I was recently interviewed by Jamie Boulton for his final-year dissertation. He is currently studying Visual Communication at Birmingham City University, where he’s recently become very interested in glitch art. Below is the whole interview, with links and pictures added by me.
First of all, what is your definition of a glitch?
A glitch is an error or something unexpected.
How did you first come in contact with glitch art? What were your initial impressions of it and what made you pursue it as an art form?
I first became aware of glitch art on 5th May 2009. I was looking for things relating to software art and Stuart Parker mentioned glitch art. I can’t remember what I first thought, but I do remember in the early days that I drew comparisons between it and pixel art.
My artwork at the time – portraits and complex digital drawings ([an example]) – was very colourful and noisy, so the visual noise of glitch art really appealed to me.
These had been inspired by the work of Arturo Herra, whose work I had seen at an exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in 2007.
Where did you learn the skills you use to create glitch art? Did you have previous experience with electronics and computing, or are they skills you picked up as you experimented?
I’ve always been skilled at using computers and I’ve had the ability to write code (albeit not very well) since my undergraduate studies, but only since 2007 have I really begun to experiment with coding, hardware and software. When I came across glitch art I had been running fizzPOP since January of that year. From that I had learnt a bit about circuit-bending but essentially I was a bit of a curious beginner. Everything else since then – learning how to use the command line on Linux, writing code, learning how to use Pure Data, Processing and other creative programming languages – has been driven by my desire to create glitch – or similar – art.
Do you think that digitally produced glitch aesthetics can be as meaningful and expressive as real glitches, or is the technological experimentation part of the art itself?
This is entirely subjective. I’ve seen beautifully constructed glitch-alike artwork created in Processing and other programming languages and I’ve seen horrible, or just generally uninspiring artwork that is create purely through glitches. Although the process of creating the artwork is interesting I’m far more intrigued to see what artwork is created with the technology. To give another perspective consult the Vademecum of digital art, particularly point 8:
If the description of an artwork looks like the catalog of a computer reseller, check if the artwork contains more than mere fascination for technology.
Philosophy time! If a glitch is forced, is it still a glitch?
Nope. I think in order to have true glitches you will have to remove human intervention. Even the act of choosing which glitches to display as glitch art removes the ephemeral nature of glitch art.
Do people often not ‘get’ your work? Are a lot of folk confused by why you do what you do, or do you find that people are more fascinated in it?
A bit of both. My friends often like (and indeed “Like”) what I do but don’t really get what it is or how it’s made. In other words, they appreciate the aesthetic value of glitch art. I did have a situation in March 2012 where I was asked to submit a proposal for a public artwork [that was based on glitch art]. It was rejected on the basis that there was a concern that people would not ‘get’ the artwork.
I think one of the best ways to ‘get’ glitch art is to allow yourself to not ‘get’ it: Appreciate that it is something random, unexpected and possibly very different from anything that you may have seen before.
What do you think about glitch art culture? Is it a fad or has its technological nature birthed a score of genuinely interesting artists?
This question comes around every so often. The first time I remember glitch art being declare a fad was soon after Kanye West released the video for Welcome to Heartbreak. The concern was that everyone would start to produce watered-down commercial glitch art just to make money. This hasn’t happened. Of course, for any style of artwork (see the “grunge” artwork era of the early 2000s) there will be periods of mass popularity, but this won’t, or at least shouldn’t cause the art to decrease in quality. For another insight, see Notes on Glitch, in particular point 44:
There is no question that the glitch aesthetic been co-opted by mainstream media. Kanye West’s video for “Welcome to Heartbreak” (Nabil Elderkin, 2009) is done in a finely tuned, very slick style, using a glitch technique known as “datamoshing.” The artwork that accompanies the soundtrack CD for The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010) features glitch stills that would not look out of place in the Flickr Glitch Art pool.21 When glitched images appear in mainstream motion pictures—for instance the Joker’s videos in The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008), or the camcorder footage in Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)—they are always deployed in the name of authenticity, and never in order to call into question the illusion of (digital) cinema itself. Rare is the feature film in which a glitch goes unexcused by the premise of a film-within-a-film. In mainstream popular culture, glitch is deployed not as a marker of artifice, but as a signifier of raw authenticity. It is a digital version of what Garrett Stewart—in describing the “painstakingly hand-defaced” faux newsreels of Citizen Kane—calls “authentication by disrepair,” and in this sense very much a reversion to the analog paradigm.
As long as there are artists that continue to create and innovate in this area then it will evolve. The only thing that I feel will kill glitch art is repetition, over saturation and selfishness. On that latter part, see point 49:
Glitch has embraced the open-source mentality of sharing knowledge, which is rooted in the DIY tradition of punk. When a glitch artist refuses to reveal how work was made, it not only raises a question of whether it is “really” glitch—as opposed to a Photoshopped simulation—but also whether the artist is selfishly hiding their technique in a refusal to contribute to the collective knowledge. This all reflects an anxiety over authenticity and the underlying politics of glitch—something not strictly defined, but which favors cooperation and community over the proprietary motivations of any individual auteur.
Which do you like more; having the end glitched visuals or the process of creating and experimenting to achieve them?
A bit of both. For most of my artwork I like to create new tools (Pure Data patches, processing sketches, shell scripts) to create the new artwork. This approach helps me keep the practice as interesting as the outcome
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Anything where order can be found in chaos. I’m particularly influenced by heavy metal and electronic music. Some of the people I know have strong – usually negative – opinions about this music but I really like trying to find patterns and order in the music, and so too in glitch art.
What are you trying to say through your work, if anything at all? Is there a message that you want to send, and who are you sending it to? Or is your work more for you than anyone else?
It depends on the piece. Through using only open source software I aim to bring creativity via software to more people. Through releasing much of the code and techniques I aim to make digital art more accessible. For an example of a piece that has meaning behind, see What Revolution? and I Am Sitting in a Room. They don’t have very deep meanings but there is more to them than just being pretty.
There are, however, times when I just want to make a pretty picture.
What techniques and equipment do you use most to create your work? What’s your favourite process?
I create almost ll of my artwork on my Dell Studio laptop. Since 2007 I’ve exclusively used Ubuntu Linux. The combination of the two makes for a very capable, if not very powerful, computer to create things on. Occasionally I use old camcorders, VHS tapes, circuit-bent toys (for sounds) and whatever other materials I can find. However, it nearly always is somehow compiled into something on the computer.
In terms of software, for my still images, I mostly use text editors. I did make some scripts to automate some glitch effects – the What Glitch? scripts – but these essentially automate glitching files using a text editor. Despite writing the popular tutorial on databending using Audacity tutorial, I rarely use Audacity in my work. I’m beginning to use Processing a bit more, but even then the output is usually glitched in text editors.
For my performance and VJ work I exclusively use Pure Data. Unlike Mac and Windows, there isn’t a wealth of choice when VJing [on Linux]. You either livecode in Fluxus, attempt to compile VeeJay or build your own software in Pure Data. I chose the latter as it allows me to build software that suits my needs and evolves as I do (the same can be said for similar programs like Max/MSP).
As far as I’m aware there isn’t a way to produce glitch art using only PD (ok, there is a jpg glitch plugin but I’ve never got it to compile), but it’s great for adding glitch-like effects to videos.
Are there any elements to glitch art that you don’t like?