In glitch art we only ever see result of the process of damaging an image, video or sound. Rarely can we observe this process as it happens within the computer in an instant. Using Alvin Lucier’s 1969 piece I Am Sitting in a Room as inspiration, in this piece I show the many steps taken to damage data to the point where it loses all meaning.
Font files are files that attribute a style to the otherwise plain text that we see on screen. The computer treats this only as an attribute of the text and can understand it regardless of what font file is used or how it looks to the viewer.
In this piece I have used a script, created in collaboration with G Bulmer, that explores the font file and damages it by randomising the values that construct each glyph. The computer, doing only what it has been instructed to do, continually attacks the font files’ data to the point where it is sometimes corrupted and not even it can interpret it correctly.
The resulting video shows the gradual damaging of the data. The viewer will struggle to find meaning amongst the visual noise whilst the computer still understands it.
The full text reads:
I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I have typed out this text using a font called Dataface and I am going to randomise parts of the font file’s code and save the results of it again and again, until it’s appearance becomes illegible and the font file is destroyed. What you will see, then, are the effects of randomisation, with the occasional glitch that occurs when the font file is so badly damaged that the computer is unable to read it. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of my ability to edit fonts but more a way to eliminate all meaning that this text might have.
Since I was introduced glitch art last May I’ve really been hooked on exploring this technique and how it can affect my artwork. One thing that I’ve never done is to explain why I do this, so here it goes!
For me glitch art is about exploring the boundaries in which things will operate as expected, with particular emphasis on computers. Computers are very complex and can take years to understand understand. Computers are also very obedient. They will do what you tell them to, but you have to tell them in a way that they understand. For example, it is assumed that if you double-click on an image it will open in an image viewer or editor. This is because the image has data in it (the header data) describing what kind of file it is and when you double-click on it an instruction is sent to open that kind of file with any program that can interpret it that data.
But then, what about if we fooled the computer into thinking it is opening one type of file, when in fact it is another. For example, what if we added the header data of an image file to an mp3 file and then tried to edit it in an image editor? The output is usually a burst of colourful pixels. Whilst we may perceive the output as an error and instantly discard it the computer is not as judgemental. It is devoid of emotion and doesn’t question actions and will do what we tell it to do, and so will happily do this with any data that it has been instructed to interpret.
Why would one want to do all of this? Think of the computer as a world of its own, or the human body. All of the underlying code and hardware relies on each other for it to operate successfully. Should one part become damaged it can sometimes be fatal, but often the overall ability to operate is hampered. How far can I push a piece of hardware or software before it either breaks itself or the whole computer? You can easily relate this to athletes who constantly put their bodies through hours of physically demanding activity in order to push the boundaries in which their bodies will operate. In either case, at what point will you reach the limits?
More importantly, what can be discovered by doing all of this? New, hidden abilities that we didn’t know our computers had, improved performance, increased knowledge of how things work, a new form of art, or something else? Well, that’s what I want to find out.
On Tuesday 25th May I found myself in Walsall for the second time ever to help out with an a.a.s Group project. In keeping with how I’ve worked with them previously, I didn’t really know all that much about the project until I got there.
Upon arrival at the New Art Gallery Walsall I met with artist Bobi Robson, where we were given £10 each and the task to go around charity shops looking for clothes that an alien might wear if they were trying (and failing) to fit in.
It’s amazing how hard it is to dress in clothes that don’t really go well together.
We then had to explore Walsall, though for me the feeling of being lost was completely genuine
I know this is all vague, but that’s how I like it! More about what happens in the project… as it happens.