Glitches are everywhere, in every software or hardware that we use. They pop up from time to time but they are all unintended, being only involuntary malfunctions of the software code being run. What are we going to talk about in this essay is intentional glitches, software that generate glitches and artists using machine errors to display their work aesthetically.

Apart from experiments in the late 30’s there is a great master of glitch on display: Nam June-Paik, who carefully used this aesthetic in his video-installations, especially “Beatles” or the more famous TV Magnet (1965). There is also a more recent example in Panasonic TH-42PWD8UK Plasma Screen Burn (2007) by Cory Arcangel. Theorists such as Michel Betancourt wrote also an essay on the respective aesthetic, marking its limitations as well as its broad appearance in today’s life. There’s not to forget the classic Digital TV Dinner in which the artist recorded the screen of a game console hung up on a TV, while he was punching it and mashing up different video games on cartridges.

Glitches are to be found everywhere these days: on malfunctioning video advertising billboards (that always display some Blue Screen Of Death on Microsoft computers), in image compression artifacts (jpeg is just an option) and, in recent years, in mobile apps: just a simple search on ‘Google Play” brings up more than 20 apps ready to glitch your images or videos, sometimes in real-time. This is clearly a glory moment for glitch, because everyone can use it for art or for simple communication purposes.

The 90’s and the 00’s came with lots of glitch aesthetics on the art market, with conceptual albums such as Oval’s (in which CDs are randomly scratched to erase some information, and then played back in a normal way and used as such) or Mille Plateaux’s  theoretical statements, and recently in Uwe Schmidt’s “Geez’n’Gosh” (“Calling Jesus” is a good example) project or in the cutting and sampling glitch aesthetic on Akufen, Alva Noto or Ryoji Ikeda’s albums.

Even though the majority of works produced in the glitchy-way are appealing, very few stand the test of time or art critique, you can find literally thousands of uploads in the “Glitch art collective” group on Facebook (which I’ve been following for years, by the way) and some are very interesting and inspiring by the methods they use. They convert audio files into text or moving image, they revert the process of importing, extracting and jpegs into audio processing software and so on. They actively play with the error, transforming it into a “norm”. They don’t talk much about their work, except for some geeky software they use, which I’ll mention later (note: they demux a lot and they data mosh), but I had the chance to talk to some of them. Zoe Stawska guided me through my research and, although she considered the movement to be “dead” she curated some exhibitions and she’s one of the admins behind “Glitch Artists Collective” on Facebook. For her, glitch “must have something to do with creation by destruction. I love the random aspect and the unpredictability”. Talking about the artists that post their own original content, although most of them use specific software and disregard other ways to manipulate images and videos, she says “people realized glitch art just kind of… refuses to die. No, glitch art is no longer dead”, even if it’s decades old. Her favorite two artists these days are Dina Karadzic and Vedran Gligo.

Among the bullshit, predictable, skippable and avoidable visual content I found on GAC, some names turned my head around and helped me think about what glitch means today. First there was the /’̓fu͊:bar/ Gliͤtch ͜Ạrt Festi̓val 2019, a festival totally committed to glitch and with an impressive lineup too, taking place this October.

“Glitchet” is a free, weekly newsletter that activates between mysticism and science, dystopia and utopia, organic and concrete, material and innumerable, and inner and outer. If you like to think about transhumanism, magic, robots taking over the world, occultists already ruling the world, cybersurveillance, divination, and you like eye-feast worthy art, you’ll love this. It also functions as a resource for digital art, on how to do data moshing and how you can glitch your art. All with hex/text editing! Systemsapproach comes with a YouTube playlist of glitches; it’s very anti-American and anarchic as a state of mind, even if it’s more about audio.

In 2002, The Oslo Art Academy held a GLITCH festival, as they define “Glitch” as a commonplace expression in computer and networks terminology, meaning to slip, slide, an irregularity, a malfunction or a “little electrical error”. Glitch has been the main point of interest of Motherboard’s work throughout 2001.” Although there aren’t any audio-video recordings of this festival, their theory on glitch is like a Thesaurus definition.

I’ll soon recall some manifestos but right now the focus is on the artists available at the moment, found on Glitch Artists Collective, a Facebook group with more than 74.000 members. Most of the glitches here are pure data corruption of images, or not so impressive video glitches, usually done by uploading one file into another program and data moshing it. NO NO NO NO NO, a favorite of mine, has a unique way of running its glitches, varying from abstract to pure symbolic. Interruption, error, misinterpretation of the original signal is all what he’s about. Check out his works, some could be also printed and hung on the wall.

Now getting back to the manifestos: look what’s Hugh S. Manon has to say: “The existence of glitch-based representation depends upon the inability of software to treat a wrong bit of data in anything other than the right way.” Indeed. “Glitch art builds on the history and sensibility of hardware circuit-bending, established by Reed Ghazala in the 1960s. Artists inspired by Ghazala explore the sonic qualities of electronic noise by modding guitar effects pedals and children’s electronic toys, by using existing equipment in unanticipated ways, and by building new instruments from electronic detritus.” Then there’s a saying, like a motto, by Sol LeWitt: “When an artist learns his craft too well, he makes slick art.” But then ,”Glitch is not inherently a machinic event. Think of a drop of water landing on a circuit board, or of a felt-tip marker adding a single line to a UPC barcode. These are glitch events, and neither is wholly machinic.” Such good timed and thoughtful explanations. Manon often quotes Paul Virillio’s and Gilles Deleuze’s deconstruction methods, as well as Roland Barthes’. His statement is very post-technology-oriented, bold and with a transhumanist touch, too. But still (cyber)punk. What’s for sure is that Glitch is here to stay.

Rosa Menkman, in her manifesto, says that “we should realize that the gospel of glitch art also tells about new norms implemented by (data) corruption. So the scene is abundant, with so many techniques available, and is a true post-internet and post-digital form of art”. Michael Betancourt, one of the most revered and known theorist of the “Glitch” movement, tells us about a glitch shown on tv in Chicago in the mid-80s: “Guerilla Television, even though it aired on PBS. The program was a 60-minute long anthology of tapes and films produced in the Chicago area, broken into two 30-minute sections. In episode 11 the first half hour includes TV commercials, logos for industrial companies, student animations, and political anti-capitalism cartoons; the second half shows computer-generated video.”  As means of production, Betancourt recounts direct human intervention: “The imagery appearing on screen reflects a stoppage of this typically proceeding sequence—creating visuals that reflect a partial implementation of the instructions contained by the digital code. Because the performance—the human initiated “stoppage” of the computational process—creates ‘unanticipated imagery,’ each interruption at the same point would produce identical results—these constants are the mechanical nature of the generated imagery. The inclusion of Digital TV Dinner opens the use of digital technology to non-programmers in an ironic fashion: the violent interruption (“pounding it with your fist”) becomes a productive action, not simply smashing the system. It reclaims the Luddite’s gesture of sabotage as a creative and productive activity.“

Now back to the manifesto written by Hugh S. Manon and quoted earlier. “What makes good glitch art good is that, amidst a seemingly endless flood of images, it maintains a sense of the wilderness within the computer”, and this is pure cyber-punk, talking about the computer as a person, not just as another tool. Human intervention will always manage to show the raw elements of the digital realms, their “guts” and their primitive reality.

Miron Ghiu – “I love to write and make music, both for the commercial scene and for my own pleasure. I’m active since the end of the ‘90s and currently work on two novels and a new album. I love to write about niches and underground art.”