I presented GL1TCHYSTØRIES at the RENEW Media Art Histories conference in Riga Latvia and then online. This text is a slightly updated version of that presentation in which I seek to capture the spirit of the original presentation as well as provide new elements that help to further contextualize glitch histories. The RENEW Media Art Histories conference and the SAVE AS exhibition embrace the unstable arts now known as Glitch Art through the work and selection of many individuals, artists and scholars. A special thanks to Will Lockett who originally invited me to present on glitch and Glitch Art in the context of Media Art Histories as well as my fellow presenter Daniel Temkin. Furthermore, thanks to those who participated in the hyper-threaded discussion during and after the conference, specifically JODI, Martin Howse, Shu Lea Cheang, Oliver Grau, Christiane Paul, Lev Manovich, Andrew Prior and Ashley Scarlett.
Since the mid-late 1990’s, I have developed perspectives and strategies related to how we conceptualize, contextualize and express Noise and New Media Art while working at the intersections of these emerging Media Art Histories and the unstable arts now known as Glitch Art. During this time, I have worked as an artist, teacher, curator and archivist of these art forms. I am widely recognized for developing concepts, communities, discourses and curriculum in these fields. As of 2016, I organized Paris’ first Glitch Art Festival; was selected as an artist to represented the field of Glitch Art at DISRUPTION, the ISEA 2015 exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery; and continue to create new exhibitions, collaborations, projects and performances in the United States and abroad.
Starting in 2005 I created the concept of Dirty New Media Art, an internationally recognized and influential form. Since its inception, Dirty New Media gathers people at the crossroads of Digital Art, Computer Counter-Cultures, hacking/cracking cultures and the micropolitical impulses of Situationist, FLUXUS and DADA. As Michael Workman wrote in “T3ch S44vyy” for NewCity Chicago in 2005: “R4wb1t5 microfest first hit the scene on May 25 at hipster dive hangout the Mutiny, and has since branched out to include tonight’s event, held in an abandoned apartment…” Dirty New Media Art has and continues to move fluidly from dive bars to basements, alleyways to the Internet, galleries to the museum, simultaneously moving in multiple directions, bringing artists and publics together.
I have detailed the dynamic pre-glitch histories of Dirty New Media Art at the international GLI.TC/H Festivals, festivals that I have been involved in from their begining. As an organizer of, advisor to and participant in the GLI.TC/H Festivals, I have worked to extend and document lived histories as they unfold. (1) In Chicago, known as home to the ‘Chicago School of Glitch Art’ and ‘the birthplace of Dirty New Media Art’, I am a teacher of several generations of internationally recognized Glitch Artists including 2 of the primary organizers of the GLI.TC/H Festivals: Jon Satrom and Nick Briz. As explained above, I began and now continue to organize Dirty New Media Art events with Satrom who developed his Glitch Art approach while studying with me. Later Briz also came to Chicago to study with us and earned his Master’s degree in the program. Both Satrom and Briz then became colleagues, teaching in the New Media path of study which I have developed at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
I recount these stories to establish the context of my own experiences with the development of the field. I made and exhibited some of the earliest work in these categories of the unstable arts now known as Glitch Art. One such example is that in 2006, I was invited to show my work in an exhibition curated by Jake Elliott called format.fetish exhibition. This exhibition took place at Gallery1F, which was both a physical and an online exhibition space. I shared this 2-person show with Ant Scott AKA BEFLIX, another early and influential artist in the field. We individually explored our ideas in relationship to digital file formats and potential fetishes for formats. For fetishists, such as myself, this exhibition provided an early opportunity to define Dirty New Media Art as being connected to Fetish and Kink cultures through digital technologies by expressing fetishes for formats and/or their artifacts, the traces of which are well known now as constituting aspects of Glitch Art.
“Glitching such an image makes it more alluring, more seductive, but it is about seeing beauty a little differently, as if more hidden, through a veil, leaving more to the imagination.” furthermore Blicharz states that: “A lot of us think technology is sexy and mysterious, so maybe the porn that is being glitched becomes hyper-sexual by the infusion of the potential of technological fractures. We love technology when it works great, but some of us love it even more when sometimes it doesn’t. The glitch is already being fetishized and worshiped. When you combine it with the sexualized flesh, what is so enticing is the orgy of pixels instead of the porn actors beneath them.” — Marta Timmer (Blicharz) in the “glitchxxx cultures” Working Group, during the development of the 2012 GLI.TC/H Festival
To restart with a series of open questions: What is or is not glitch? What does Glitch Art include or exclude? What might we mean when we use these terms? Are boundaries of or limits to these categories possible? And, are these categories that can be clarified historically? Can we make stable historical claims or coherent historical accounts of glitch and Glitch Art? Or are incoherencies, instabilities and even resistant illogics so endemic or foundational to these forms that they literally cannot be defined, accounted for, historicized or transmitted across generations?
We must approach provisional answers to these open questions carefully and with caution because we must also acknowledge that we stand on unstable ground and shifting terrain when we discuss the unstable arts now known as Glitch Art. And yet, in order to establish a discourse and contribute to an ongoing conversation of Media Art Histories and genealogies is to take a stand on these grounds. We look back now through the Mcluhanesque rearview mirror at the present (2) as we hurtle towards Benjaminian futures and technosocial failures, (3) always already in motion, always crashing (4) and already in collapse. Where we stand is also relative to all of these momentums and movements that also in flux, flowing and often changing rapidly due to the many forces that converge on our positions. Yet, we can articulate these complexities if we take the time to do so, in order to record them with timestamps and geolocative data, charting courses through our own and shared communities’ experiences.
Rosa Menkman invited me to participate in the (Glitch) Art Genealogies exhibition at LEAP Gallery in Berlin in 2013. This explicitly Media Art historical and genealogical (Glitch) Art Genealogies exhibition was curated by Daniel Franke, John McKiernan and Rosa Menkman at LEAP, the Lab for Electronic Arts and Performance, formerly a physical gallery space near Alexanderplatz. My work was shown in the gallery in multiple ways. Several different aspects of my artistic, educational and archival/preservationist work were exhibited. Most directly, my work as an artist was shown via a video version of my experimental lecture ᶀƦ⟲Ⱪ3ᥒ ⟒Ɍ3𐆖𐆖𐆖⟳ⱤĐƵ (AKA: Broken Records: Hystories Of Noise && Dirty New Media). My original scholarship/research and archival/preservationist work was separately included via an installation of General Motors by Phil Morton. I actively archive and preserve the work of Phil Morton, having founded the Phil Morton Memorial Research Archive in 2007 at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and am responsible for this artwork becoming known to current generations. (5) A third and related way that my work appears in this exhibition is as a curator and educator. My friend, colleague and former student Nick Briz also exhibited in (Glitch) Art Genealogies. He showed a project called Apple Computers, a remix and rework of Morton’s General Motors which I commissioned him to create for an exhibition I curated called REMIX-IT-RIGHT. I invited artists to reimagine and interpret projects from the Phil Morton archive for REMIX-IT-RIGHT: Rediscoveries in the Phil Morton Archive at the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of Conversations At The Edge series and with the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference. As previously noted, Briz came to The School to continue to develop his Glitch Art approaches, studying with me in his degree program while refining and expanding these approaches and advising with me while initiating the first GLI.TC/H Festival.
In keeping with the discourse of the field, the (Glitch) Art Genealogies exhibition was positioned as subjective and intergenerational of different communities rather than as being monolithic, necessarily causal or as an attempt to encompass a comprehensive historical overview. To reassert the complexities of taking historical and genealogical, I will step back almost a decade earlier to 2004. Iman Moradi’s 2004 thesis Glitch Aesthetics was and continues to be a widely distributed and read, influential and often cited source in our shared glitch and Glitch Art discourses. As Moradi wrote twelve years ago:
“Pure Glitch Is the result of a Malfunction or Error.
There is a great deal of scope in the discussion of what can be classed as a Glitch. Primarily, in a theoretical, scientific and non-art sense, a glitch is assumed to be the unexpected result of a malfunction. The word glitch was first recorded in English in 1962, during the American space programme, namely in the writings of John Glenn where it was used to “describe the problems” they were having. Glenn then gives the technical sense of the word the astronauts had adopted: “Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical current.” (John Glenn, cited in American Heritage Dictionary 4th Ed (2000) )”
As all of the above illustrates, many claims are staked in the unstable grounds of the unstable arts now known as Glitch Art in order to stage Media Art Histories of glitch. These theorypractices call into question their constructedness. And while we navigate these complex dataflows and overlapping paths, we ask: Can multiple and parallel Media Art Histories of glitch and Glitch Art coexist openly and/or do these instabilities represent glitches in histories themselves? Perhaps, although digital, these projects need not be philosophically binary. In other words: How can we articulate, engage and represent unexpected malfunctions in historical projects, mobilizing critiques of those projects, without collapsing those critiques into either/or oppositions? And why would we be motivated or urgently compelled to do so?
Being from the nation-state known as United States of America, I come from a broken empire, a fallen empire delusionally attached to arrogant fantasies of past primacy and false assumptions of moral supremacy on the world stage. I believe that glitches have become a shorthand for those of us who live in a perpetual state of diffused and dispersed brokenness. Glitches, glitch aesthetic and Glitch Art have risen in popularity and ubiquity since the early 2000’s (at least partially) in this context of the collapse of the fallen American empire. From 2001 to the present, this emergence and rise (in the United States at least) parallels other American collapses and crashes. The disputed events of 9/11 in 2001, the falsehoods that followed and were distributed as the basis for American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the exploitative and predatory business practices that caused the “bursting” of the so-called “housing bubble” in 2004, and the global financial crisis of 2008 triggered by United States’ corporate politics, banks and financial systems are a few recent chains of events that converge to establish an omnipresent sense of collapse, failure and “glitched” or broken systems.
In this glitch era we also more broadly and basically experience specific kinds of breakage based on broken promises of Modernism. Promises of technological positivism break under the weight of harsh realities. These realities contrast ambitious ideas of endless utopic improvements to life in technological times. An (often American) dream of technological progress (such as the Californian Ideology) leading every subsequent generation beyond the apex of the previous generation’s achievements, following an ever-upward pointing arrow into better and brighter futures falters and fails in the clear light of people’s actual experiences and the harness of their existences. The failures of Modernism and technological positivism are well-known aspects of contemporary life from the philosophical perspectives of Postmodernism to the socio-economic and political actualities of post-Fordist approaches, Global Hypercapitalist Corporatism and the allies of Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism.
From a broader, even spiritual view, we humans live in a broken world, a technologized world of our own making. The technological is a socially constructed set of ideas and realizations of material power. Technology shifts and changes shape over time. Our understandings of ourselves, glitches, and nature are fundamentally informed and affected by these changes. In the field of Art, these contemporary changes are addressed specifically by Digital Art through these technologies and in technological times. This is the potential of Media Art, as Oliver Grau suggests, to be and express the legitimate art of our time.
Technologies are engines of instability that radically reconfigure the landscapes in literal and figurative senses. Technologies also change rapidly. The turn of the last Century, from the late 20th Century to the 21rst Century involved rapid and now permanent reconfigurations of the possible. Upcoming changes in technologies, especially those at the intersections of what we define as being at the borders of the technological and/or the natural, will most likely involve even more profound changes and challenges. This context is both technological and social, therefore, is referred to as technosocial. The technological is socially constructed as a set of ideas and realizations of material power. These ideas are made real, in the world, reified as technologies that remain social and continue to shape the world in a complex and ongoing process. As already stated, these processes deeply inform, influence and affect our understandings of ourselves, technologies our/their (intersecting) potentials. These processes also create new instabilities.
Technologies inherently include and/or produce glitches in the ways in which they function and/or malfunction. How we interact with technologies, our expectations of them and their parameters or purposes produce glitches. Our relationships with technologies are based as much on apparent technological failures as on desires for smooth seamless successes. Utilities or instrumentalities define technologies but from the perspective I am describing technologies and our complex technosocial relationships are also defined by misbehave, break or exceed boundaries. In this way, the technosocial is defined by glitches and consequently by Glitch Art.
Glitch Art emerges from all of these potentialities. Keep in mind that glitches, the ways in which technosocial systems break or behave unexpectedly, are also inescapable facts of life. The often unwanted surprises of glitch are what those working in Noise, New Media and Glitch Art may be desiring, seeking out and setting up. Provoking, encoding and/or capturing these glitches is also often the domain of Glitch as an Art. Daniel Temkin illustrates the complications and complexities of this situation in his contributions to this discussion.
The unstable arts now known as Glitch Art or the intersections of Noise and New Media are received when conditions are set to anticipate these art forms. I have proposed various ways in which cultures are prepared for glitch histories. I have also written elsewhere on adjacent and overlapping artistic fields and histories such as the historical and genealogical lineages of Experimental Media Arts, the artistic and musical traditions such as Musique concrète and the Art histories of Futurism, DADA, Surrealism, FLUXUS and the Situationist International. All of these contribute in their own and intermingled ways to set the stage for the development and receptivity of glitch and Glitch Art.
In particular, Experimental Media Arts (through the interrelated fields of Photography, Film, Video, New Media and Animation) carry forms of technological enframing with technosocial specificities. The transition from analog to digital corresponds with glitch histories. Analog and digital formats inflect photographs, cinema, television and digital media with very specific and idiosyncratic traces that artists have always utilized, formal aspects that artists often focus attention on or through. These traces can be artistically exploited, expanded or extended. The traces themselves include: grain, flickr, dirt, dust, scratches, hair, loose gates, tears, melting, burning, chemical damage or deterioration, static, dropout, generational loss, mistracking, time base errors, misencodings, memory leaks, display card malfunctions, shearing, tearing, incomplete renders, buffer overflows, missing keyframes, miscalculations, systems crashes, hardware failures, clipping, …etc. These example traces can also be considered causes that may operate alone or together. Overall, these influencing factors become seeds of glitch and Glitch Art.
Together, these interferences also constitute Noise. In the classic sense Cybernetics and/or Information Theory, Noise is interference in signal transmissions including communications between humans and machines and now between machines and machines as well as the larger patterns of how all of these systems interact. In this traditional definition, noise is unwanted and to be avoided, reduced or eliminated. In glitch and Glitch Art, the opposite is true: Noise is desired and embraced.
What becomes of us when we desire noise? We set up a contrast or alternative to privileging seemingly legible signals and/or traditional narrative coherency as forms of meaning and information. We question what is intended and what is accidental. We question truth claims through glitches and Glitch Art. And we may embrace further forms of expanded instabilities in extended cultural and creative spaces.
Many of us active in developing glitch histories met online in massively distributed international communities facilitated by the Internet and the Web. We organize around ethics of sharing. Glitch strategies and projects were and are shared in free and open exchanges online. Through this sharing, communities form and arts theorypractices emerge. In the the early 2000’s many of us were active on an email list called databenders. The databenders Yahoo Group (from 2001 to present) is based on, as the description states: “Sound Synthesis using Raw Data. Also including discussions of cd-bending, data-to-image, image-to-sound and other related techniques”. This community was and is committed to skillshares, the self-directed learning and experimentation that is key to the unstable arts now known as Glitch Art. The artist and musician known as stAllio (Benjamin Berg) is a particularly prolific contributor to this community. Widely recognized as a key figure, stAllio shares glitch and Glitch Art tutorials, a powerful and popular form mobilizing an inclusive welcome to those interested in learning glitch and Glitch Art concepts, aesthetics and techniques.
This example of databenders points towards a future of this GL1TCHYSTØRIES project and my proposal for areas of continued study, research and combined writing along continuums of pre-glitch, glitch and post-glitch. Local glitch histories from specific locations are needed. The field of Media Art Histories needs accounts such as these from sites such as Amsterdam, Chicago and Mexico City. My own contributions are intended to subjectively address both Chicago-specific and internationally networked glitch histories. Non-local communities enabled by digital networks, social media and the web are also needed. Specific historical analysis is needed to reflect on the impacts and processes of communities such as listservs (i.e. — — — __ K F 0 R \\ — — — — — — — — — — — -), groups (i.e. the aforementioned databenders Yahoo Group and Glitch Art groups on Flickr), social media (i.e. the many and diverse Glitch Art communities on Facebook) as well as through the lens of particular online actors such as Netochka Nezvanova, the most important artist of the turn of the 21rst Century. These accounts should be combined with reports from the many exhibitions, events and conferences which have occurred with notable examples including the Sonic Acts series, crash (London), GLI.TC/H and many many more the world over. Compiling, combining and commingling all of these and other/more perspectives will facilitate further GL1TCHYSTØRIES, as I attempt here. (10)
- ᶀƦ⟲Ⱪ3ᥒ ⟒Ɍ3𐆖𐆖𐆖⟳ⱤĐƵ (AKA: Broken Records: Hystories Of Noise && Dirty New Media) — jonCates (2011), as published in The GLI.TC/H READER[ROR], Unsorted Books (Tokyo, Japan)
- “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” Marshall McLuhan from The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (1967)
- “This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” — Walter Benjamin from his 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History”
- “Crash is also all about uncertainty… Crash exposes a vast range of social, political and computational issues at the same time as itself acting or signifying exposure. Crash can readily be seen as the exposure of the programmable and machinic in that what perhaps was not necessarily viewed as a machine or as coded is now revealed as such.” — Martin Howse (of ap/xxxxx) from: Always Crashing — Martin Howse (2005)
- Phil Morton’s 1976 General Motors is his most well known and epic work of art which is described as a masterpiece by Dan Sandin. Prior to my archiving, transcoding and release of General Motors, this work was largely unavailable, unknown to current Media Artists and scholars, and only officially distributed as a 10 minute excerpt of the over hour long program. My efforts to archive, preserve and distribute this work have now brought renewed attention and excitement to this and many others of Morton’s individual and collaborative projects.
- Oliver Grau’s Contemporary (Media) Arts & the Humanities in our Democracies as presented at RENEW Media Art Histories 2013 Conference, Riga, October 8–11, 2013
- “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us” — Father John Culkin, SJ, Professor of Communication at Fordham University (1967, March 18)
- I write further on these topics in my essay PØST-GL!TȻH — jonCates (2014) for NOOART, The Journal of Objectless Art
- Glitch & & Human/Computer Interaction — Daniel Temkin (2014) http://nooart.org/post/73353953758/temkin-glitchhumancomputerinteraction