The Tipping Point of Failure: a solo exhibition by Rosa Menkman — Exhibition Catalog text by jonCates (2010)
Rosa Menkman is the consummate theory-practitioner of the ever moving/flowing media art known contentiously enough as Glitch or Glitch Art or Noise or Noise Art or Error or Disruption or Corruption or Loss or Failure or Obsolescence or Disappearance or a not so subtle dance between all these possible poles of existence in, of and between unstable categories…
Glitch — “A form of low frequency interference, appearing as a narrow horizontal bar moving vertically through the picture.”
Video Preservation: Glossary of Terms — Rebecca Bachman (1996)
As Menkman has written, this flow follows a movement over time through media from celluloid to CRTs to phosphor burn-ins to LCD cracks to file formats. Perhaps this flow is not so linear in chronologies but rather is distributed across multitudes of moments. And perhaps these are moments that cannot be recognized immediately as they occur but rather only from the perspectives of Last Angels of Histories.
This flow forward in reverse results in the Glitch or as ‘the spirit of that time of what the glitch was’ or had occurred. At that moment in time and of time-based media… of traces of tracings of what has past… we are left with all hat has been left (behind) and embedded by digital and analog systems, all of which include and express themselves over and over again, in times, as specific as formats failing or found to be debris, broken bits of histories awash and washing up against the shores of what we thought we knew, against the grains of our expectations.
These are the vector-views that Menkman’s work travels for me or takes me traveling along, pulled into the wake of a movement as UCNV has said in response to Menkman: “Glitch is not dead” but can be rather claimed to be alive and kicking online, decenteralized and internationally networked in a network of social ghosts made real to the tunes of a eulogy for broadcast standards and a poetry of errors.
Time base error — “A variation in the synchronizing signals. When time base errors are large enough, they may cause skewing or flagging distortion of the video picture.”
Video Preservation: Glossary of Terms — Rebecca Bachman (1996)
In the field of Noise Music a definition exists and is mobilized by Noise musicians to identify “Harsh Noise” from other forms of Noise Music. The harshness of Harsh Noise musics relates to the music itself (i.e via volumes, amplitudes, frequency ranges, rhythms, shifts in tempo, pacing, etc) as well as the experience of listening to the music. Harsh Noise is harsh. Glitch Art is glitched. But is it harsh? Or, is it necessarily always harsh, hard-edged or crunchy? Such were the questions posed by New Media artist and Media Art Histories scholar Paul Hertz to Rosa Menkman recently in Chicago during the GLI.TC/H festival of Noise & New Media.
Menkman’s response (as we walked along Wabash Avenue beside and underneath train tracks that recall the trains that travel in her “The Collapse of PAL” performance/video) was “no, not necessarily…” and i would say yes she had already answered this question earlier with and within her work. “The Collapse of PAL” is at once harsh/hard-edged/crunchy Glitch Art, filled with broken edges and torn/bleeding pixels, and also simultaneously elegant and elegiac in it’s slow electronic forms of cyberpsychedelic transformation. I use the term cyberpsychedelic to refer to the combinatory effects of mixing Cybernetics and Psychedelics as cultural influences, technologies and aesthetic principles from the 1960’s to the present. Menkman’s cyberpsychedelic transformation remind us of earlier Media Art made with small scale cyberpsychedelic technologies of personal transformation as well as the sense of movement and travel embedded in many of these projects. Or as Kodwo Eshun says of Kraftwerk and their Trans Europe Express project in Iara Lee’s documentary Modulations: “…as soon as you travel in a train, you’re in a musical instrument. The sense of being effortlessly being pulled along through stations across Europe, was a very exciting world, opening new world of automotion…” Or, as in the classic quotation from Walter Benjamin in his Theses on the Philosophy of History as he describes the Angel of History: “His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet… The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward.” Or to begin again:
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
Neuromancer — William Gibson (1984)
“200 years into the future, the data-thief is told a story. If you can find the crossroads, a crossroads, this crossroads, if you can make an archeological dig into this crossroads, you will find fragments, techno fossils, and if you can put those elements, those fragments together, you will find a code. Crack that code and you will have the keys to your future…”
The Last Angel of History — Black Audio Film Collective (1996)
The Black Audio Film Collective introduces their speculative present of the cyberpsychedelic Afrofuturist project, The Last Angel of History, with these words. Their project focuses on reconstruction of lost, repressed or stolen histories constructing alien futures. Painting herself white, Rosa Menkman attempted to blank herself, attempted to get lost or erased between the lines of the vertical blanking interval, that flickering time difference between the last line of one frame or field and the next frame or field rendered on a display. And the results, as rendered in her instantiation of this source material, a video called “Dear mister Compression”, say “Now it is too little too late [system shut down]”. We are told in public talks and personal chats that this white painting that Menkman undertook to blank herself also resulted in an extreme allergic reaction which threatened her eyesight, temporarily blinding her, in a literal whiteout and erasure. In these process and moments are a confluence of emotional and technological states in the databent and brokenness of white noise to signal ratios against pink skin. As “i fail to understand you completely” is written on screen, typed out, character by character for us to see, the typist/artist (Menkman) is thinking and feeling out loud as if we are on IRC or in a live chat with her, “the noxious angel of history”, while she moves through these failures of systems, systems that we now know to be both simultaneously intensely personal and computational.
The computer is a syncretic device/environment and context. computational space is social, networked and we interface with these forms socially. this is the meaning of the term: technosocial. The term technosocial arises from the field of Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STS) in discussions of the social construction of technology as related to the histories and sociologies of the Sciences. this term is of key importance to the consideration of Menkman’s work undertaken in this text because we must acknowledge the depth and intensity of feeling found in her work. Her work is not cold analysis but rather it is made up of hot confrontations with computational spaces and personal experiences through Glitch Art theorypractices.
Returning to last angels of histories, data-thieves, crossroads and social networks, I find Menkman’s “The Collapse of PAL” here in real and in rendered time, performing states of criticality in terms of her theorypractices. Through various technological states of collapse, she performs as The Last Angel of History, flowing through deconstructed signals; humming over the water, wherein a broken cityscape stands as if submerged, as if flooded by “connections that were just not good enough” in an apocalyptic blue phosphor. Ruins amidst lost signals losing sync, flicker and crossfade through the “storm you call progress” as the the Last Angel of History reappears and redisappears in loops replayed and instantiations remixed through unstable states of being glitched. “The Collapse of PAL” is composite signal itself, composed of a instants that are and have been previously remixed and reworked by Menkman herself.
“Remixology is the science of continuation and the art of drastic remaking, total remaking, remodelling.”
More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction — Kodwo Eshun (1999)
Menkman has publicly stated her first experiences with glitch and Glitch Art as being inspired and informed by JODI, the Dutch experimental New Media Art collective who have inspired so many of us as well. Menkman first encountered JODI’s work through their deconstructions of Quake, a project called Untitled Game, which has become an almost iconic work of Glitch and New Media Art. She is the leading international theory-practitioner of Glitch Art. She is as much of an inspiration for us, the international ‘glitch scene’ (as she calls us) or the the experimental New Media Art networks, as JODI has been for her and for our communities.
She offers us criticality through creative practice by tracing the effects of our technologies as the break, bend and disappear into forced obsolescent deaths. She cracks open and apart our expectations and asks questions through her artworks and projects. If Carolyn Forche’s The Angel of History, a highly regarded poetic work, underscores that we humans have memories that we piece together in fragments in order to survive then Rosa Menkman’s influential projects remind us that we humans also have technologies that we have written and that these technologies survive as memories, remembering us through their fragmentary existences. Menkman gathers and disperses her own utterances across media that is broken, machines that are haunted, and in ruins of presently obsolete protocols.
Skew — “A bending of picture at top or bottom of television screen caused by the changing of the video track angles on the tape from the time of recording to the time of playback. This can occur as a result of poor tension regulation by the VCR or by ambient conditions which affect the tape.”
Video Preservation: Glossary of Terms — Rebecca Bachman (1996)
Menkman’s writings in addition to her artistic works, as shown in this exhibition, function as a beacon, tightly focusing and broadly illuminating the key critical issues of all of this beautiful digital garbage that we all love so much. Pushing us past idle aesthetics of error or decay, Menkman articulates through a combinations of writings in and on the technosocial fabric of our times, crafting the Art of Artifacts, A Vernacular of File Formats and pivoting across these points of articulation ‘far away from perfection’ and at The Tipping Point of Failure.
“When you try to describe a glitch, you can never really categorize it… the moment you try to make categories, there’s always an inbetween. There’s always the glitch that will be right were you didnt want it. So the category is broken again… you need to go from multiple angles, so that you have this spectrum of ways of approaching it.”
Rosa Menkman in the Group Chat w/ GLI.TC/H Organizers, an interview by Nicholas O’Brien for badatsports: http://www.vimeo.com/15370640
“…each fragment reveals the rose from a different angle, he remembered, but delta swept over him before he could ask himself what that might mean.”
Fragments of A Hologram Rose — William Gibson (1977)
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jonCates makes, organizes and teaches experimental New Media Art. His projects have been presented internationally at various events in locations such as Beijing, Madrid and Mexico City; nationally in Chicago, New York and Boston and are widely distributed online. Art Games, experimental Machinima, Computer Witchcraft, digitalPunk and Noise music are some of the unstable categories that his work playfully moves through.
jonCates teaches in the New Media path of study of the Film, Video & New Media Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His research and writings are on Media Art Histories and related subjects. In 2007, he initiated the Phil Morton Memorial Research Archive to archive and freely distribute the Media Art work of Phil Morton and associated research. He writes on these topics for Furtherfield.org as well as in other online and offline publications.