is also an online component to the event which can be accessed long after the physical gathering has dispersed.

This year’s festival was made possible through organizational efforts of Glitch veterans (can I call you that?) such as Rosa Menkman, Nick Briz, Jon SatromEvan Meany, Jon Cates, and Theodore Darst, and by the highly successful Kickstarter campaign which raised nearly double the amount of the initial goal.

The variety of work showed throughout the festival proved that Glitch does not have to be bound by the digital space, but can spawn – or be translated – inside the more tangible materials of paper, plastic, cloth and even wood. I suppose the power of this genre, community, way of thinking is how broad the application of the Glitch can be both in a personal sense and a greater perspective.

I must say, I was a huge fan of the visuals that I experienced at this event, however, the auditory stimuli were a bit harder to absorb for someone who has not been as immersed in the noise culture as the rest of the attendees.

I got a hold of two great books at or through the event – a collection of essays under the name Glitch Readerror and Rosa Menkman’s The Glitch Momentum – which I am still to read over the holidays.

Curt Cloninger. Photo by Bram Timmer.

Interviewing Rosa. Photo by Bram Timmer.

My essay submission prompted an invitation from the organizers for me to be a part of the “Scanning teh Politix in/of Glitch” panel to share my very personal perspectives on the more aggressive characteristics of the Glitch for breaking consumerist imagery from a female / feminist viewpiont. My slides and notes are posted here. Other panelists were Nick Briz and Paul Hertz. My co-panelists had some insightful thoughts and observations to share, and I’m still trying to locate their slides online, hoping they’ll be posting them eventually if they’re not already up. All i could find was this article in ArtSlant Chicago which summarizes the presentations in the context of the festival.

Here is trailer #2 with some comments from the organizers:

Setting up the panel. Photo by Bram Timmer.
Nick Briz. Photo by Bram Timmer.
Paul Hertz. Photo by Bram Timmer.
MBLabs. Photo by Bram Timmer.
Ustream. Photo by Bram Timmer.

I came to the festival from a perspective of someone who is straddling the border between conventional / mainstream art practices and Glitch Art, trying to find my way in the labyrinth of the seemingly countercultural avant-garde that eludes definite categorization because it contains so many perspectives on what the message of the Glitch should and shouldn’t be. It is mainly an open community that welcomes anyone interested in digital corruption as an outcome, process, political act, or a purely aesthetic exploration of digital destruction of the medium.

So why does ‘a breaking’ of media take place, and why is the trash of our pixel saturated visual existence being elevated to high art? Perhaps we crave to break free, as unpredictability, loss of control over the final outcome, digital decay, disruption in communication and entrancing hypnotic power of a system hiccup are essentially oppositional to what we have been conditioned to expect from our media and mainstream visual culture. Perhaps the Hero-of-a-Glitch promotes a feeling of freedom when, just for a second, it allows us to gain the perspective of someone from the outside looking in at the grand scheme of the system, while its specific workings are shrouded in mystery (or layers and layers of code abstraction).

But what happens when the Glitch experience becomes something expected within our immediate visual culture? Surely the surprise must be gone, and what remains is an approximation of the original moment.

The awakening lies at the precise moment of a real / natural Glitch experience, when the system is NOT being reinforced by the structures of production, storage and consumption of digital matter, tattooed into our psyches. This is a breaking point not only for the system itself but also for the user whose shattered expectations can now be glued together in a different arrangement. But can this point of awakening be artificially reproduced, multiplied, or immortalized in a static / moving image, since the continued exposure to the Glitch and its appropriation normalizes the event to the point when it becomes common occurrence for a community that exploits its expressive potential?

The original Glitch Awakening then gets lost behind a conscious stimulation / simulation of a Glitch, done for the sake of creating an ‘other’ experience that initializes its own system of production / consumption. But not all of us find this to be a reason for mourning.

Glitch is an agent of transition, transformation, change, transcendence through deliberate transgression of rules and laws and yet greater in its final result than the sum of its parts. The deliberately oppositional disorder of a corrupted medium has many things to say. Perhaps its appropriation and normalization within a close knit community changes the Glitch event into an agent of mutation that while it does its work, slowly loses its original identity in order to lead us somewhere else.

The break with tradition in art history often signified a reframing of visuality, when a single event or a set of circumstances allowed people to look at the fabric of their visual environments through a different set of spectacles. Perhaps there is something happening now, that is making us see the world through a screen of a broken 8-bit Mario game, just like the Futurists or the Dadaists saw through their fractured dynamic picture planes and appropriated objects and noise (respectively). Maybe its because we are more sensitive to politics, aesthetics, technology, media, consumerism, environmental issues, local cemetery or the neighbour’s cat? What brings the Glitch into the spotlight for you?

I personally believe that Glitch Art – just like the real accident it is inspired by – is not the destination but a point of transgression and transition to something that is yet to be determined in our postmodern visual language. Perhaps the movement will become extinct, or change and morph into something that will live on, or it will continue in its current state…But in the meantime lets celebrate its here.

More articles about GLI.TC/H can be found at the following links

Cool Hunting

The Creators Project

Find more GLI.TC/H photos here:

Rosa Menkman Flickr

Paul Hertz Flickr

Birmingham GLI.TC/H Flickr

While in Chicago, I couldn’t sit still. Bram and I roamed around the city, riding somewhat sketchy trains, eating fine Chicago food, and finding other interesting things along the way such as an old Polish Church with a beautiful, detailed, inside (something you don’t find in the prairies). Here are some shots:

The Cloud Gate. Photo by Bram Timmer.

See Bram’s Chicago shots on his Flickr page.

Thanks for reading!

SCANNING TEH POLITIX IN/OF GLITCH PANEL 2011 – Presentation Slides + Notes

This presentation is about introducing a different/personal perspective on the application of Glitch as a deliberate process of handling photographic imagery with portrait, fashion and advertising themes. Glitch can take on a feminist directive when it is used to corrupt biased and sexist portrayals of women in mass media.

As an an artist/photographer/graphic designer and glitcher, I consider my relationship with images and technology to be a love-hate kind of thing. My traditional artistic training in drawing and painting, and my engagement in fashion, portraiture and celebrity photography are violently crashing against my urge to glitch, corrupt and destroy the very imagery that I have been producing. It is like raising monuments to mainstream culture by day and vandalizing them by night.

I try to put myself on both sides of the equation – the mainstream and the avant garde – to get varying perspectives on the topic of visuality. Often times meaning arises when two opposing forces collide, and that is how I am hoping to learn from my explorations.

Around the time of its origin, some thought that the subjectivity of the creator, so permeating the art world, could be erased from the process of photography, but it was soon discovered that this medium – which is always handled by human hands – can be bent just like any other.

Photo manipulation – especially the severe kind that is possible with Photoshop – enables the medium of film and digital photography to turn from objective and authentic method of recording the world, into a subjective tool of persuasion. Photo manipulation has always been a dangerous practice because , in advertising for example, it fools the average viewer into believing a message that is constructed on falsified evidence.

But before this happened, the invention of photography in early 19th century created hope for employing this seemingly objective method of representation for documenting the world faithfully and authentically.

Quote from Mary Warner Marien ‘Photography and its Critics: A Cultural History’

Since seeing was equated with knowledge, and photography with seeing, from the beginning photography became the primary tool for knowledge distribution. Because this capacity of knowledge transmission in photography is still strongly apparent and in widespread use in this digitized information age, there is an impulsive, naïve, and automatic trust towards images in ‘inexperienced viewers’, who believe that what the image shows is true just because it is a photograph.

But as mentioned, the knowledge or visual information transmitted by the digital photograph is potentially tainted with false information that has been fabricated in a computer program. Digital forensics is a field that emerged as a response to that. Even though photo manipulation has been around since the very beginnings of the film photography (www.fourandsix.com), the malleable characteristics of the medium grew exponentially with the development of digital technologies.

Quote from Jacques Derrida

In this day and age when most people are unaware that space images are composited and aesthetically manipulated to look ‘normal’, or that once in a while a photojournalist is accused of digitally manipulating his images, or even that images entered into nature photo contests have been discovered to be deceitfully edited by the author, how do you trust images? The photograph has become nothing more than an image that simulates the appearance of our physical world, but contains little truth about it.

The digital medium is prone to easy manipulations yielding results that deceive the human eye with the highest degree of mimesis. People look prettier, cleaner, more symmetrical, painted with the saturated colors of youth. Products are flawless, presented in the best light, juicy, fresh, visually appealing and charged with symbols of power, sex and health in order to be desired by the consumer.

Quote from Marshal McLuhan ‘The Medium is the Massage’

Media do affect us, regardless of how in control we may feel. Both the medium and the message have an impact on our relationship with our environment and other people, although it is still up for debate which one, the medium or the message has the higher power in this. The medium definitely has a strong impact, because through digital technologies, we try to live faster, more efficiently and productively, and we isolate ourselves from others, living in the web of connections, as a single node with input and output capabilities.

The deceptive nature of the photographic medium and its extensive use in communication is largely responsible for our attitudes, biases and prejudices. Because it is capable of the most fantastic illusion, it is that much more believable.

But there is also the message, or the content, which has measurable impact on our perceptions of ourselves, the environment and other people. Perhaps we don’t want to believe that the message may affect us, even when we oppose it.

Check out the Miss Representation documentary

If you were truly in control and were capable of selecting consciously what you are and are not influenced by, then propaganda and advertising would not work, and certainly large corporations would not be spending millions of dollars on advertising campaigns.

Quote from Guy Debord ‘Society of the Spectacle’

Photographs, or images in general, serve to uphold the reigning system and secure the status quo by feeding the public manipulative messages using a manipulable medium.

With the Web being accessible in almost every household in North America, the destructive and intrusive images are available at the click of a mouse. They can have something to do with politics, consumer products, economy, entertainment, services, warnings, and other. Commercials are usually louder, and faster than the actual programming. Ads are polished, stereotypical and biased.

Quote from Jean Baudrillard ‘America’

In his apocalyptic, impressionistic writing, Baudrillard tells us that we have become zombies that soak up the visual abuse from the media. But he also says that we can’t go back, and that we should embrace the hyperreal.

Quote from Roland Barthes “The Image”, ‘The Rustle of Language’

Many 20th century French thinkers saw our visual dependency and infatuation as potentially harmful. Barthes recognizes that  our reliance on vision makes deception and fixation by visual cues destructive or ‘bad’.

The hyperreal is better than the real or the ‘authentic’ of the original, untouched photograph. However, we also want the physical we live in to resemble the fantasy/illusion we have created.

Digital surgery in an advertising photograph, leads to physical cosmetic surgery and eating disorders in many young women that are being affected by the glossy images of idealized, flawless and stereotypical female. We are creating a map (a model) on which we build a territory (the thing itself).

Quote from Jean Baudrillard ‘Simulacra and Simulation’

We think that the ideals we create digitally is what our perceived real is/should be. Some say the real is still recoverable, and some that we are past the point of no return. Our models of existence and the system have become a firm structure on which we rely. Is it possible to overturn the regime? Is it time for a Glitch Spring?

The sexualization of children, which is a theme that sometimes occurs in fashion imagery, portrayed by these French ads, and in real life, exemplified by the child beauty pageants, is a testament to the extent of our stereotypical views on how females should be, how early girls and even parents are being conditioned with this ideology, and how perverse our western culture is in danger of becoming.

Subjecting a photo of a child to digital manipulation to make her look more ‘attractive’ and ‘doll like’ is a form of visual abuse that signals the stereotypical views of the parent that the child’s worth depends on her looks.

The sincerity in some advertising photography/campaigns is only an illusion that serves to tap into a particular consumer group more effectively. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is supposed to state that the brand caters to ‘real women’,  giving as evidence an image of seemingly average sized females from multiple ethnic backgrounds.

The AXE campaigns in turn are saturated with sexist imagery that promise the male consumer the acquisition of an attractive stereotypical, model female, with the purchase of the product, as if the woman was an object that could be possessed.

But the DOVE and AXE brands are both owned by UNILEVER and both have also been airbrushed.

In this situation it doesn’t seem to matter what product I purchase – one that has been advertised in a sexist way, or one that has been falsely advertised as sensitive to the ‘real woman’. Both are deceptive.

Check:

http://www.thestar.com/article/280524

and

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/05/24/onslaught-dove-vs-axe/

As shown in the previous slide, the ultimate goal of advertising imagery – which creates pseudo needs – is to uphold the reign of the autonomous economy (capitalism). They don’t care, they just want your attention, and then your money.

DOVE and AXE.

The media presents us females with a road to power that is based on looks, and regulated by patriarchal views of beauty.

Is the media giving us what we desire, or are we being repeatedly and aggressively told what to desire? Regardless of the origin, the media’s role is in maintaining the established structures of capitalist society, where the female gender group is forced to fit into the invented male standard, and where the female face and body is used to sell products ranging from chapstic to men’s underwear. The males buy to get the portrayed female, and the females buy to become the portrayed female.

How the advertising and fashion images are made (retouched photograph) and what they contain as content (females engaging in stereotypical activities, dressed in stereotypical clothes, or flaunting stereotypical looks), serves to control the society and its expectations.

It is a method to facilitate cognitive dissonance with the ideals presented by the media, and induce spending in order to patch the gap between perceived inadequacy and the portrayed standard. Advertising is an effective, powerful way of bathing society in destructive popular ideals that drive this consumer economy.

So where does GLITCH as a deliberate process of digital destruction fit into that? Let’s start with what we know.

The Glitch described here refers to the deliberate process of introducing errors into a body of digital data that makes up an image.

The term Digital Vandalism that I am using in this situation stems from the vandalism that occurs during riots and protests. Vandalism happens as a response to the feeling that we have been cheated out of something, denied a right, or that we have been misinformed and manipulated for someone else’s gain. In the case of sexist advertising and fashion imagery, both the male and female population has been manipulated to succumb to a certain standard of appearances and attitudes that we are either encouraged to obtain or judge others by. This leads to low self esteem, and attempts at body modification and behavioral changes in order to fit in. This kind of ideological conditioning in young adults leads to misinformed personal decisions and a denial of a healthy body awareness.

In the case of glitching advertising and fashion imagery, I am destroying images that are signs of commodification of the female body and evidence of sexist conditioning of western commercial culture.

I am also using the term Digital Iconoclasm to describe this attack on the integrity of the image. Iconoclasts of the Byzantine Empire in the 8th century opposed religious imagery because they believed that to ‘represent God is to limit the infinite,’ and to assign any limits to God was clearly blasphemous. They also wanted to prevent the religious imagery itself becoming the object of worship.  The ‘lifeless’ mediums of wood and paint did not have the capacity to accurately or authentically represent the divine.

So just like Iconoclasm is about opposing false, incomplete, improper representation, a representation that was produced by a system where illusion is used to enslave the senses of the faithful followers, so do I oppose and attack the integrity of a digital photograph because of its deceptive potential, and its incapacity to represent authentic, universal and true beauty. No such concept can ever be embodied in an image. The modern consumer concept of beauty is misinformed, incomplete, subjective, sexist and superficial.

The glitch also brings out a kind of absurdity in the image, because what was once loaded with a clear commercial message and meaning, now becomes interrupted, distorted and abstracted – an absurd instead of a meaningful collection of visual elements. The communication of the harmful message becomes disrupted, the relationship to the image content changes.

The Glitch rejects the authority of the image as a source of visual propaganda who’s main goal is to sell a hyperrealistic version of the world to the consumer.

German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach said in “The Essence of Christianity”: “But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane.”

We worship the illusion of perfection instead of the authenticity of imperfection.

Few examples of ads with aggressive/sexist content.

Cubism already challenged the standardized beauty of a nude in this painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso.

By aggressing against the hyperreal fashion and advertising imagery, I perhaps also indirectly aggresses against the system that produced it – capitalism.

The fragmentation, discoloration, banding, shifting, pixellation, and displacement of the areas of a photograph engulfs the model and draws attention to itself as the subject of the new fetish/fixation.

In the traditional digital retouching techniques such as liquefying and airbrushing to produce the best aesthetic result, the interference into the image is barely noticeable if not completely undetectable. With unconventional handing of digital images such as databending and glitching, the manipulation of visual data is not bound by visual cues since the intervention is at the code level and in an application that is not meant for such an action. In this situation the interferences is amplified because it produces visible disturbances in the integrity of the image, sometimes grotesque discolorations and abstraction. This kind of editing action comes to the surface instead of trying to be invisible as in the traditional editing techniques. Glitch-compositing (merging multiple images together using their code), has no respect for the visual integrity of an image. What is desired is the unexpected, chance placement of fragments on the picture plane, that is now a surface instead of a window.

The rigid establishment of visual representation, that is governed by illusion, deception, and simulation in order to serve dominant ideological structures within society, is oppressive in nature. Glitch stands in opposition to the reign of mainstream representation and against this kind of oppression because it promotes the random, unexpected and chaotic creation of images in which the objective is to lose control that is so well exercised in mainstream commercial imagery. It rejects manufactured desires by signaling that we exist in a system that manipulates us. It is a manifestation of conscience because it points that there is a dichotomy in our world – what we label as the right and the wrong way of doing things. As I already mentioned in another blog post, Glitch is the Occupy Wallstreet of the computer system because it indicates there is something wrong in the system:

‘I have come to the conclusion, that ‘Occupy Wallstreet’ is a glitch because it is a visual manifestation – a reaction, a result – of a dysfunctional financial system.

A glitch can be a crippling breakdown of communication, preventing further function. It will not be business as usual until the computer is restarted, i.e. the economical system is redrawn. What provokes the glitch must be addressed. Until then it remains a sign of freedom, a demonstration of conscience.’

Still Glitch evades definition and categorization, and its definition remains fluid. Whatever dominant system of representation takes over in the future, it will have a Glitch that will surface and oppose, and show that to see the right, there has to be a wrong, and that the right and wrong are not always what they seem to be.

Thanks!

 

On Digital Vandalism of Virtual Mimicry

CONTEXT

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. That is also true in the digital world. The celebration of failure and destruction has never been so colorful, enthusiastic and diverse as it is in Glitch Art. The Glitch genre challenges the viewer’s relationship to the virtual realm by disturbing the intended, expected and mainstream consumption of digital content.

Glitching is about exploiting the weaknesses of the digital medium: it is about torturing it, poking it with a stick, just to see what else we can get out of it beyond of what is expected. It is about exploring the medium from the deconstructive point of view, and dissecting it along the lines of its fragile, virtual complexities. It is about taking advantage and instigating failures inside the very strict digital system for a variety of personal, aesthetic, and political purposes. It seems that some of those purposes have become increasingly commercial as well because elements of the ‘glitch’ look in its various version are now frequently used in mainstream consumer culture.

Although Glitch art is still described as an ‘emerging’ field, the density of information already existing on this topic is so great that you have to stop and think: how could there possibly be more insight to contribute? Well the answer is simple. There is as much potential contribution as there are minds willing to explore the genre, because everyone holds a unique perspective, background, and a set of skills that enables them to investigate the constantly changing and evolving field of new media technologies. As long as new file formats are created, new software is developed, and new platforms are built to make our digital existence increasingly more streamlined, there are those who want to digitally vandalize them for aesthetic purposes.

It is difficult to thoroughly discuss important aspects of the entire Glitch Art scene in a short essay because of the complexity of the field. Instead I’d like to discuss the narrower topic of digital images and bring up some of my personal discoveries on the genre at large.

Glitch Artists are all aware that code is the underlying and one of the most important formalities of the digital medium that makes Glitch Art the genre that it is. The various artificially produced (Glitch-alike) or natural disturbances (Pure-Glitch) injected into the code – whether executed via hardware or software misuses – are responsible for the seductive visual characteristics and unexpected appearances of the glitch.[1]

In general, code in various forms and contexts, has been an integral part of the image. Looking back in history we can observe that “[Images] are always ordered, coded, and styled according to conventions which develop out of the practice of each medium with its tools and processes” regardless if it is an analog one “such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, or an electronic one such as video or the computer.”[2] In the twentieth century, initiated by Derrida’s thought, various works of art and literature have been deconstructed along the lines of their code. This is now happening literally with Glitch art. However, the code here is the practical, computer-dependent digital information.

The traditional art of Classicism, Renaissance, Neo-Classicism and Realism always repressed the medium of paint to be invisible. With the development of perspective in XV century, the artwork was discussed in terms of a window onto another possible reality, a frame through which the viewer could observe a scene happening on the other side of the wall on which the painting was mounted. The artists who painted the real most accurately were the most veneered. In later centuries, however, when photography was invented, the art world took a dramatic departure from its previous practices and reacted in dynamic, colourful and sometimes eccentric ways of Impressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism and the list goes on.

Because photography could represent the real most faithfully, art was free to become something else. Art began to see the world not for what it looked like to the naked eye, but what it felt like, and for the stories it told in indirect ways. Our hunger for copying the world exactly as we see it was satisfied. Photographs took on the role of windows, however the nature of those windows was even better connected to the real than any medium before. The photographs were authentic records of a moment in time, places, people and events that happened at a specific hour, and that’s why their use as documentary information was popular. Photographs were then labeled as indexical, because they contained a ‘trace’ of what they represented – an imprint of light that reflected of the subject onto the light sensitive material.

Therefore, in some of the XIX century theories, photography was synonymous with seeing the truth. As Marien points out in her book Photography and its Critics: A Cultural History 1839-1900, the “analogy between human sight and infallible perception expressed a wish for permanence, stability, and control and implicitly challenged arbitrariness, fragmentation, and disorder.”[3] However, the trust towards photography and the celebration of its unprecedented authenticity was proven short-lived when it was discovered that it too was a malleable medium.

When Photography was re-invented in digital form in the last decade of the 20th century, it came to be as a copy of its analog ancestor. It contained, and mimicked the same characteristics that film photography had, except, it did it all with 1’s and 0’s rather than chemical agents. Even though retouching and photo manipulation was known and sometimes practiced in film photography (exemplified by the site fourandsix.com), this became infinitely more potent with the digital medium.

Photo manipulation has always been a dangerous practice because, in advertising, it fools the average viewer into believing a message that is constructed on falsified evidence. Until the US government mandates warning labels on advertising imagery that uses too much Photoshop editing, the majority of us will continue to be deceived with potentially significant psychological effects.[4] Antony Bryant and Griselda Pollock talk about truth vs. trust in digital photography in the Editors Introduction to the anthology Digital and Other Virtualities: Renegotiating the Image:

“As digitally generated image, it has no original, even while it may have,
as part of its electronic interpretation, translation, or in Rosen’s term,
mimicry, a notional referent that makes its content recognizable.
Hence in digital photography there is no longer a question of truth per
se; rather its capacities problematized trust.[…] we have now to ask
of every image: has what we are seeing a ground in historical time
and space at all? Can we trust what we see to be what it shows?”[5]

Also as indirectly inferred by the above quote, with the emergence of digital photography, Walter Benjamin’s discussion on the reproducibility of art from the 1930s is now seemingly irrelevant. While film photography’s ability to reproduce copies was seen as an event that diminished the aura of an original, now the concepts of original and copy cease to be relevant in digital imaging.[6] The more applicable term to replace the ‘original’ would be ‘source,’ but because the source can be copied in unchanged form an infinite number of times, what we have to watch for is not which image was first, but which one has been modified and differs from its source. Therefore, referring to the source image only matters when there is a process of difference taking place between the original digital image and its duplicate.

Even though film photography, and other analog media are still in existence, increasingly the production, storage, manipulation and retrieval of images is moving into the virtual domain of computing devices. “The image is now an information structure which has no physical presence in the real world.”[7] The image instead of being a tangible object has become a spectacle, or an event, made possible only through the functionality and strictness of the computer system, which visualizes the binary data when the image file is opened in an appropriate application. This event has a beginning and an end as opposed to a print that is always there.

REBELLION

At times the increasing transparency of the digital medium is a reason for mourning. With the ever-increasing resolution of TV displays, monitors, and digital camera sensors, pixels are forced into hiding as if they were shameful. New methods are constantly invented to make their presence increasingly less apparent, their distinct, abstract qualities less prevalent over the image. The pixel is condemned into invisibility, as it is forced to follow the old medium’s metaphorical window-like identity. However, there is a way to reveal what is hidden under the illusion. While the world pushes on to employ digital imaging to mimic the truth of the real world, there are those that ‘encourage’ the digital medium to break free from this slavery and instead reveal truth about itself. The collective Glitch genre has found a way to rescue the pixellated disorder, and build a community to celebrate this event as exemplified by the second installment and the expansion of the GLI.TC/H festival.

The qualities of digital images that employ deception and mass proliferation are significant invitations for deliberate glitching because they are hostile qualities that most of us want to react against. In commercial culture, advertising, and fashion, we “have become seduced by images that are signs of nothing but themselves” without a real referent, built on a formula that simulates reality-like symptoms.[8] The digital manipulation of human physicality is astonishingly widespread, as it is the cheapest and fastest method to improve any appearance. Human bodies are being turned into a distorted commodity, to be purchased as an ideal with a specific product. The hyperreal, crisp and amplified detail that characterizes advertising and fashion imagery is the kind of thing many Glitch artists vandalize. The digital photo does not even have to be airbrushed. It is the sheer potential of deception that instigates a revolutionary attitude in a Glitcher like me.

Figure 1. Subtle digital manipulation often present in advertising and fashion imagery (editing by me).

In my explorations of glitching portraiture and fashion photography I’ve explored a variety of already established effects by glitching known file formats. I have also discovered new effects through experimenting with proprietary file formats like the CR2 (Canon Raw version 2) possible because of my access to a high-end professional camera. I have broken with the ritualistic and the conventional image editing methods of cloning, patching, cropping and curve adjusting known so well to me from my practice as a photographer. During my personal and unaided discovery of corrupting file formats that I later discovered was called ‘glitching’ and ‘databending’ I have thrown myself into the unknown willingly, looking for alternative treatments of digital imagery that produced unpredictable, and visually stunning effects, and which drastically broke with the norm.

Figure 2. The same corrupted CR2 file opened in Mac Preview (left) and Adobe Photoshop (right).

During my experiments I have found myself zooming into the bent images, exploring the abstract detail that emerged from the corrupt and dysfunctional code. These details alone, singled out and framed throw back the perfect, transparent structure of the digital photograph back in time to the days of pixel art and early computer games. There are illusions of depth and layering, and juxtaposition of brilliant color, not found in the realism of the original source imagery. The metaphorical window so integral with traditional painting and now carried over to digital photography is transformed into a surface, which almost seems to have a texture, decorated by the colorful abstraction that is the Glitch.

Figure 3. Two detail panels extracted from corrupted CR2 images.
Figure 4. Magnified detail of two corrupted CR2 images.

By opening image files in TextEdit (Mac OS X) and unconventionally editing their code, I am making the editing action violently apparent, instead of concealed like in the traditional digital compositing practices. I try to shove one source image into another by copying and pasting large fragments of the automatic text-encoded information (other encoding can be specified). It is a kind of a digital collage, but from the wrong end of things. Instead of manipulating visual elements, I am manipulating what lies behind them. The images merge in unexpected ways, as the visual fragments mangle and arrange themselves in random ways, while also causing severe discolorations.

Figure 5. TIFF (left) and BMP (right) image, glitched by inserting smaller versions of the image into source image.

While we find some images aggressive, we exhibit counter aggression against them. In order to make the medium come to the surface and be noticed, it has to be broken, and its digital remains displayed. Luckily a corrupted file cannot yet fix its own damage, and so aesthetics of the wound can be freely explored. Databending and glitching effects render the death of the digital photograph aesthetically pleasurable.

Figure 6. JPG image corrupted with ‘Find & Replace’ of select textual symbols (TextEdit) and displacement of code.
 Figure 7. CR2 image corrupted with displacement of large amounts of textual symbols within the file (TextEdit).
Figure 8. CR2 image corrupted with ‘Find & Replace’ of select textual symbols (TextEdit).

But the Glitch genre was not the first one to rejoice in the discordance and destruction of the medium. Pointillism, Cubism and Mondrian’s colored grids have already been mentioned in other articles but only for their resemblance in the effects of fragmentation and pixellation to the current glitched image. Many smaller art movements from the past are known for challenging the status quo in other interesting ways. It is important to note similarities between Lettrism from mid XX century and the current Glitch genre, specifically in relation to the production process and ideology. Lettrism explored the idea of “form over content” in the deconstructive sense as well. This avant-garde art making led by Isidore Isou emerged in the 1950s emphasizing “words, letters and signs for purely visual effect, without reference to their meaning.”[9] The most important of the Lettrist practices was the group’s experiments with cinema. One example of the cinematic experimentation called Treatise on Slobber and Eternity was introduced at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival aiming to dismantle the commercial hierarchy of privileging the image over text, and breaking the transparency of narration.[10] Much of the conceptual framework for Lettrism, visibly present in the Treatise, is based on the distinction between two phases of artistic medium development – the “amplifying” phase and the “growth” phase.[11] While the amplifying phase is “characterized by the elaboration of basic formal conventions and vocabularies and the giving of expressive form to various thematic concerns,” the chiseling phase is concerned with the idea of deconstruction, where the “exhaustion with the terms of this ‘expressivity’ have set in and routine and formal stagnation are judged to have taken over.”[12] In this instance, the process leaves behind the content that it once explored thematically, and instead foregrounds “the very conventions and vocabularities of the medium itself as its subject” (the digital medium in Glitch Art is often a subject in itself as well). Martin Jay describes this well in his Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought:

“In his Esthetics of the Cinema of 1952 and elsewhere, Isou
explained that chiseling involved a direct attack on or even
deconstruction of the medium in which the work was grounded,
for example the scratching or tearing of the celluloid filmstrip.
Along with disjunctive editing, in which the sound and the image
were out of synch, and chiseling of the soundtrack, in which its
integrity was also undermined, this assault on the seeming
transparency of the image, as well as on its primacy, was designed
to break the illusion of representation it provided.”

This may not be true for all Glitch artists but perhaps the urge to databend and corrupt the medium stems from the impression that digital images have reached the height of their formal development, and the glitch is a way to reverse the stagnation and begin to deeply question the nature of digital representation. Just as the Lettrists enjoyed tearing, washing, punching holes, overexposing, underexposing, superimposing, scratching, drawing and painting over the surface of the film emulsion in order to draw attention to the formal structures of the medium at moments of film screening, so do Glitchers damage the delicate organization of the digital medium by directly and randomly manipulating image code or other means, in order to reveal a computational aesthetic as a subject in itself. These actions ultimately break with the illusionistic qualities of the medium, and reveal it as a material in itself.

Figure 9. Frame from Treatise on Slobber and Eternity by Isidore Isou, 1951.

OBSERVING AND THEORIZING

I may sound like a broken record, but there still isn’t enough academic literature on the genre of glitch. Even though it has existed in one form or another for sometime, it is still identified as a rogue form of making interesting visuals, which go against the grain of mainstream computer graphics practice.

Even though the mainstream popular culture has adopted the visible characteristics of the glitch for a variety of commercial purposes, they are often seen as imitations, riding on the wave of a trend about to pass. Glitch is employed by many movies as originally pointed out by Iman Moradi in his 2004 thesis Glitch Aesthetics. In the Matrix, the glitch is represented in the form of a repeated sequence of a cat walking down the hallway, telling Neo which world he is now in; in Amelie, the little girl disrupts the analog TV signal to take revenge on a mean neighbour while he is watching an important football game; in Fight Club, glitch like effects are used to enhance the meaning of the scene when Brad Pit states important anti-consumerist themes in the movie; Glitch is used on DVD covers, as special effects, as design elements for mainstream branding and so on. I think the fleeting trend is here to stay and the glitch culture is very much alive, and growing. In all its instances the Glitch is a sign that exists as an opposition or an alternative to the governing body of flawless digital representation. It is a rebel for the sake of being different, thinking twice, and violently reacting against what others want it to accept blindly – that our multisensory imperfect existence is being inevitably and quickly transformed into a seamless and perfect digital experience. But perfect can be really boring.

Figure 10. CR2 image corrupted with inserting fragments of code of many images into once source image (TextEdit).

There are many types of art that use the computer in conventional ways. Artists working in generative art such as Robert Hodgin and Jeffry Ventrella use the machine and a variety of programming languages to produce visually complex and “autonomous” simulations and visualizations, where the imagery displayed is inspired by natural and scientific phenomena such as chemical processes, laws of physics, movements of animals and organization of data. Here in order to simulate the real, the artist (and the computer) is trying to create a “new naturalness of the industrial object as a mirror of Nature.”[15]

While generative art is trying to make the virtual world of the computer increasingly resemble the natural human world, Glitch Art positions itself on the other side of the coin. The Glitch is there not to give the computer and it’s outputs organic qualities but to release its distinctly computational characteristics. These characteristics are based on strictness of the digital realm – if things don’t add up, then they’re broken. We only notice the nature of the machine when something goes wrong. As N. Katherine Hayles notes in her essay “Traumas of Code”:

“As the technological nonconscious expands, the sedimented
routines and habits joining human behaviour to the technological
infrastructure continue to operate mostly outside the realm of
human awareness, coming into focus as objects of conscious attention
only at moments of rapture breakdown and modifications and
extensions of the system.”[16]

The glitch distinguishes the signature of the machine from the human fingerprint. It is what still makes us notice ourselves as flesh and blood. Even though the goal of the glitch genre seems to be the fetishization and celebration of the age of technology, its purpose also lies in separating the two realms: the human and the digital. With the unstoppable, inevitable and exponential interference of technology into our lives and bodies, it is the Glitch that still prevents these two worlds from a total merger. The autograph of the machine is still recognizable, rising as a monument to technological progress and as a warning sign, shocking us awake from the hypnotic glow of the computer monitor. What happens when the errors, failures, breakdowns and digital decay disappear?

I think an important thing to note about Glitch Art is that it – unconsciously or with full awareness – attempts to break spells. These spells have many names, and exist on a variety of scales: overconfidence in our digital technology; mistaken assumption that digital files can be suitable replacements for printed materials; the illusion that digital materials can last forever; hyperrealism in photographs and advertising, where reality is easily manipulated and purposefully misrepresented; the spell of stable and reliable system of capitalism, promoted through the mass proliferation of hyperrealistic imagery, and so on. The paradox here is that although through glitching one spell is broken, another spell takes hold of the viewer – the spell of the unexpected, imperfect, colorful and random artifact. Some of the effects produced with glitching video, images and software facilitates a truly psychedelic experience with hypnotic tendencies. It can also induce nausea and soreness of the eyes, so it is not for the faint of heart or the epileptics.

In retrospect, perhaps Marshal McLuhan was right in his 1967 Medium is the Message: “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”[17] The current mass media, which is thoroughly influenced by the digital world is an environment that “work[s] us over completely.”[18] Putting it simply, you are what you eat. By consuming digital, we become digital. Although it is not yet reflected in our physicality, the digital medium definitely affects how we acquire, digest, store, and retrieve information. To go even further, perhaps the web’s hyperlinking is responsible for hyperactivity disorder – we go off on tangents all the time, trying to multitask, and instead of maintaining focus on one piece of information for an extended period of time, we often find ourselves extracting fragments of visual, auditory and tactile sensations in an erratic manner. “Media by altering the environment evoke in us unique rations of sense perceptions. The extension of any one sense alters the way we think and act – the way we perceive the world.”[19] Just like the glitched images, our psyches, by gaining the characteristics of the digital medium, are in danger of becoming fragmented, discolored, pixellated, and ghosted when the system of representation becomes corrupt. We can take our time and be humans who fully engage in our physical experience but if we don’t keep up with digital integration, we also will become like the proprietary, old formats, which can no longer be rendered by today’s newest software.

Just as the digital image has an underlying coded structure, so will we and Baudrillard’s “hyperreal”, become “produced from miniaturized cells, matrices and memory banks, models of control – and [we will] be reproduced an infinite number of times from these.”[20]

But – science fiction aside – what happens when this transformation truly does become physical? We will no longer be conscious of our atoms, as we integrate with the digital world completely. Our jiggly bits will become digital bits, and we will move through the network of connections at the speed of light. This may be eons away but it is a possibility. What if Star Trek’s teleporting device becomes common means of transporting not only goods across the globe but also people? At first as a new technology it will be vulnerable, and buggy, and until it goes through the same error cleansing as our digital content is going through today, there will be a period of time, a perfect opportunity for a rebel to attack.

We’ll know for sure that if there is ever a future captain Kirk yelling “Beam me up, Scotty!”, there will be a hardcore Glitch enthusiast waiting to databend the signal.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Iman Moradi, “Glitch Aesthetics,” (BA [Hons] Thesis, School of Design Technology, Department of Architecture, The University of Huddersfield, 2004), 8.

[2] “Computer Art,” in Encyclopedia of Computer Science (Hoboken: Wiley, 2003), http://0-www.credoreference.com.darius.uleth.ca/entry/encyccs/computer_art (accessed May 14, 2011).

[3] Mary Warner Marien, “The Origins of Photographic Discourse,” in Photography and its Critics: A Cultural History 1839-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 1997), 6.

[4] Megan Casserly, “Proposed Legislation: Warning Labels on Photoshopped Ads? “ Forbes, September 23, 2011. http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2011/09/23/proposed-legislation-warning-labels-on-photoshopped-ads/ (accessed September 24, 2011).

[5] “Editor’s Introduction,” in Digital and other virtualities: renegotiating the image, eds. Antony Bryant and Griselda Pollock (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010), 10.

[6] Lbid., 5.

[7] “Computer Art.”

[8] Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkley: University of California Press, 1993), 543-544.

[9] “Lettrism, Lettrisme”, in The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003), http://0-www.credoreference.com.darius.uleth.ca/entr/that/lettrism_lettrisme (accessed June 1 2011).

[10] Andrew V. Uroskie, “Beyond the Black Box: The Lettrist Cinema of Disjunction,” October, no. 135 (Winter 2011): 23; MIT Press Journals, March 10, 2011, http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/OCTO_a_00019 (Accessed June 1, 2011).

[11] Lbid., 25.

[12] Lbid., 25.

[13] Lbid., 25.

[14] Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought, 422.

[15] Celestino Soddu, “Generative Art,” GA2011: XIV Generative Art International Conference, 2011, http://www.generativeart.com/ (accessed June 1 2011).

[16] N. Katherine Hayles, “Traumas of Code,” in Digital and Other Virtualities: Renegotiating the Image, eds. Antony Bryant and Griselda Pollock (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010), 41.

[17] Marshal McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects (California: Gingko Press, 2001), 8.

[18] Lbid., 13, 26.

[19] Lbid., 41.

[20] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 2.

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