jonCates INDETERMINACY at University of Dundee, Scotland (1/2)

On Thursday November 12th 2020, i presented my work in the INDETERMINACY project of the University of Dundee, Scotland in their
THE FUTURE OF INDETERMINACY Virtual Workshops & Artists Talks:

hi yawl, this is an encounter in which we get to know each other and then we can hopefully stay in touch

today i will share with you views into my 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) Glitch Western, my series of experimental Art Films and video games, Glitch Art Games. these views into the work which i will share with you today include a few secrets and special moments that have not been widely seen before

im very happy to say that 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) has shown internationally over the last couple years and is recognized by viewers, reviewers, critics, and curators as doing decolonizing work and being a feminist project which queers as well as glitches the Western film genre

so a few questions we might begin with would be:

  • what is a Glitch Western?

the Western genre is a quintessentially American film genre. the Western film genre takes place, both literally and figuratively, inside the birth of the nationstate now known as the United States of America, especially during the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. Western films also take place, again literally and figuratively, inside the birth of Cinema itself, during the next to last turn of the century. this turn, of the 20th Century (from the 19th to the 20th), also marks the time period of The Second Industrial Revolution, or the Technological Revolution, which followed after the end of The First Industrial Revolution. similarly, this coincides with the conclusion of the ‘nation-building’ period of the United States with the so-called ‘closure of the frontier’

timelines of the birth of Cinema and the ongoing attempted genocides of Indigenous people and nations run in parallel tracks that intersect repeatedly at various points, for instance in the films:

  • Last of the Line — Jay Hunt (1914)

Kelly Lytle Hernández explains that the nationstate now known as the United States is “a nation of settlers that has formulated a set of rules and systems” which enforce and protect settler colonial imperialism and nationalist white supremacy. i grew up in and have benefited from that settler colonial culture. i am always at work to critically address this, to divest from white privilege, to listen, learn, and Indigenize practices and knowledge in my art-making, curating, writing, and teaching

my 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) project questions settler colonialism by glitching the Western film genre and taking this intention into the creation of experimental Media Art in the forms of films and games that are made from glitches and noise, pushing on boundaries of legibility and threshold states of stability. in the section of my feature film that you are about to see, a section which has not been previously released online, an archetypal lone cowgirl makes her way across America, towards a disappearing frontier. for this section, she is our main character, our guiding star, and we follow her across iconic American landscapes

Harsha Walia describes how the creation of borders are and have “always been to control mobility”. borders, in and/or between nationstates, and specifically settler colonial imperialist nationstates, serve to limit or predetermine freedom of movement. that is the purpose of borders, to demarcate, cut through, and thereby violently assert a certainty that was previously indeterminate. after their formation, borders are used by those who create them to predetermine what is possible, coding the countryside, keeping people both inside of or included within and outside of or excluded from territories, including those traditional homelands for which they have kinship

Harsha Walia further explains, as an example, that the militarized Southern border of the United States was solidified, at least partially, “in order to keep enslaved people from escaping and fleeing into México.” of course, before the captains of the industry of slavery set the Southern border, Indigenous people and nations of the continent, who have hystories in the Americas for thousands of years, faced invasion, occupation, and attempted genocides. estimates of pre-contact or pre-invasion populations for Indigenous people in the Americas are as high as 112 million in 1492. 112 million souls. after the first 150 years of the invasion and occupation of the Americas, by 1650, the combined attempted and actual genocides perpetuated by the Europeans may have claimed as many as 106 million lives. these same colonial forces also established the Atlantic slave trade during this period

so at contact, up to and throughout the colonial period in North America, during this brutal ‘nation-building’ era, and continuing today, Indigenous nations confront and survive borders being created that cut up and through their traditional homelands, mass murders, constant militarized attacks against Indigenous Sovereignty, dispossession from land, treaty violations, and forced relocations onto ever-increasingly inhospitable reservations which were first designed as open air prisons

now, given all of that, and in spite of all that, as Felicia Garcia clarifies: Indigenous peoples and nations are alive in the present, creating Indigenous futures, and continuously resisting colonization, now for over 500 years. Part I of my film, 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), begins with Siera Begaye who stars in the film as herself. Through an experimental nonfiction approach she introduces herself, detailing how she in specific and Indigenous peoples across the word are alive in the present, surviving and thriving, creating Indigenous futures. in Part II of 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), we shift focus to the industry of slavery while also introducing the main fictional character of The Cowgirl, played onscreen by Emily Mercedes Rich as The Cowgirl, and Lal Avgen as The Voice of The Cowgirl. you will now see her, The Cowgirl, in this excerpt from Part III: The Shadow of the Valley of Death

[At this point in the presentation an attendees were able to watch a previously unreleased excerpt of my first feature film, illustrated by the following screenshots.]

4 stills from Horizon Fever: a 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) affliction — jonCates (2020)

in this chapter we travelled “further West” into “Californian Ideologies” on “The Disappearing Frontier”. we witness The Cowgirl confronting the ghost town of 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), in her Virtual Reality headset as the landscape is rendered in realtime, glitching, tearing, and shearing. the ghost town of 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) is software itself, a digital mirage, a virtual reality set somewheres ‘Out West’. Evan Meaney (my friend and Lead Interactive Designer and 3D Artist for Computer Generated Environments on this project) and i collaborated to bring this ghost town to life. the ghost town of 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) is an interactive film set, made to be a filming location in my first feature film, as yawl have just seen. as we created the first skeletal ghost town we decided to develop it further and bring it to life as its own experience. the 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) Spirit Simulator, Glitch Art Game environment, is the playable companion piece to the film. now in distribution and available on itch, 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) Spirit Simulator brought together many folks in the making of this experience. Evan and i worked closely with my good friend Jake Elliott, co-creator of Kentucky Route Zero, who contributed code and advised on the project. 林愛真 Ei Jane Janet Lin consulted on our creation of a historically accurate Chinatown. Hsiao-Chen Julian Lin further consulted on historical accuracy and translations. Emily Kuehn wrangled 3D models. Paula Pinho Martins Nacif consulted on decolonizing. Pearl Marie Salas offered New Fire inspiration throughout the process. many other folks inspired, contributed, and playtested, all of whom are listed in the game’s credits.

frontiers are ever-elusive and deeply ingrained in the American imagination. frontiers are fantasies in a philosophical sense and deadly realities in material terms. as such, frontiers are often also defined by technologies. from steamboats and railroads at the turn of the 20th Century to virtual reality and simulation systems at the turn of the 21rst Century, technologies are developed and utilized to create and expand frontiers

contemporary technosocial systems are often foundationally and functionally crafted out of intense mixtures that might seem incompatible. a heterogeneous mixture of influences including:
cyberpsychedelic personal and spiritual transformation;
urgent political struggles for liberation;
military-industrial desires for control and war-profiteering;
the spectacle of mass popular forms of entertainment and distraction; expansively theoretical academic research;
and corporate / consumerist agendas
all come together in the development of computing technologies, most especially in California during the late 1960s up to and in the present moments. at different times, the space of the state now called California was and still is an epicenter for all of these forces/factors coming together.

when i use of the phrase Californian Ideologies i am directly referring to this heady mix of influences as detailed out in The Californian Ideology by Richard Barbrook And Andy Cameron, from 1995. in this essay, Barbrook and Cameron propose that (at the time of the writing, in the mid 1990s) “a mix of cybernetics, free market economics, and counter-culture libertarianism” originated in California. and that while this ideology sees itself as revolutionary it is also reactionary charting a “path of technological progress leads back to the America” of the past, the nation-building era of previous centuries. as they say in their essay: “In American folklore, the nation was built out of a wilderness by free-booting individuals — the trappers, cowboys, preachers, and settlers of the frontier. Yet this primary myth of the American republic ignores the contradiction at the heart of the American dream: that some individuals can prosper only through the suffering of others.” i take this sentiment further in 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) referring to the United States of America as harsh, violent and unforgiving, haunted by the two major unresolved traumas of the nation-building: 1. the ongoing attempted genocides of the Indigenous people and nations and 2. the industry of slavery.

so, having reached a physical limit to Westward Expansionism on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in California, Californian Ideologies propose an internalized, abstracted frontier that is increasingly totally technologized and transferred inside the mind, into the technological itself as a conceptual category, ie the frontiers of knowledge, frontiers of science, frontiers of computer simulation, frontiers of gaming, frontiers of VR, the list goes on stretching out into the the same mythic distances that the idea of frontiers are fabricated from

one of my most favorite art historians, Svetlana Boym writes on this, how cyberspace is and was constructed as frontier in her fantastic book The Future of Nostalgia — Svetlana Boym (2001). shawné michaelain holloway has also recently written on this, connecting these comparisons to my work, through 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown)

lets get into glitches…

as artist Santiago X says: “colonialism is a glitch”
artist and activist Bree Newsome Bass tweets that “the system is not broken but rather operating as designed”. She explains that the genocidal, enslaving, racist, carceral, and white supremacist settler system in the United States is functioning as it was designed to do
and, as i have said previously: Glitch Art becomes popular when we live in a Glitch Era

we regularly experience breakages of signals, transmissions, technologies and promises, such as the broken promises of technological positivism. in our technosocial times glitch thereby becomes an available material with multiple meanings and interpretations. for instance, glitches become expressive and affective shorthand for perpetual states of collapse and omnipresent sense of failures in our “glitched” or broken systems even when these systems are functioning by design, as Santiago X and Bree Newsome Bass both point out

Glitch Art is the art of surprise, a gift delivered to us from the ways in which our technological systems behave unpredictably, malfunction, and/or misbehave. Glitch artists capture and perform glitch, glitch affects, and aesthetics. part of my work in developing the field is proposing genres. a few of the more ‘successful’ of these proposals have been for a genre called ‘Dirty New Media’ which was a very useful category of art-making that i put forward before ‘Glitch Art’ was widely known as such; and another of these examples is ‘postglitch’ which i positioned as being self-reflexive or self-aware of glitch aesthetics after Glitch Art was a well known area of artistic activity. Glitch Western is an idea that im putting forward with precedents drawn from the cinematic categories of the Weird Western and the Psychedelic Western, as well as alongside other projects that could be considered Glitch Westerns, including the original Westworld feature film and the HBO television series adaptation

innovations in Glitch Art, which i have written on previously, will of course continue to be technological. Glitch Art, as an Art form, is a form of New Media Art and thereby necessarily involves ever-changing technosocial materials and is located in/on the unstable grounds of technosocial contexts. as Liz Everett indicates, new technologies (for instance, codecs) beget new glitches. old technologies have still-yet-to-be-exploited/discovered ways of glitching. all of these aspects can be found running in/on/through operating systems. OS’s change and due to this, both new and old systems will behave badly or differently, in different ways which are or will become available for glitching && Glitch Art

still, to return to my proposals in this set of considerations for
THE FUTURE OF INDETERMINACY, i believe that most importantly, we are always moving into futures together, living in and through ongoing present moments during the now-time, innovating in content && context is always already possible in Glitch Art because these materials are deeply social constructs. we are connection seeking creatures, navigating online across screentimes, more now than ever before. we are connected by and through these systems, all of which, (we) always glitch, in new ways…

[END of PART 1, which focused on my Glitch Art Film 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), the Glitch Western. PART 2 follows, which focuses on the Glitch Art Game environment: 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) Spirit Simulator] — jonCates (NOV 2020)


“Jon Cates is an internationally recognised founder in the field of Glitch Art. Cates founded festivals, open archives, and educational programmes for these artistic approaches over the last 20+ years. He created the concept of Dirty New Media Art in 2005 and defined the term postglitch in 2012. As a professor at several international New Media and Media Art Hystories programmess, Cates teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Donau-Universität Krems, Austria and NØ SCHOOL in France. He is the first full-time tenured New Media Faculty hire at School of the Art Institute where he developed the New Media Art curriculum. His programme is now one of the Best New Media Programmess, ranked top 5, in Best Fine Arts Schools. Cates is the curator of exhibitions including the acclaimed Chicago New Media exhibition and catalogue, a featured program of Art Design Chicago and Ars Electronica Festival.” — The Future of Indeterminacy: Datification, Memory, Bio-Politics at The University of Dundee, Scotland Study and Struggle 3: Deconstructing Settler Colonialism and Borders with Kelly Lytle Hernández, Nick Estes, Harsha Walia, Lorena Quiroz, and Christine Castro (moderator); hosted by Haymarket Books (2020)

Felicia Garcia, Curator of Education at the Indian Arts Research Center (Santa Fe) presenting on the “We Are All on Native Land: A Conversation about Land Acknowledgments” panel discussion hosted by the Chicago Field Museum:

Siera Begaye

Emily Mercedes Rich

Lal Avgen

Evan Meaney

Jake Elliott

Kentucky Route Zero

林愛真 Ei Jane Janet Lin

Hsiao-Chen Julian Lin

Emily Kuehn

Paula Pinho Martins Nacif

Pearl Marie Salas

鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) Spirit Simulator, the Glitch Art Game environment, now available on itch

The Californian Ideology by Richard Barbrook And Andy Cameron, 1 September 1995

The Future of Nostalgia — Svetlana Boym (2001)

shawné michaelain holloway

Santiago X

“Again, the justice system is not “broken”; it is a system that has been designed to criminalize the poor, Black and brown & to funnel them into prisons where they serve as a cheap, invisible labor force. It is a two-tiered system that applies different rules for the rich & white” — Bree Newsome Bass @BreeNewsome (Jan 29, 2019)

“I don’t believe “the system” is broken. It’s actually well-functioning & that’s the problem. It has evolved from chattel slavery into the prison industry but functions in essentially the same manner: profit is generated from human trafficking.”— Bree Newsome Bass @BreeNewsome (Jun 1, 2018)

“Again, the system is not broken. The system is slavery. Human suffering is part of the operation.” — Bree Newsome Bass @BreeNewsome (Aug 31, 2019)

“If we understand that the system is not broken but rather operating as designed, we’ll stop trying to fix what can’t be repaired and instead create a new system designed to honor human rights and liberty. “— Bree Newsome Bass @BreeNewsome (Aug 31, 2019)

“People need more education & analysis around what it means that the US was established as a nation for white settlers with an economy built on Native displacement and Black enslavement. You can’t really understand everything else w/o understanding that.” — Bree Newsome Bass @BreeNewsome (Feb 5)

“Folks think the system is broken, which reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the system oppressing them. If you think things can be solved by simply participating more in existing systems, you’re not understanding that the system itself is the issue, not your participation.” — Bree Newsome Bass @BreeNewsome (Feb 5)

The Significance of the Frontier in American History — Frederick Jackson Turner (1893), presented for the American Historical Association in Chicago during the World’s Columbian Exhibition (Chicago World’s Fair)

Innovation in Glitch Art — jonCates (2020)

We want to connect — jonCates (2018)

School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Film, Video, New Media and Animation dept; Art History, Theory and Criticism dept.

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