jonCates, people say…

34 min readFeb 20, 2022
林愛真 (Ei Jane Janet Lin) as 來自金山的女孩 (The Girl from Gold Mountain) in 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown)

“the most rootinest tootinest cowboy in web3” — desultor (2024)

“jonCates is an honorable man and I very much admire him. Not something you see much in the web3 space or the World.” — TEXADELIC (2024)

“Artist jonCates is an acclaimed Glitch Art pioneer who has established festivals, archives, and educational programs over two decades.” — INA VARE, curator of the HITCH SWITCHERS exhibition featuring goldMountain, a rare Bergfilme fragment (2023)

“Of course, you can start combining the rendering artifacts of one technology — the pixel — with the hallucination capabilities of other technologies — the neural network. Jon Cates, a pioneer in the glitch field, has recently been creating these gorgeous Westerns, reminding me of the reality-melting narrative of the Dark Tower series.” — Lex Sokolin (2023)

“jonCates is an experimental artist and glitch media master, who uses writings, digital images, films, games, and even colloquial grammar to draw the viewer into his glitch Western universe. His game, 鬼鎮 Ghosttown Spirit Simulator, contains elements of both East and West, but let’s skip all that: this simulation is CREEPY AS HELL, and jon uses disjointed visual effects and location-based audio to make it deliciously disturbing. jon creates the type of art that gives me chills. He has found a way to re-imagine the Wild West with a unique and colorful glitch aesthetic and revive an emotional connection to this period of time while exploring new themes and questioning old beliefs.” — Bayneko (October 13, 2022)

“jonCates, he describes this AI work as “The Artificially Illustrated Glitch Western Primer for Machine Learnerrs,” and it’s part of a much broader project of creating the first “Glitch Western” based on historical narratives of Black and Chinese people in the West. Most of this project isn’t AI-based imagery, but lovingly crafted video and game art.
Some may not know this, but jonCates was big on Tumblr before the purge of 2018. He’s an og glitch artist and his “Dirty New Media” tumblr was a veritable museum of lewd glitch arts. I remember being so proud when my boo’s glitched bootie ended up on that page. The site was a treasure. Sadly though, Tumblr deleted all record of the Dirty New Media blog as well as jonCates’ tumblr of personal work. All f_cking gone forever. This is the real tragedy of censorship and forgetting. A whole culture lost.” — Sabato (2022)

“New Media artist jonCates’s 2019 film “Ghosttown” re-imagines the Web’s frontier as a purgatory-like dreamspace metaphor offering one vision of how we can begin “connecting yesterday’s traumas and technologies to those of today.” Using classic Western film tropes like “the showdown” as guideposts, Cates discusses reparations, first contacts, nostalgia, and ghostly transitions through a stark, rough and bitcrushed, black-and-white moving image composition.”

“Jon Cates considers “postglitch” as the conscious use of glitch as aesthetic genre in the aftermath of the original glitch accident writ large… Cates (2014) highlights the glitch potential for the “perversion of normative messages or what we might perceive to be logical reasoning” — that is, the glitch aesthetic undermines, renders transparent, or even inverts rhetorics and ideologies by remixing and remediating — and thus reinventing — given compositions of everyday pop culture garbage.”
“Everything is (not so) Terrible! Heuristic Glitchicism as a Method for Electrate (Re)composing.” — Dr. Scott Sundvall, Computers and Composition (2020)

“Glitch Art
The glitch art genre is marked by garish, noisy colors. It emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s through the works of people like Jon Cates, Rosa Menkman, Paul B. Davis, and Takeshi Murata, and, as I argue in chapter 2, bears strong links to the avant-garde. For this generation of artists and media makers, computer glitches provide the fodder for a new style of art-making.”
High-Tech Trash — Carolyn L. Kane (2019)

“The aesthetics of error have become an aesthetic form of their own, sometimes unconnected to any pure glitch or glitch-alike source, as seen in the works and general communication of artists such as Rosa Menkman, Jon Cates, and also pioneering Dutch glitch web artists, Jodi.”
Glitching the Fabric: Strategies of new media art applied to the codes of knitting and weaving — David N.G. McCallum (2018)

Emily Mercedes Rich as The Cowgirl in jonCates’ 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown)

“Experimenting with forms of openness by focusing on collectively shared experiences, Chicago-based new media/glitch artist jonCates identifies the inextricable tangle of humans, their many systems, and the many systems they reside within.”
Blue \x80 Glitch Art exhibition — curators Kaspar Ravel & Zoe Stawska (2018)

“jonCates manipulates electronic equipment that produces effects fluctuating between chaos and order. He constructs multimedia performances that reference current DJ and VJ culture but also pays homage to earlier Cage works such as Water Walk (1959) and Variations VII (l 966). Cates references Cage’s influence not only in the profusion of equipment he manipulates but also in his intention of creating a meditative experience through noise abundance. In his ERRORRUNNINGWWWATERNOISES (2012), Cates creates a droning audio feedback loop on a sound mixer and tends to stacks of audio-visual equipment as he is recorded by a black-and-white security camera feed. The quality of the droning sound and his poetic monologue delivery into a feedback-prone microphone also evoke Cage in their meditative quality, his voice fading in and out of the feedback. But the work also constitutes a significant update of Cage for the digital era…
Cates recognises that to reflect digital data flows, contemporary performances have to reflect immediacy, functioning as real-time processes. This focus on immediacy replicates the acceleration of technological adoption so embedded into neoliberal capitalist markets; glitch and Dirty New Media communities are nothing if not cognisant of how aesthetic is so quickly reified and reinscribed into these dominant market systems. As the glitch aesthetic has rapidly appeared on Adidas’s shoe designs and Speedo board shorts, glitch artists continue to produce work critiquing these systems. In tandem with the M0N3Y AS AN 3RRROR exhibition curated by Vasily Zaitsev, jonCates sold bodycon one-pieces with glitched prints to explore ‘why … Glitch Art [became] profitable and for whom’ and how this ‘expanded concept of glitch, can still functions as radical performance. While so much of glitch is identified through the aesthetics of digital error-broken pixels, lossy and jagged media, dissonant noise-the movement fundamentally disrupts media in an effort to reflect disruption of the more fundamental, hegemonic systems that produce, and are reproduced by, technological convention.”
Dirty Your Media — Tiffany Funk, in The Aesthetics of Necropolitics,
edited by Natasha Lushetich (2018)

“Jon Cates points out that the conceptual practices of first museum shooters are comprised of appropriating a game engine to simulate an existing museum space while recontextualizing gameplay by leaving the game’s mechanics and rules intact and employing them within this constructed museum environment. Furthermore, the first museum shooter engages with issues of violence relevant to first-person shooters and reconstitutes such violence as a feature of institutional critique. In other words, by allowing participants to destroy copies of artworks within a simulated museum, the genre pushes back against institutional power; namely, the ways in which the museum dictates aesthetic experience and knowledge in deciding what works and artists are exhibited. Through the interactivity of the genre, institutional power is decentered and rematerialized in the player as art critic who judges which works are salvaged and which get demolished among the carnage…
In ArsDoom, apperception is realized in emergent forms of publicity organized around the interactivity of the mod (both within actual space and networked play) as a commodity of late capitalism and more traditional forms of publicity realized through the installation’s physical display within the Brucknerhaus. As Jon Cates points out, ArsDoom was a conceptual experiment in deliberately rupturing the values of Ars Electronica. Critics observed that participants were enthralled with the opportunity to shoot the image of Peter Weibel, director of the festival. To Cates, the publics’ desire to destroy Weibel’s image foregrounds “the carnivalesque inversion of the social order or hierarchical power structures of the festival.”
That is to say, allowing festival goers to destroy Weibel, the artworks, and caricatures of the other artists, gestures toward a unique re-materialization of institutional power onto the public through an interactive medium. Within these mimetic engagements of figurative violence, the player armed with bullet-firing cross, takes on the roles of critic, curator, and director.”
Unstable Aesthetics: The Game Engine and Art Modifications — Edwin Lloyd Lohmeyer (2018)

鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) Spirit Simulator Glitch Art Game environment

“The following year, MW2015 was hosted in Chicago. On this occasion, its curatorial focus was trained upon the city’s distinctive “dirty new media” art scene. So termed by its leading proponent, artist/educator Jon Cates, this approach exaggeratedly draws out the incongruity, fragmentation and impurities or “glitches” inherent to digital media as a critique of technology, alongside modes of production that lend themselves to open, collective and distributed creation.”
From elsewhere to everywhere: Evolving the distributed museum into the pervasive museum — Vince Dziekan and Nancy Proctor (2018)
“Tracing through interview responses it will first explore the terms of “creative misuse,” as a central theme within Jon Cates’ practice and responses. While “glitch art” had not yet been established as a distinct field of creative practice at the beginning of Cates’ career working as an artist, his description of his early experimentation with technology and his discussion of artists and artworks that inspired him encompass many of the themes that would later come to define glitch. This section is intended to demonstrate that while “glitch art” was not articulated as such until the turn of the millennium, the collection of practices and themes that the category brings together enjoy a much longer history than the designation itself. Building on Cates’ use of artduo Jodi as an example of “creative misuse” in early, I will then draw upon Rosa Menkman, Alexander Galloway and Motherboard Magazine to analyze the introduction and explicit conceptualization of “glitch art.”
On the Matter of the Digital in Contemporary Media Art — Dr. Ashley Scarlett (2017)

“As circumstance breeds response so computers and the Internet bred glitch or as Jon Cates of SAIC would call it ‘Dirty New Media’. In an increasingly computerized and data-centric society it would seem inevitable that the fetishization of error as a response to technology and its colonization of both our public and private lives is the new art.”
‘Wheres the glitch fam?’ — Ian Keaveny, New Art Examiner (2017)

“Goth imagery has long been a staple of glitch art. Look at jonCates”
“Review: P. Seth Thompson’s “Insufficient Data for an Image” proves insufficient, full of bugs” by Meredith Kooi for ArtsATL (2017)

alterSchädel: a 鬼鎮(Ghosttown) moment — jonCates (2019)

“De manière plus récente, s’est formulée une esthétique de l’échec définie comme Glitch Art (de glitch, « pépin »), un art visuel généré par des erreurs informatiques, et que Jon Cates a théorisé en 2005 comme Dirty New Media. Ainsi, le « Glitch Art (…) vise à créer des œuvres à partir d’erreurs analogiques ou numériques, par la manipulation des appareils électroniques ou par la corruption du code ou des données) » (Fourmentraux, 2014). Les œuvres que ces artistes réalisent révèlent une certaine nature de ces rapports entre technique, industrie, texte et lecture, souvent fondée sur la défaillance, l’erreur, l’échec.” (“More recently, an aesthetic of failure has emerged defined as Glitch Art (glitch, “glitch”), a visual art generated by computer errors, and which Jon Cates theorized in 2005 as Dirty New Media. Thus, “Glitch Art (…) aims to create works from analog or digital errors, by the manipulation of electronic devices or by the corruption of the code or data) ”(Fourmentraux, 2014). The works that these artists produce reveal a certain nature of these relationships between technique, industry, text and reading, often based on failure, error, failure.”)
À l’épreuve de la lisibilité: formes écrites non durables et éphémères numériques ordinaires — Julia Bonaccorsi (2017)

“Many contemporary art communities, most notably the glitch and “Dirty New Media” movements in Chicago, have found inspiration in the concept of programming as performance uniquely determined by its participants and their agonistic relationships with technology… Jon Cates use programming as a platform for radical performance art, using their knowledge of computing to interrogate proprietary software production through diverse methods of computational intervention. Many of these works bear the mark of John Cage’s performances…
Jon Cates (or jonCates, as he is credited) manipulates electronic equipment that produce effects that fluctuate between chaos and order. He performs multimedia performance sets that reference DJ (disc-jockey) and VJ (video-jockey) culture, clearly referencing Cage works such as Water Walk (1959) and Variations VII (1966); Cates references Cage’s influence not only in the profusion of equipment he manipulates, but also in his intention of creating a meditative experience through noise abundance. In his ERRORRUNNINGWWWATERNOISES (2012), Cates creates a droning audio feedback loop on a sound mixer and tends to stacks of audio-visual equipment as he is recorded by a black and white security camera feed. The quality of the droning sound and his poetic monologue delivery into a feedback-prone microphone also evoke Cage in their meditative quality, his voice fading in and out of the feedback. But the work also constitutes a criticism of Cage.”
Zen and the Art of Software Performance John Cage and Lejaren A. Hiller Jr.’s “HPSCHD” (1967–1969) — Tiffany Funk (2016)

Broken Phone Gradients — jonCates (2013)

“an exhibition of glitch — the turning of analog or digital errors into art — featuring pioneers jonCates and Philip Galanter.”
FUSE and ISEA disrupt Vancouver Art Gallery with multimedia marvels — Janet Smith (2015)

“One of the key aspects of the show was Armstrong and Levy’s concept of dealing with electronic art and materialism, and emergent canonical forms like Glitch, with representatives of the form being works by Philip Galanter and Jon Cates.”
Disruptions: Party Crashing through the Front Door — Patrick Lichty (2015)

“Jon Cates has been at the forefront of computer-generated works acceptance within the realm of contemporary art. Currently positioned as Chair of the Film, Video, New Media and Animation department at SAIC, he has established himself within the center of the glitch scene in Chicago- now referred to as the “birthplace of dirty new media.”
Donny Gettinger (2015)

“the glitches of Menkman, Cates, Temkin, Miller… are instruments of disruption”
Art and Disruption — Kate Armstrong (2015)

green.qt_slippage — jonCates (1999)

“Esta obra multimedia explora a disfuncionalidade tecnológica e a dimensão tecnopoética do erro, numa abordagem que se apoia numa estética cyberpunk…” (“This multimedia work explores the technological dysfunctionality and the technopoetic dimension of error, in an approach that supports a cyberpunk aesthetic…”)
Pareidolia: Glitch-Evento, Metodologia e Espectro — Hugo Paquete (2015)

“Dirty New Media, a Chicago-based branch of New Media ∆rt, was first articulated by jonCates as a direct response to the surplus of c1ean, seamless digita1 ∆rt. Cates recounts the development of DNM as a means “to express a contrast with the kind of c1eanliness that I associate with more commercial or corporate styles of digita1 ∆rt and design.” Like Reid and others, Cates understands that “brokenness is a primary feature” and “humans live in a noisy, glitch, messy + broken world.” Cates foregrounds DNM as a response to a techno-culture that is increasingly hidden, obscured behind a veil of Western “prøgress.”
WR1T1NG (D1RT¥) NEW MED1∆ / GL1TCH C0MP0S1TI0N — Dr. Steven Hammer (2015)

“Describing the world of new media/glitch artist Jon Cates is a labyrinthine task. You might begin with his spontaneous and inventive word-language actions reminiscent of William Burroughs cut-ups; or the hypnotic .gif animations made from seemingly incongruous, discarded fragments of media; or perhaps his “dirty new media” aesthetic that brings to the surface the aberrations and raw imperfections that are typically verboten in “high-end” digital circles.
Jon Cates has ironically and quite cleverly commingled punk and pirate media with thoughtful theoretical discourses. Based in Chicago, he is Chair of Film, Video, New Media and Animation at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago by day, prowling the subculture of the alternative spaces by night. Cates is at the center of a glitch scene in Chicago, now referred to as the “birthplace of dirty new media,” a movement he has in large part catalyzed: spawning the international GLI.TC/H Festivals and other assorted hactivist events and DIY workshops.”
Glitch Expectations: A Conversation with Jon Cates by Randall Packer, Hyperallergic (2014)

Glitch Expectations: jonCates interviewed by Randall Packer for Hyperallergic (2014)

“I have been thinking about Jon’s dirty new media output, a defiant acceptance of all forms of media-generated aberrations echoing John Cage’s embrace of noise in the previous century. It is a liberating idea in this age of sparkling clean media!
With roots deep in the history of Xerox art, Rauschenberg assemblages, sampling, collage, remix, and the rest, dirty new media not only accepts all things impure, it embraces them. As data becomes increasingly mutable and artists discover the possibilities of shifting the seemingly endless array of data types from one context to another, a new form emerges: not the purity of perfect renderings, but the emergence of aberrations that are born from the artifacts of compression, layering, blending, twisting, agitating the pixels and audio bits through multiple iteration and regeneration.
Things don’t get uglier, they get grittier and richer and better. We find ourselves luxuriating in the complexity of fantastic aliasing! All those tiny imperfections we have been taught to avoid at all costs, become the essence of composition: glitched, messed up, broken down, distorted and fragmented until something new and wondrous prevails.
But you have to be fearless in the pursuit. You might think you yourself are self-destructing in the process, when in fact, it may just be a phoenix rising from the grit. Let the artifacts and errors duplicate and spawn new generations where they may, because they will, whether we like it or not.
That in a nutshell is the history of art and dirty new media.”
The Artifacts of Regeneration — Randall Packer (2014)

“Jon Cates has invented his own glitch-activated world of what he calls “dirty new media.” Unlike the slick interfaces and narratives that tend to cross our screens on a daily basis, to enter Cates’ world is to plunge into a sea of pixels, swirling and animating endlessly and seemingly needlessly. But not at all, for here is the Dada artist of the digital age. Nonsensical, but powerfully directed art that excavates the world we live in, a world we never have time to investigate as thoroughly and obsessively as Cates. To go through Cates’ sites is to enter an abandoned basement of endless stuff. Once you lose your fear of getting lost amidst the rummage, it becomes a playland of endless possibilities, a magic theater of strange spinning, rotating things, raw code, jumbled up texts: a wild, wacky, wondrous world of digital nothingness. About as nothing as nothing could be until you realize its all part of something so grand and wonderful you have to just pause and absorb it all.
In an information-saturated environment that allows no time at all for anything, because things and people lose their intrinsic value amidst the over-population of it all, in the Jon Cates world, everything is important, everything is justified, everything has the potential of becoming. It’s a revelation to discover this fact: just when you couldn’t possibly answer another email, follow another link, or watch yet another video clip… in the Jon Cates space where all things matter, you can feel your heartbeat slow way down as you just sit and reflect on the glorious simplicity of a three-second animated gif, three seconds that could very well become an eternity.
Or, whatever.”
Whatever — Randall Packer (2014)

jonCates in NewCity Art 50: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists (2014)

“jonCates is a glitch art and GIF lord, chair of Film, Video, New Media and Animation at the School of the Art Institute, and writer focusing on experimental forms of media arts and media art histories with a recent publication in “The Emergence of Video Processing Tools,” by Intellect. Cates’ work has been described as having “opened the field of artistic engagement and agency,” and “punk as fuck,” and just last year he curated a Glitch Art exhibition and event series in Canada, and exhibited his work in Germany, France, New York, and multiple locations online. His studio is the internet, several projects running simultaneously across the many opened tabs of his web browser. Entrenched deep within the glitch scene both in Chicago and internationally, Cates is currently planning a Glitch Art festival in Paris set for next year.”
Art 50 2014: Chicago’s Artists’ Artists — Newcity (2014)

“Jon Cates has spent years of his life perfecting black-and-white GIFs. It’s all about his tactics. In this one, “GrandGrimoireSkullFlowerTribute vrsn II,” Cates pulls one over on the usually very simple sexy-winking meme by using an array of texture, shading, and speed to create this phantom-like collage.”
GIF of the Day: The Phantoms of Jon Cates — Corinna Kirsh for ART F CITY (2014)

“Chicago has been a hub for the glitch art movement for years, even before glitch art became a term. Electronic and noise music, the punk rock scene, as well as improv jazz circles, all helped influence the artistic subgenre. The spirit of sharing digital media and the network of DIY art galleries in Chicago also played a part… Influential glitch artists have emerged from Chicago and onto the international scene. One of them, Jon Cates, coined the term Chicago Dirty New Media, a catch-all term that describes how digital tech can elevate an experience. Even if a glitch artist doesn’t physically hail from the Windy City, she might attribute her style to Chicago’s Dirty New Media.”
Inside The Bizarre Phenomenon Known As “Glitch Art” — Tina Amirtha (2014)

RAW ARCHIVE — jonCates (2014)

“Prior to his involvement in glitch, jonCates, one of several artists in glitChicago who teach at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), already promoted “dirty new media” as a strategy for smearing excessively clean technologies with the stain of bodily experience. He credits the notorious/glorious entity Netochka Nezvanova and media artists JODI as influences. It’s not hard to connect dirty new media to the “set of dirty little practices” known as tactical media, too. Developed by political and media activists and artists, tactical media is as much an aesthetic act as a political one. (Garcia 1997, Lovink 2002)”
The Way of Their Errors: Glitch Art Chicago Style — Paul Hertz (2014)

“Recent dirt style new media art is inclusive of a variety of practices, from net art to mashups, glitch aesthetics, data bending, digital error, datamoshing, the work of Beige (a collective of new media artists who maintain “low level” programming in their work), the “New Aesthetic” and “Dirty New Media.” … When Jon Cates coined this last term in 2005,
he did so in order to “express a contrast with the… cleanliness… [of] commercial or corporate styles of Digital Art and Design… The graphic and industrial design styles of Apple Computers is a perfect example of the kind of clean, smooth, slick style I am referring to.”
Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics After Code — Carolyn L. Kane (2014)

Dirty New Media as explained in the Aalhmenichiaká, Free Spirit Almanac 2016 Edition by jonCates (2021)

“The term “Dirty New Media” was coined by artist, musician, and Chair of the Film, Video and New Media and Animation (FVNMA) program at SAIC, Jon Cates to describe a specific thrust of new media art focused on the intentional aestheticizing of disjointed images that have been all but eradicated by technological advances. The average prime time television commercial being the perfect counter-example: everything is lit brightly, the scenes cut seamlessly into one another, the music and dialogue is engineered into a flawless and cohesive whole.
Dirty New Media works toward subverting expectations and creating tension between the subject and the aural and visual elements we take for granted… In her writing, Rosa Menkman has referred to Chicago as “(the) ‘pivotal axis’ of the international glitchscene(s).” She has also coined the term “Chicago School of Glitch.”
What the “School” in “Chicago School of Glitch” refers to is open to debate. Yet it is impossible to dismiss the recurring presence of current and former SAIC students and faculty at the forefront of the glitch art and Dirty New Media scenes, both in Chicago and globally. This recent groundswell of innovation centered around SAIC can be traced to the programming and institutional support of Jon Cates. Cates has been organizing glitch art and Dirty New Media-related festivals and exhibitions in and around Chicago since the late 1990s. Prominent glitch artists Jon Satrom and Nick Briz were students of Cates’ and now both teach in the FVNMA program at SAIC. Satrom and Briz, along with Rosa Menkman are also the organizers of GLI.TC/H one of the premier Glitch “conferences,” the third iteration of which occurred in various locations around Chicago from December 6 through 9, 2012.
Under the direction of Cates, SAIC has become a community-based training ground for a diverse roster of new media artists. The strong sense of open-source sharing and collaboration attracts artists from a diverse range of backgrounds…”
1 M0M3NT 0F EXTENDED BROK3NN3SS: Glitch + Dirty New Media — Medium Moment / Movement — Kristofer Lenz (2013)

Tamas Kemenczy, jonCates, and Jake Elliott during their Sidequest: Text Adventure and Art Games Walkthrough Gallery Show at the Play Up! exhibition with Eddo Stern and Ben Chang, as curated by Mike Salmond (2009)

“The Cardboard Computer Archives: For those looking to dig a little deeper into the history of Cardboard Computer, it’s worth checking out its collaboration with jonCates on another game project about Mammoth Cave, which they dubbed “Sidequest” (see: “That’s been on our minds,” says Tamas Kemenczy. “It was a really rewarding experience, and we felt like there was more to explore [with Kentucky Route Zero].”

Zero Dark Purdy: Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer — Unity (March 21. 2013)

“We both spend a lot of time in Kentucky, visiting family or just on sixty-five passing through. And we love Bourbon and Bluegrass and Slint, etc., etc. And adventure games kind of started there: Will Crowther exploring Mammoth Cave with his daughters. A few years ago, Tamas & I collaborated with our friend jonCates on another game project about Mammoth Cave, called “Sidequest”. So that’s been rattling around in our brains.” Jake Elliott interviewed for Gamasutra in Road to the IGF: Cardboard Computer’s Kentucky Route Zero (2013)

“Well, I’d been making software art and experimental/noise music for I guess 10 years or so and I had made a handful of small games and game-like things as a part of that practice — like weird small things in art school; games that were deliberately broken or had strange interfaces, nothing too focused. Then in the beginning of 2009 I worked on a project with my friends jonCates and Tamas Kemenczy — a text adventure game called “Sidequest” which was a poetic, experimental homage to Will Crowther’s Colossal Cave Adventure. There’s this kind of beautiful and sad story behind “Adventure” — Crowther actually designed it for his daughters to play, after going through a divorce. So we were responding to the emotional charge of the game as well as its cultural significance.” Jake Elliott interviewed for Nightmare Mode (May 10, 2011)

Sidequest — Tamas Kemenczy, jonCates, and Jake Elliott (2008))

“This is maybe a good time to talk about the prehistory of Kentucky Route Zero. Tamas and I also collaborate very frequently with our friend jonCates. A few years ago, we did a piece together that jon concepted, called Sidequest. It was a surreal, cut-up style remix/homage of Colossal Cave Adventure, in which you play the game’s designer, Will Crowther, as he navigates the twisty little passages of his psyche. So between a personal connection to the game from childhood, and this project we’d worked on, doing something related to Crowther’s early adventure game was just in the air. KRZ wears this influence more prominently on its sleeve in a section we have planned a bit later in the game, but there are some small references even in Act I.” Jake Elliott interviewed for AQNB (28 December 2012)

“The pair met during their undergraduate work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) while working together in an art collective led by their instructor, Jon Cates. “I think it was around 2004,” Elliott looks to his friend, who nods. Kemenczy is the quieter of the two, his boyish face contrasting with Elliott’s full, reddish-brown beard. Called Critical Artware, the collective made software-art pieces, some of them existing only inside a web browser, others taking shape as installations and noise performances.

One of the most striking pieces they collaborated on was an installation called Magic Matrix Mixer Mountain, or MMMM. The foothills of this mountain are Elliott, Kemenczy, Cates and others at laptops. The cliffs of MMMM are comprised of a tower of wildly flickering CRTs, its shifting clouds and echoes leach from LCD projectors while along the valley wall a rapt audience looks on. It’s as mesmerizing as it is inscrutable.

Magic Matrix Mixer Mountain (experimental performance installation) - Mark Beasley, jonCates, Jake Elliott, Alex Inglizian, Tamas Kemenczy, Nicholas O’Brien, and Jon Satrom at LAMPO in Chicago (2009)

But Critical Artware was about more than just installations, just like Elliott and Kemenczy are about more than just arcade cabinets.

“Part of the group was this art history thing about doing interviews with people who were video artists in the ’70s and ‘80s,” Elliott explains. Critical Artware used its own new media art to consciously build upon the now decades-old work of overlooked video artists. Making connections to these artists, codifying their history, was as important to Critical Artware as exploring meaning through its own pieces.

The first actual game Elliot and Kemenczy made together was in service to one of these histories, and it too was set in the American South. Again with their instructor Cates, the pair designed a text adventure called Sidequest! This art game digested the work of Will Crowther, whose Colossal Cave Adventure is the granddaddy of text adventure games. Using elements from Crowther’s personal life, the game acknowledged the physicality of the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky alongside the physicality of the ARPANET, the progenitor of the internet as we know it. The result was a “randomized, responsive and psychotropic narrative environment” that spoke to discovery while spelunking inside caves, computers and a man’s soul.

criticalartware (2002–2012)

Critical Artware eventually transformed into other collectives with other missions; members rolled over and moved on. Kemenczy eventually peeled off from the art world entirely and got a desk job. Elliott kept making games… And so the pair came together once more, thoughts of the South and economic disparity swirling in their heads. They couldn’t escape the call of Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves. The seemingly endless environs, the ties to early gaming, dungeon crawling and the strong metaphors they’d previously been able to explore in Sidequest! still had meat left on the bone.” Breathe In The Road: Cardboard Computer and Kentucky Route Zero, Jake Elliott and Tamas Kemenczy interviewed for Polygon (Apr 11, 2013)


“Jon Cates’ selfie game is on point, taking Photobooth pics to a whole other level… All of his selfies are GIFs of him throwing up the sign of the horns and being an overall badass.”
COMPLEX ART+DESIGN: 25 GIF Artists You Should Know by Susan Cheng (2013)

The Dirty New Media
“There are those who would say that glitch art is a form of resistance, not just a representation,” explains Jon Cates, New Media professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago is a centre of glitch momentum in the US, if not the world and Cates is at the vanguard of it’s discovery. “Jason Scott, historian and archivist for, has called our Chicago-based community the ‘birthplace of dirty new media’ and Rosa Menkman has written that we foreground glitch art in a way which has become a ‘pivotal axis’ of the international glitch scene” explains Cates.”
The Distorted Truth In Glitch — Robert Urquhart (2012)

Dirty New Media, the concept created by jonCates in 2005

“In many ways, this sentiment reflects the ongoing attempt to create what is literally now referred to in licensing as a ‘creative commons’, a ground-zero which allows for artistic initiation, re-creation and (re)iteration. Recently, Jon Cates (2008) has pointed out the similarities between the idea of Creative Commons licenses and the work of media artist Phil Morton, who, in the early 1970s, attempted to push a ‘copy-it-right’ ethos whereby structures like an image parser for a computer might be copied and reproduced by others. While it’s debatable where Morton’s art lies — in the ‘copy-it-right’ manifesto itself or in the documentation containing instructions for the reproduction of an object (which Morton called the ‘Distribution Religion’) — the idea of copying-asaesthetics here is an important precursor for this discussion, as it foregrounds a distribution model which preferences (transremediatively) redundant constructions as a continued means of renewing an expression.”
Visualizing Transmedia Networks: Links, Paths and Peripheries — Dr. Marc Nathaniel Ruppel (2012)

“Their works are techno-socially interconnected and culturally encoded. While addressing art-science-technology connections in Media Art from Chicago during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Jon Cates (2009) wrote: Both Sean Cubitt10 and Lev Manovich11 have written introductions to their work that recognize the hybrid meshworks of connections, meanings, materials, histories and theory/practices of Video Art and New Media Art. In Videography:
Video Media as Art and Culture, Cubitt wrote that Video and thereby Video Art are “at the heart of increasingly interlinked webs of previously separate media… neither an autonomous medium…nor entirely dependent on any one of them.” Ten years later, Manovich similarly proposed that the languages of New Media Art are “always hybrids, incorporating memories, expertise, and techniques of already well established cultural forms. These quotes articulate together that Video Art and New Media Art
histories are deeply interconnected, technosocially situated and culturally encoded”.
A historical analysis can help us understand the implications of the electronic mediation of aesthetics, a trend that has been prevalent for the last two decades. Cates (2009) observed that “these histories through the lens of experimental Media Art projects made in Chicago during the decade of the 1970’s by a group of artists and academics whose deeply collaborative artistic research and development led to the establishment of new technologies, approaches, organizations and Media Art projects… Morton13 acted as a major hub of interconnection in this group and importantly articulated ethical and theoretical positions of
the groups that formed through these collaborations” (21). In this connection, Cates (2009) called attention to the contributions made by Morton and his friend Sandin to distributing media and creating transparent, decentralized and open systems to disseminate Video art judiciously. These historical links present a clear picture that point to the reasons behind the creative orientation of contemporary musicians who are dependent on dynamic mediatechnologies for the success of their projects. Music lovers’ appreciation of hybrid music, initiated the process of cultural transformations in the field of music.”
Bāul Music- Electronic Mediation and Media Intervention — Sanchita Choudhury and Anjali Gera Roy (2012)

ØP3ꜺꜺ 555𐌊U777 ģ̶Ł̶1̶ɫ̶C̶ʮ̶’z_ (“open skull glitches”) — jonCates (2017)

“His voice is noise, his music is now the environment, and the only thing we can do is to keep our eyes on the screens.”
Vincent Hung on Post-Static (2012)

“…his experiments may be his undoing. At this point the piece could collapse and jonCates has not propped himself up with his technology. Instead, he’s used it to lead us to key moments and obliterating everything else.”
Post-Static: Realtime Performances by jonCates and Jon Satrom — channeltwo (2012)

“The culture of animated GIF is on the move, with thriving communities of artists working for decades in relative obscurity now earning more attention every year. Local artists like jonCates and events like the convention on new media have made Chicago as interesting a perch as any from which to observe the advance of the GIF to the forefront of 21st century art.”
Steven Pate on Downcast Eyes in Chicagoist (2012)


“Performances were not merely contained to VJ sets, but included real-time executables, and even “lectures-as-performance.” Jon Cates ‘read’ a paper he wrote on Glitch, adding multiple layers of noise and recordings of the reading over each other until it was completely indiscernible… What’s fascinating about these types of performances, besides how entrancing they are, is that they represent a new system of language built entirely on noise and visual phenomena that gives way to real interpersonal communication.”
Dylan Schenker on GLI.TC/H in The Creators Project. (2011)

“A history of the local “glitchscene” over the last decade, documented by Chicago signal-scrambling mastermind Jon Cates (writing and performing as “sum01”), will be presented as an “experimental lecture” and as an essay in the GLI.TC/H reader”
Bert Stabler on GLI.TC/H in Newcity Art (2011)

jonCates speaking on 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown), Glitch Art and Dirty New Media for Negative Horizon, the 5th Annual Video Art Biennial, at 鳳甲美術館 Hong-Gah Museum 台北,台灣 (Taipei, Taiwan) in 2016

“Jon Cates, a new media artist, has been collecting and making animated GIFs since 1996, and he’s gearing up to open his Institvte for the Animated GIF. Cates conceives of this private collection as beyond an archive; it is also an institution that will hold workshops and educate about GIFs through exhibits and interviews with makers. Cates, like Fleischauer and Lazarus, is interested in situating animated GIFs among early advancements in cinema and, more broadly, amid the entire digital revolution.
“It’s not ironic,” says Cates, who sees value in GIFs as cultural artifacts, and he is enthusiastic about creating new GIFs and sharing them. “They make me feel good,” he says. Is the animated GIF a form of digital folk art? Cates relates a story about cultivating his collection, where he contacted someone online who was making animated GIF self-portraits. It turned out she was seventeen years old and, like a self-taught artist, had little interest, at first, in contributing to a GIF museum, as she was simply, happily, creating her GIF portraits at home and posting them on her tumblr for anyone to see. This anecdote is not meant to reveal the strange power of the art world as it usurps every artifact in its path, but rather shows that digital art-making is a people’s movement. While technology has a tendency to be expensive, with a steep learning curve, it is simple methods such as GIFs that are readily accessible to virtually anyone. A positive attribute of GIFs, says Cates, is that they are “not innovative.”
In the studio, artists often self-impose limits and constraints on their materials and methods in order to explore every nuance of their medium and style. GIFs provide “excessive limitations,” says Cates. With limited color palettes, short looping cycles, and low-res image output, the inherent rules of the GIF format can empower artists to create.”
Jason Foumberg on Animated GIFs in Newcity Art (2011)

ģ̶Ł̶1̶ɫ̶C̶ʮ̶_▲ɔ┼µ▲𐆁𐆁 (AKA glitchActual) — jonCates (2017)

“The graphic and industrial design styles of Apple Computers is one example of the kind of clean, smooth, slick style Dirty New Media is attempting to interrogate. Jon Cates began to use the term Dirty New Media, as he explains, “to express a contrast with the kind of cleanliness that I associate with more commercial or corporate styles of digital art and design.” A professor at the the Film, Video, New Media and Animation Department at the SAIC and developer of its New Media curriculum, Cates helped originate the raw, direct, unkempt, and noisy, style with colleagues and students. In 2005, Cates co-founded a micro-festival series called r4WB1t5, a program of digital art projects which ran successfully through 2007. Jason Scott, archivist for, has called the Chicago-based community the “birthplace of dirty new media.” Rosa Menkman, the consummate Glitch Art theory practitioner from Amsterdam, has written that Cates and company have foreground Glitch Art in a way which has become a ‘pivotal axis’ of the international gitchscene.”
Erica Peplin on Dirty New Media Art in Chicago Art Magazine (2011)

“Charismatic video pioneer Phil Morton influenced an entire generation of video and digital artists, founded SAIC’s Video Department, laid the groundwork for what has since become the Video Data Bank, and developed Copy-It-Right, an anti-copyright ethic that set the precedent for the current open-source movement. His name has been largely forgotten, however, and his legacy was cut short by his death in 2003. Curated by SAIC professor Jon Cates, tonight’s selection of Morton’s ground-breaking work launches the opening of the Phil Morton Memorial Research Archive, housed in the Film, Video & New Media Department at SAIC. 1969–90”
Copy-It-Right! Selections from the Phil Morton Memorial Research Archive — Amy Beste (2007)

jonCates unpacking the Dirty New Media Art archives of the r4WB1t5 micro.Festivals (2005–2007)

“Across the spectrum to contemporary art, we have the r4WB1t5 mAcro.Fest, a tech-art event organized by Amanda Gutierrez, Jon Cates and Jonathan Satrom, this time focusing specifically on work by Mexican artists. Writing about this group, it’s necessary to explain every time that the odd letter-character/number spelling combination is an example of “leet speak,” with the word “leet” derived from the word “elite,” originally a way of using ciphered spelling to recognize those “in the know,” mostly in the gaming and online worlds. This special r4WB1t5 festival’s focus has attracted the attention of Mexican art boosters across the city and netted sponsorships from the likes of Mexican government organizations such as the Consulado General de Mexico, the Secretaria de Relaciones and under-recognized tech-art consortium Centromultimedia. The Art Institute has also thrown in its support with the involvement of Internet radio station Free Radio SAIC. Running from Thursday through Sunday, this installment takes place at four different locations, starting with Pilsen’s Chi-Town Futbol Arena, where artist-programmer Arcangel Constantinni will curate “a live Net Art wrestling match.” Constantinni will also present his Infomera VS CH1C4G0.COM project, and “the Mexico City based dønut project will go head to head against PIRANACON.EXE in an experimental electronic music battle.” In the days that follow, the r4WB1t5 festival kids will take their show to three additional locations: the Busker space at 1087 North Hermitage on Friday, EN3EMY at 1550 North Milwaukee on Saturday and back to Pilsen and the Polvo gallery at 1458 West 18th Street on Sunday. A full schedule of festival events is available — where else? — online at …Try to make at least one night of this fest, since this art’s very young and still forming, offering a rare chance to view a new art form in its infancy.”
Past, Present and Future, r4WB1t5 (Glitch Art Festival) — Michael Workman, NEWCITY, CHICAGO Eye Exam, Featured (2006)

“Randomness rules at Wicker Park’s Enemy gallery courtesy of R4wb1t5, the byte-sized techno-geek organization with the funny name, as they host another experimental audiovideo-digital noise fest.”
r4WB1t5 (Glitch Art Festival) — Flavorpill, Featured (2006)

r4WB1t5 micro.Festival of Dirty New Media Art, 2005–2007 documentation

“Memo to DJs: Other artists can use computers, too, and they’re taking back the CPU for a bounteous display of bit-related bedlam with the (A) r4WB1t5 Festival. Check out audio and visual works involving computers, samplers and other digital media in this art-meets technology geekfest (no offense). Featuring I Love Presets, Total Gym!, The Faultless and more.”
r4WB1t5 (Glitch Art Festival) — Metromix Chicago, Featured (2005)

“ART H4X0R5: (A) r4WB1t5 micro.fest (in English, the Rawbits Microfest) showcases what happens when coders turn their Red Bull-damaged attention from programming to aesthetic concerns. In addition to digital art and video presentations, the event includes live music by Teleseen, Chris Bravo and more.”
r4WB1t5 (Glitch Art Festival) — Chicago Reader, Featured Critics Choice (2005)

“In a very hot, very darkened apartment on Washtenaw, kids are crushed shoulder to shoulder in a narrow hallway, dripping sweat and trying not to move. At least not too much, having picked a vantage from which to peer between heads at the brightly projected image manipulation happening on the wall. It’s an art performance, bitmapped scenes flying past at the speed of a VJ flipping dials. On a table across from the entrance, a full stack of pro-grade editing components sit stacked next to a young man hunched over his laptop. In a side room, a video projector mounted on a plastic pedestal beams images transmitted rapid-fire from an Xbox onto a spot in the middle of a picture frame hung on the wall. A boom box on a shelf across the room plays a soundtrack of similarly cut-and-pasted audio files. “Bits” from each converge in a cinematic “mash-up” of visual and audio files, both compiled from works sent in by a total of nearly 100 artists, each frame shown according to an arbitrary duration that’s divided by the number of artists. In
the middle of it all, a bearded twentysomething wanders through, chugging a tallboy. It’s an apartment art show. It’s a geeky tech showoff party.
It’s the R4wb1t5 (codespeak for “rawbits”) microfest, which you can check out online at Organized by partners Jon Cates and John Satrom, the 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 that the organizers are squatting. That free-form approach is an important element of the show, something Cates hopes that he can offer as “a microfest framework that we want to encourage others to use when staging these festivals themselves.” So far, they’ve had interest from a gallery in Knoxville, Tennessee called, appropriately enough, The Gallery of Knoxville, and are fielding invitations from curators as far away as Strasbourg, France and Brazil. “We just started the project and it’s important to keep it small-scale and manageable,” explains Cates, “so it can be fast and happen in such a way that it can be realized easily and simply.” Why so? “That ethic is central to, or at least embedded in new media, digital art and a kind of hacker ethic; this idea of transparency, and the ability to realize things on your own — all that’s important. We decided to do the first one at the Mutiny, for instance, because they’ve had this ‘bands wanted’ sign in the window for years.”
And the R4wb1t5 microfest — much like the currently inchoate technology-based art culture it’s meant to evoke — certainly screams DIY. That approach, however, may limit the scope of the audience whom they can expose and educate about new media. Problem is, new media’s often so new, and some of its conventions so unfamiliar, that when first confronted with it, most have no idea what they’re looking at. When Cates first posted an announcement for the R4wb1t5 fest on a popular local visual-art listserv, for instance, the announcement was so riddled with codespeak, a text difficult to read at first glance as graffiti lettering, that he was mistaken for a hacker and banned from the list. On the flipside, that approach has also helped them establish criteria for staging the fest elsewhere: an artist in Strasbourg interested in putting on the show asked if there was any funding available, a question that led to a conversation about how there’s a general
lack of arts funding of the U.S. That conversation, in turn, helped them explain that the proper way to stage the show was to seek out a basement or an abandoned apartment, print up some flyers and then, explains Cates, to consider how to book the show, “based on a network or digital culture: how do you shift and adapt? How do you work in these different systems? What does that allow you to do in terms of the commentary you want to make on the socio-political culture you’re working in? Asking those kind of questions are what’s really at the heart of our efforts.”
Their socio-political approach clearly has implications for visual art as well. By seeding their approach in a digital punk culture, they’re making a commentary on the kind of cleanliness inherent to digital work. “That’s another critique I hope we’re mobilizing, that there can be a kind of rawness to the work,” says Cates. And it’s difficult to disagree. As one girl in a sticky T-shirt raises her arms above her head and sways her hips in a dance to what’s essentially a silent room, it suddenly becomes hard to imagine
new media going very far without it.”
“T3ch S44vyy” r4WB1t5 (Glitch Art Festival) — Michael Workman, NewCity Chicago, Featured Art / Eye Exam Section (2005)

Old Skool Revolutionaries — jonCates (2003)

“Jon Cates’s documentary on the beginnings of video art at the School of the Art Institute in the 1970s abjures journalistic conventions — there’s no narrator, and we aren’t given the names of key participants (who include Phil Morton, Dan Sandin, and Gene Youngblood) until the end. Instead Cates captures the experimental spirit of the time by using contemporary scenes of the artists explaining their theories that have been altered with Sandin’s “image processor,” an analog device for manipulating video. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic for the utopianism these gurus express (new media will create “a viable anarchistic society,” in the future we will be able “to dial and tune our brains”), even now that the interactivity they dreamed of has been realized on the Internet — albeit with pop-up ads.”
Old Skool Revolutionaries, an experimental Media Art Histories documentary at the Gene Siskel Film Center — Fred Camper, Chicago Reader (2003)

Gene Youngblood in jonCates’ Old Skool Revolutionaries, experimental Media Art Hystories documentary film

“First in the United States to offer BA and MFA degrees in Video Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has a critically important place in the history of this vital medium. SAIC instructor and digital systems specialist jonCates has delved into the School’s archive of seminal video works to recreate a fleeting moment in the development of a new art form. old skool revolutionaries is a conversation with the past, capturing the playful, freewheeling spirit of the days when new technology met with new ideas and everything was up for grabs. Featuring excerpts from videos, lectures, workshops and performances by Woody and Steina Vasulka, Gene Youngblood, John Sturgeon, Christine Tamblyn, Nancy Bechtol, Jessie Affelder and the late Phil Morton, charismatic video pioneer and one of the founders of both the Video Data Bank and SAIC’s video department.”
Old Skool Revolutionaries at Conversations at the Edge, The Gene Siskel Film Center — Amy Beste (2003)




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