Artists and copyright: “Everything is a remix” – article in a-n

On 20th January a-n published an article/interview/writeup with myself, Hannah Pierce and Owne G Parry. The article focuses on the Common Property exibition and more broadly asks for our thoughts on the state of Copyright. One excerpts from Hannah Pierce discussing the motivation behind the exhibition:

“I remember going through art school and never at any point having any conversations around copyright or what it meant to be working with somebody else’s image. I was really interested by this lack of knowledge that we have; I thought that a really good way to work that out would be through a show.”


And one from me discussing the four video pieces:

His second installation, featuring four video pieces, is inspired by four songs that have been at the centre of copyright lawsuits. “I thought, how can I share this song and get away with it. How else can I share this song with the world?”


The copyright conundrum this throws up goes to the heart of the debate around creative ownership in the digital age. “It’s still the same song, the data is still the same data, it’s just being reinterpreted,” says Roberts. “So, is that an infringement of copyright?”

Head over to a-n to read the whole article.

Interview with Rosemary Kirton

Early in 2015, off the back of my appearance at the Loud Tate: Code event, Rosemary Kirton interviewed me for an online magazine. Sadly that magazine is no longer online and the interview was never published. With her permission I’m posting it below. Some of what is said is now irrelevant or old, but it was such a great interview that I just had to share it.

Interview with Rosemary Kirton

Antonio Roberts, currently based in Birmingham, UK, talks to [redacted] about his work as a Glitch artist, and how meaningful it is to him and for our digital posterity, to share this knowledge with the public.

“Code literacy is likely to benefit us through a better understanding of how computers are intentionally produced to use us, and a digitally literate public can work to fight this.

Loud Tate: Code

I was really pleased to see you got your Art Residency at University of Birmingham, UK back in July, how is that going?

It started off a bit slow at first but has been picking up speed now that the academic year is in full swing. My residency proposal was to do research into copyright and how that affects the use, reuse and remixing of the cultural archives and collections at the University of Birmingham (five collections in total). This topic is definitely tailored towards research, and as such I haven’t actually produced much tangible artwork. Much of my time has been spent doing reading around the subject.

What’ve you been reading then?

Writers, artists and activists including Aymeric Mansoux, Rob Myers, Ronan Deazley, Richard Clay, Aaron Swartz and Nina Paley have been influencing a lot of my work.

Copyright is a very complex topic to address, and making work that engages with or challenges it well requires some understanding of it. You don’t want to end up looking like a fool or spouting buzzwords like Copyleft, Free Culture and Creative Commons without a thorough understanding. Mansoux talks about this in his essay My Lawyer is an Artist. In an e-mail exchange with him he elaborates further:

One can obviously make really good works or really bad ones, regardless of the license used, and using a free culture license for purely poetical or formal concerns is perfectly fine. The trap is to think that, today, having a free license is a shortcut towards a form of activism or political statement. If you’re interested in the latter, then make it a core element of your practice, the choice of a particular licensing mechanism will come later on, naturally, to compliment or reinforce, maybe twist your idea, not substitute it.” Aymeric Mansoux

What other plans do you have beyond this research?

In an ideal world I would convince the University of Birmingham to relicense their archives and collections under more liberal licences. I already know that this process isn’t so simple – especially when there can be so many rights owners involved in a single artifact – so I intend on making work which engages with these limitations and attempts to work around them, all the while highlighting the ridiculousness of current copyright law.

I picked up on you challenging/exploring limits of copyright not long ago with a series of GIFs that explored these themes. Care to give a little insight into how Copyright Atrophy came about?

Copyright Atrophy, which formally launched in 2014, has its roots in a piece I made in 2011. What Revolution? used glitch art – more specifically vector glitches – to highlight the change in meaning of a logo or symbol through reappropriation, reuse, overuse and remixing.


From that I started playing around with a processing sketch to decimate SVGs (vector files), and then used this sketch to decimate the Arts Council logo in response to a round of funding cuts that they had made.

Due to the lengthy process of manually downloading all the files, I put the project on hold, in order to release Comic Sans Must Die, after which I eventually came back to Copyright Atrophy.

Similarly to What Revolution? I wanted to challenge copyright and explore how far a piece/artwork/symbol must deviate from its original before it loses all associations from its original. Or, to put it another way, how far can I got before I get sued!

You’ve been travelling around the world to work, present at or organize festivals and events. Is there anything you use to occupy yourself on these journeys?

I really hate flying, so usually the fear is in itself enough to keep my occupied. Fear aside, I’m a massive fan of podcasts. I’m a regular listener of This American Life, More or Less, Science Hour, Sex Nerd Sandra and Wiretap. It allows me a distraction whilst I sit motionless engrossed by fear. :’)

Despite the traumatic flights, where did you go and what did you get up to 🙂 ?

I’ve taken far too many flights this year. In March I was invited to Stony Brook University in New York to give a lecture about glitch art for their f(Glitch) event and also curate a Bring Your Own Beamer event. Towards the end of March I was back in the States for a social visit. I had gotten into the habit of seeing my glitch buddies at least once a year for GLI.TC/H, and so when that festival didn’t happen in 2013 I felt a bit sad, so I went to Chicago for a few days. This was followed by a few days in New York City and then a suprise visit to Miami due to a delayed connection.

In September I was back in Chicago to take part in glitChicago, an exhibition about the Chicago glitch scene curated by Paul Hertz. I still find it incredible to think that I’m part of the scene there despite living over 5000 miles away.

I also regularly go to Brussels to either work with or take part in activities organised by Constant/OSP. It’s much less traumatic travelling there as it’s just a two-hour train ride on the Eurostar.

I don’t really travel for reasons other than to work. I’m a workaholic and love teaching so will take any opportunity to work, perform at an event or teach at an institution, much to the chagrin of partners or buddies that may be travelling with me.

What apps/programs do you use most often for your work?

Many of the app choices are determined by the fact that I use Ubuntu Linux as my default operating system. I try to use programs that are cross-platform – so that others may use them – but for some things there’s just no good alternative:

I use Imagemagick – for converting images between different formats, Pure Data – For live performance work and Gedit – the default text editor that I do the majority of my programming in

On my phone I don’t really use many apps: Twitter, ColorNote, Tumblr, Instagram…

I focus on being productive so rarely have time to sample and play around with new toys/programs unless I intend on heavily investing in them.

I like that sense of commitment!

Which apps/programs have you stopped using recently and care to say why? (I have whatsapp downloaded and never got around to using it, similar with my Ello account.)

I stopped using the Facebook app for a couple of reasons. First, I really was concerned about the privacy issues. Many apps need a lot of access to a phone’s functions and many will claim to have the user’s interests in mind, but I do trust Facebook less than I trust others. The other reason is I couldn’t stand all the constant notifications. (Hot tip: try using the mobile version of the site, it’s almost identical in functionality to the app but without notification overload.)

WhatsApp has similar privacy issues and I hate using yet another messaging service that isn’t based on published standards. SMS and e-mail will live long past the latest app fads.

I completely understand the concept behind Snapchat, but I’m an archivist by nature, and so I would often find myself wanting to post the same content to Snapchat and other services such as Instagram and Tumblr, which aren’t as ephemeral.

I never signed up for Ello, Emojli, Yo, or many of the “new” social networking sites. I have nothing against what they are set out to achieve, I just have no reason to do the same thing – posting funny cat pictures – but on a different site.

Glitches for Rosemary Kirton

I was thinking about how people were and perhaps continue to debate the term ‘glitch,’ or ‘glitch art’. How do you feel about the term and your work?

Every so often I see an article or blog post declaring the death of glitch art due to apps making it easy to produce and it being overused. I really don’t care for that argument. There is the argument that these apps and push-button processes only allow engagement with glitch art on a superficial level, but anything that widens access to glitch art can only be a good thing. Also, out of the thousands that download these apps and engage on a purely aesthetic level occasionally there are a few that really start to delve into glitch art and help to contribute to it on a critical level.

Part of the reason for my attitude is because there is more to glitch than just a visual aesthetic. It’s a very open concept that can include anything that incorporates randomness, chance, use and appropriation of mistakes, destruction and many other similar concepts.

Whenever I’m presenting or teaching people about glitch art I always try to include Translation Party and the Caption Fail videos by Rhett and Link as examples of how concepts surrounding glitch art – computational error, misuse of software etc – can manifest themselves in ways other than just datamoshing or jpg glitches.

Yeh in the spirit of the ‘death of painting’ it makes sense that glitch art would have a more accelerated cycle of apparent death! I often document glitches, or behaviours in programs/ services I use and cannot comprehend… Do you do this too?

I used to do this in my early days of glitch art. My What is your Glitch? videos were a response to the Vernacuar of File Formats by Rosa Menkman and a way for me to document the glitch aesthetics I was discovering.

At the first GLI.TC/H in 2010 myself and Jeff Donaldson/noteNdo started the Glitch Safari project, which was a way to collate glitches found on public displays. Aside from that, glitches usually happen too quickly for me to capture them.

Are there any particular processes in the wide remit that might result in glitched visuals that are your favourite to use?

I absolutely love feedback loops. This is where you feed the output of your visuals back in on itself. Similar to what happens when you put a mirror in front of another mirror. It creates a water-like flow of colour which I really like and works very well for live performances. I used this recently for the visuals I did for My Panda Shall Fly at Fierce Festival.

Glitches for Rosemary Kirton

As for file formats I really love SGI file format glitches. Sometimes it results in red, green and blue rectangles that are far removed from the original image, but at other times it can create amazing grid-like patterns.

How did you discover this kind of practice- glitching and testing the limits of programs- were there any milestones or inspirations that spurred your interest?

Glitches for Rosemary Kirton

Prior to that I had made some accidental glitch art when my camera malfunctioned. I tried, without success to recreate that in Photoshop.

Insectoid recording session

The other major milestone was attending the 2010 GLI.TC/H event. Even though I had only been creating glitch art for a little over a year, the community was very welcoming and demonstrated the many ways to work with – and against – computers. I know it’s cheesy, but the community was and still is a great inspiration to me.

Whom or what takes your interest currently, like peers or projects?

A big part of my practice is about free culture and sharing knowledge. Since 2008 all of my work has been made using open source software and shortly after that using Linux as my default OS.

To that end, I’ve always respected those that use open source software. One such group that inspires me is Constant/OSP, who are a design group based primarily in Brussels. They exclusively use open source software and experimental practices to produce work that is indistinguishable from art made with “Professional” software.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with them on several occasions and they’ve taught me a lot about reclaiming my tools and building my own to produce artwork.

I noticed you ran a workshop where you were making these things accessible- teaching people how to make a glitch cat, a glitched logo- in September. What did you want your students to get out of that experience?

I wanted to show them that “hey, you can do this as well”. I wanted to demystify the glitch art practices and show that you don’t need to rely on pre-built software – like the plethora of apps out there. Part of the workshop that wasn’t documented was me trying to expand glitch art past being just a visual aesthetic e.g. how can some of the concepts surrounding glitch art – randomness, exploiting errors in programs, misuse of programs etc – be used in other practices.

An example of this which I often point to is Variations on a Theme by Casey & Finch by Erik Bunger (2002 – 2011), in which the Bunger chopped and rearranged Casey and the Sunshine Band’s 1975 hit That’s the Way (I Like It) to sound like a skipping CD, which was then performed by a live band. I absolutely loved how it takes the aesthetics of a skipping CD – something which was a common frustration to many people – and appropriates it for something that is really entertaining!

Glitches for Rosemary Kirton

Do you think everyone should learn to code?

Think of it this way: You don’t need to know how to cook in order to eat at a restaurant, but if you want something that isn’t on the menu then it sure helps.

Given the theme of these interviews, which address ‘User Style’ I find the idea of learning to code interesting because it blurs the binary relationship between user and service.

To extend and mangle your analogy, lol sorry 😛 learning to code provides the digital consumer/consumed with a better understanding of the structures that they inhabit/use and the means to change them, perhaps…?

Yes, definitely! On one level knowing how something is made lets you fix and modify it. On another level you can begin to understand how it is operating and – potentially – using you.

Learning to code seems like it has a DIY vibe but really it still engenders a reliance on a great many structures, systems and collaborators beyond immediate cognition.

While it may provide a user/individual with a level of independence at first, how do you think a coding-informed public will impact the digital/environment in years to come?

I hope that a digitally literate public will they begin to dictate the direction that their lives and surrounding environment takes. It’s often said that knowledge is power and now, more than ever, it couldn’t be more true. The amount of information flying around us, and the power that it possesses, has been highlighted in many high profile and occasionally unfortunate events. Chelsea Manning, Aaron Swartz, Julian Assange/Wikileaks and many others have fought to make us more digitally literate at their own expense. Code literacy is likely to benefit us through a better understanding of how computers are intentionally produced to use us and a digitally literate public can work to fight this.

Interview with Tribe Magazine

Back in December 2013 I did an interview with Emily Pickthall from Tribe Magazine. Sometime around May in 2014 it was finally published in issue 28 of the online magazine. Below is the full interview. Enjoy!

(images and links added by me)


Antonio Roberts first spliced a name for himself at the international GLI.TC/H festival which emerged in Chicago, expanding to include cities from Amsterdam to Birmingham, where Roberts is currently based. Screening his breakthrough video piece ‘I am Sitting in a Room’ at the 2010 festival, Roberts generated a significant profile for himself both online and in then emergent circles of hacktivism, dirty media and noise artists.

In his 2013 article for Libre Graphics Magazine, Roberts explains that “[g]litch art is the aesthetisation of digital or analogue errors…by either corrupting digital code and data or by physically manipulating electronic devices”. Signalling back to early information theory and the avant-garde, Roberts’ glitch work boldly demonstrates how the digital artist doesn’t just learn how technology works, in order to utter a language of code or craft an image mimicking the real. More frequently, the digital artist foregrounds process over product and allows unpredictable, external forces – chance and automata – to supersede the power of the artist. As though there really was a ‘ghost in the machine’.

For Roberts, glitch art is a creative and playful method of exploration which verges into the commercially and politically subversive. He has previously engaged in specific debates such as art and copyright, not to mention an outright user of open source software. Roberts has written on his blog on his ethical standpoint regarding open source software:

“For instance, opening an image file in an audio editing program (a process known as databending) has been done for many years using proprietary programs such as Adobe Audition. Whilst useful, users either have to spend a lot of money on the software or find an illegal copy.”

Antonio Roberts spans a wellspring of methods and media disciplines. To date, he has exhibited graphics and found items at locations such as the Furtherfield Gallery in London and TROVE in Birmingham. Some of the most enthralling exercises of his work include live glitch performances; full immersive, audio-visual displays that have been picked up on by hosts as unpredictable as the Birmingham Opera Company. Recently in late 2013, he worked with [RHP] CDRs, the record label organising 7 Days of Sound Festival in Leamington Spa, riffing on the relationship between experimental music and contemporary art.

In this exclusive interview with tribe, Antonio Roberts discusses the importance of viewer curiosity and open access tutorials, his hatred of the Comic Sans font, the ephemeral life of the machine along with his own ephemeral life in multimedia graphics before glitch was even a catchword.

Firstly, can you tell me where the pseudonym hellocatfood came from?

I just needed a new username about seven years ago and I was just sitting and thinking about this episode of The Simpsons where Ralph Wiggum says, ‘my cat’s breath smells like cat food‘ and for some reason that phrase popped into my head and then the word ‘hello’ just added itself to it and it has stuck for this long simply because no one else had the web address It was random enough to not really mean anything but has now become the focus of me, everyone always asks the question! There isn’t really a personality to go with it; most people just think that I’m a girl because of the association with Hello Kitty!

Can you tell me more about your background and training? I see that you have both a Bachelors and Masters in multimedia graphics and digital performance, but how self-taught would you consider yourself to be? Where did you your interests first emerge?

I started off doing drawings and paintings back when I was a young kid, but I’ve always been interested in computers and playing with them. Mainly because I wanted to know how it all worked; how everything worked, really. I’ve always been the one in the family who fixes things I’ve always been the one who wants to explore things. I guess when I did my degree it was more focused on web design than experimental work. It was all how to use Photoshop and how to design a page for ecommerce. It wasn’t until a year after my Bachelors that a friend of mine said, ‘have you tried any glitch art?’ By then I had started doing a little programming and using a little Linux which I started using in 2008. Linux really lends itself to exploration. With my Masters, which I did in 2010, it was very much an extension of everything that I’d been doing up until that point. It is very easy with digital art to focus on the technology and not produce a good artwork. That said, glitch is very much self-taught; they do teach this kind of stuff at universities now, but back then my professors had no interest. They just let me get on with stuff, because there were no courses in experimental art or my kind of circuit bending.

On your blog you post about associations with festivals like GLI.TC/H which emerged in Chicago and have expanded to include cities such as Amsterdam and Birmingham, where you’re based. The festival doesn’t just feature glitch and sound artists, but also internationally based performance artists, DIY enthusiasts and hacktivists. How do you feel about being filed among these ranks? How do you relate the work of performers and hackers, for instance?

By the very fact that I’m doing glitch art – which is as a form very subversive – I suppose that what I’m doing is quite political. I’m not anti-Microsoft or anti-Apple. This is not at the forefront of my art, I don’t rant at people who use a Mac but I would associate with the DIY crowd, who like to explore rather than take what is given to them. Usually when I meet up with these people they’ll be sat around a table, surrounded by all these pieces, working out how to break something and not how to use it. You may also see that I publish a lot of tutorials on my website, talking about what I do and the processes, which is mainly to encourage others to have the same line of thinking, not necessarily to ditch Microsoft and Apple but to make their own tools. Which means that yeah, you might spend a lot more time developing them. But once you’ve made them, you understand them and might even create things that even you didn’t imagine were possible.

Its certainly a very democratic form of art – but how would you classify glitch as an art form? Is it closer to a technology, an aesthetic or political subversion? Or is it just play?

Well, it depends where you want to go with that. I’m based in Birmingham and there a lot of traditional art galleries, hence it has been tough in relation to the things that I do. But it is creative. It might not be very physical and it sometimes isn’t perceived as art, but it is still creative. So even if there some people who focus on the technology, practitioners who just want to see how you can use and what you can do with the technology. Of course, there are lots of self-proclaimed ‘artists’ who really just mess around and put lots of GIFs on Tumblr. Interestingly, glitch has also become a craft. I mean, here’s one –(holds up pixelated glitch scarf) – this is a glitch scarf, from one of my friends, [Glitchhaus]. He takes screenshots from broken hardware and will make things out of them, scarves and objects, whatever. It can still be viewed as a tool, but there are lots of people making artwork out of it. The difficult part is going to be convincing the traditional institutions, but I see it happening more these days.

I first came across your work through the Furtherfield gallery web page and the Glitch Moment/ums exhibition which you were involved in during June this year. One of the corresponding essays that I read on the website discussed how glitch art “sits in the historical tradition of process art and chance art. Automatism and chance acts in Dada [and] Surrealism”, which avoid a specific intent for the artist in creating a work. What are your views on this – is the process or the product more important to you in glitching?

Glitch Moment/ums Opening Event - 08 June 2013

Both are important, for sure. The way that I create artwork, sometimes the process comes first and sometimes the product. Sometimes I’ve tried out a new script and I’ve gone, ‘oh, this is amazing!’ I still might now know what to do with it, however. I have the capacity to come back to it later, because most of what I do is ideas driven. I agree that the process is very important, because after all, these are computers. They have been built and people want to know how to make them, how to reproduce them and so on. Inherently, glitch is going to be heavily based around process. Most of the emails I get ask, ‘how can I do this?’

When it comes to chance and generative art, I like seeing when people give up the role of the artist to outside processes, such as a script they’ve written or even just in dripping paint, allowing gravity and every other force to take over. It can be liberating to know that and to create something which makes its own art. The focus is on the tool, so you get into questions like ‘am I the artist, or is the programme the artist? Do I make the programme, or does the programme make the artist?’ These are questions that we’re always looking to answer, so I can’t give you a definite answer.

What about issues such as artificial intelligence – for you, does glitch ever create moments where “the computer itself [will] suddenly appear unconventionally deep”, which seem to indicate that there is some level of unpredictability or uncanny free will in the digital medium?

Yeah, totally! Recently I’ve been messing around with hardware, especially hardware video synthesisers. In fact, here is one – (holds up volatile looking box of circuitry) – this is a 1994 model, you will have been able to use it in conferences and do different kinds of transitions and pitching and things. These I find quite unpredictable. It’s literally all circuits and I usually work in codes, although I don’t have a degree in computer science or anything. Yesterday I was messing around with some wires and plugging in different things and I was getting some really interesting sound and visuals, but I didn’t have a clue what was happening; it was just doing its thing, it seemed to have a life of its own. As long as there are no fires or electric sparks then I don’t really care what it does! I don’t press buttons the whole way through. My interaction usually stops once I turn it on and these objects make what they make of it.

How do you typically expect viewers/users with events that you are involved in to respond to your work and interact with it?

I expect them to be curious, really. I hope that they don’t go away thinking, ‘that was rubbish’ – I hope that they think, ‘that was rubbish, but I want to know more!’ Typically after every performance, people want to know how it’s been done. So I show them the software and give them a demo. It seems to me that more people than you would realise are very open to glitch art; people like the bright colours for one thing. I expect them at the very least to be curious about how it has all been made. I don’t want to cause too many headaches from the bright flashing lights and loud noises, although that has to be expected!

Lots of glitch art seems to be an exaggerated and ironic commentary on popular media and technology. Your recent project ‘Comic Sans Must Die‘ was a light hearted attack on the Comic Sans font and really made me aware of this.


It is true. The thing that I always ask when I’m describing glitch art is, ‘you remember those analogue TV sets that you used to go fuzzy and weird when you lost the connection?’ We try to recreate that. It’s a little bit of nostalgia too, of course. We have a few links with the 8bit music scene, although it’s not exclusively about that.

How important do you consider it to keep a running archive of your work?

Very important, mostly because you’re playing with hardware and most of the time when it is doing its thing, a glitch is short lived. It is just a moment in time and they cannot always be reproduced: once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s happened. Although one question is, ‘if I am controlling and reproducing my art is it really a glitch?’ I argue that yeah, it is. Because the glitches were a glitch in the first instance. It’s all ephemeral. Every performance that I do is unique in many ways. The results of what I will do will exist in a certain spectrum of results and within this spectrum, it could be anything. I wouldn’t recommend documenting every single thing or every single picture, but sometimes I just have to for structure. To know what I’m doing and keep a body of work.

What can you foresee in the future in terms of your work and ambitions?

I trained as a graphic designer and I’m hoping to do a little more of that again, really. I recently did a project, as you mentioned earlier, called ‘Comic Sans must Die’ – I really do hate Comic Sans – but what was happening there was that in destroying each different glyph, I was creating a new design. Not so much generative design, but degenerative design. Taking what exists and creating new designs in themselves, through destruction.

You can also see this in the ‘I am Sitting in a Room’ video, the one that got me ‘internet famous’. It’s a silent video, only a minute long but similar to ‘Comic Sans Must Die’ although this one came first, in 2010. Fonts are all just vectors, you see, so I just minimised the position of the lines and the font file and then I did a pastiche of text. Each frame of the video is a different font file and there are a thousand different iterations of this file, so if you wanted iteration 900, for instance, where the text is just bleeding all over the screen, you could use this font in a word processor. I really want to come back to this degenerative design and bring chance back into graphics. That’s my future, I guess. My contemporaries will be doing more in video and I should think I still will be doing performances, but my focus will return to graphic design and images.