In 2011 Rosa Menkman published “Network Notebook＃04：The Glitch Moment(um)”. At a time when the term “glitch art”, art about computer errors or ‘glitches’, was not that common. The Glitch Moment(um) attempted to understand glitch art as a new genre of modern art. During that same time Menkman was also one of the facilitators of a glitch art festival called GLI.TC/H, all the while creating glitch art herself, practicing the theories she wrote. Although her career started in the area of glitch theory, Menkman’s work gradually expanded to cover more diverse topics. In 2015, she opened the The institutions of Resolution Disputes (i.R.D.) at Transfer Gallery, which can be seen as her start of her research into resolutions. As a result of the evolution of technology, certain ways of functioning exist beyond a threshold of visibility, inside a black box or obscured by an interface. Menkman researches these borderline functionalities and their mechanics of disappearance in a critical manner. She intends to recognise these other, invisible settings and imagine alternative implementations. Instead of being enslaved by the conception of technology as a “blackbox”, or its functioning as magical, she attempts to construct dimensions that are generally invisible to us. Today glitch art and its aesthetics has reached a more popular status. Glitch art is often disconnected from its roots in code or the errors resulting from imperfect algorithms. Even so, Menkman believes there is still an informative side to glitch aesthetics.
In this discussion we will focus on the beginnings of glitch culture, and move on to highlight the ways in which the glitch art genre has developed today. The panel discussion consists of Rosa, Nukeme who is exploring the expansion of glitch through fashion, and artist and programmer ucnv, who creates open source tools and works to further develop the research of glitch in digital media such as images and video.
Menkman During my time in university, I often VJ-ed; I made visuals to accompany sound artists and tried to translate what they did technically to the domain of video processing – I hoped this would provoke some kind of alternative form of ‘technological’ synesthesia, with Goto80, who used the Commodore 64. This old console has a SID chip (a soundchip from 1982 or 1983) that is partially analog and partially digital. The Commodore 64 originally has a very small palette of sound, but if you exploit the analogue qualities of the SID chip, you can create different, new kinds of sounds other than the standard sounds. Goto80 used hard and software modifications to control and exhaust these possibilities of the Commodore, which I then tried to recreate in my video synthesizer.
ucnv Did you do a kind of circuit bending?
Menkman I used many different kinds of techniques, but one of my favourite pieces of hardware was indeed my circuitbend Panasonic WJ AVE-4, which Karl Klomp helped me to prepare. The circuit inside this videomixer is still entirely analogue, except for the video chip that processes effects such as mosaic and mirror effect – that chip is digital. A fantastic feature which is very helpful when trying to sync sounds to visuals. Because the video chip translates the analogue video signal to the digital domain, it effectively stabilises the signal. As a result, you can actually input any signal (which means, also sound) and translate it to the domain of video. I used to combine the sound signal with the video signal, which would impose distortions sharing the rhythm of the sound on the video. I could also trigger feedback or use only the sound as input, without any video signal.
Nukeme I know the name Goto80. He joined the Wrong art biennale last time.
Menkman Yes, it’s the same one.
At the time I was writing my master thesis on Jodi (the net art collective) and we discussed error and glitch a lot. Today we know Jodi as a glitch art collective, but back in 2006, nobody called their work “glitch art” yet. In my thesis, I used the term glitch only twice. I don’t think I realized I was writing about glitch art. I didn’t understand glitch art as a genre yet because there were very few references to this particular art form. It wasn’t really a genre because there was no shared language, context or history between “glitch artists”.
Who started calling it glitch art?
Menkman Of course, the term glitch was used within the domain of sound (art), but it had not made its way into the visual arts yet – only very sporadically: Per Platou from Norway organised a festival “Motherboard” in 2002, which had BEFLIX (in my opinion a pioneer of glitch art) in the line-up and featured conversations about glitch. And of course Iman Moradi wrote his bachelor thesis on Glitch Aesthetics in 2004. But besides these two occurrences, references to “glitch art” were very few and far in between.
Like most things I don’t believe we need to pinpoint one particular beginning. Most powerful movements don’t start from a vacuum – but come from a hive mind. I think slowly, slowly glitch art became a term. To have witnessed this development is a really special experience and memory to me.
Nukeme Oval’s work was categorised as glitch, but nobody called it glitch art, right?
Menkman Exactly. There is also a book written about this phenomenon, by Caleb Kelly. It’s called “The Sound of Malfunction”. I think Kelly was doing a lot of research on similar phenomena in Australia. He once wrote me that they were already using the term for over a decade when I started researching Jodi. I guess there are many instances and examples of people claiming they coined or used a term first. To me the coinage of a term is not the most interesting part of the history of a genre. In the case of the glitch art genre, I am more interested in how it developed to become as popular as it is today. I scraped Delicious, the bookmark site people used a lot back in the early 2000s, where I found the first “glitch art” hashtags dating from around 2006. After 2007, suddenly the genre became very popular, like a real explosion!
Nukeme Did datamoshing exist already around that time?
Menkman Yeah, sure! I actually made a timeline of the history and developments around datamoshing. The first time the term “moshing” was used is in the description of this youtube video titled “Untitled Data Mash-up, Paul B Davis and Jacob Ciocci” (2007). The description goes like this: “hi youtubez!!!!! something happened to my umbrella video it got moshed up with the cranberrrries data woops!!!! help!!!!!”. But I have found examples of the use of this effect going as far back as divxprime by Bertrand Planes (2004-2007) and in APpRoPiRate! by Sven Koenig (2005). In still images I could even trace the use of “poor images” (Steyerl, 2009) back as far as: Dan Hays’ Colorado impressions (2002) and Thomas Ruff JPEGs Series (2004-2007). Datamoshing gained massif popularity around 2009, when Kanye West used the effect in his video “Welcome to Heartbreak” and Datamosher (Bob Weisz) released a three part Youtube tutorial “HOW TO DATAMOSH”. The histories of glitch art are interesting. They are not uniform or singular. What we can learn from them is how new effects become standardized, adopted and appropriated into contemporary culture, where they become part of the language. There has already been written a lot about this though, maybe too much even…
Why did you start to study glitch?
Menkman I started to research glitch art, because I wanted to understand better what happened when I wrote my thesis on Jodi. I didn’t call their work glitch art in that thesis. As a result, in 2010 I published the “Glitch Studies Manifesto”.
Nukeme When did you publish your thesis “Glitch Moment(um)”?
Menkman “The Glitch Moment(um)” was published in 2011. It was a long process because it translated my 2009 master thesis into book form. It is one thing to write a master thesis and another to publish it as a book; these are two different things so there was some time in between.
Did you write “Glitch Studies Manifesto” with an intention for the community?
Menkman No. I think the premise of the manifesto was developed as slogans to project over videos during VJ-ing. I realised that the manifesto form is a really good tool to explain yourself something. You can read any manifesto by changing its statements into questions and if it is an interesting manifesto these questions will probably make you think. The Glitch Studies Manifesto was written 10 years ago, which means I was quite young. I didn’t think it would be possible to write something that would have an impact – that would even be remembered 10 years later. 10 years is a long time. Its actually long enough for a text to change its meaning, as the context and subject changes entirely.
What motivated the GLI.TC/H festivals?
Menkman Jon Cates invited me to visit Chicago, to perform “the Collapse of PAL” and to give a talk at Conversations At The Edge in Gene Siskel Film Center in 2010. Nick Briz and Jon Satrom, who were colleagues of Cates at the School of the Art Insitute in Chicago approached me, asking me if I wanted to do something more while I visited Chicago. So I said: “Okay, let’s do it!”. It went really fast. Evan Meaney joined the conversation and 2 months later there it was: the first GLI.TC/H festival facilitated by the glitch bots (Nick, Jon Satrom, Evan and I). It was really special. I met a lot of people during that time and they inspired me deeply. The festival itself had an open call and the intention to video stream everything. All the events were for free: it was as open and public as possible. I hope this helped the community to become more connected. And in a way I think it was the case; ucnv was very far away and but he was in the GLI.TC/H 2010 exhibition, and a later edition featured a work by youpy.
Rosa Menkman – The Collapse of PAL
ucnv I sent them two T-shirts we made on TEE PARTY.
Menkman They were really good; in a way they were a conversation piece. They featured the sentence GLITCH IS NOT DEAD in a JPEG artifacts and a Helvetica font, one of the most ubiquitous artifacts. It was so great to receive them.
Has the definition of glitch changed? Is there a border between the glitch and non or fake-glitch to you?
Menkman I often try to explain that glitch is not one thing. And glitch art, definitely is not one thing either. There are many ways to define, contextualize or describe glitch. In 2004, Iman Moradi set out to describe glitch and its roots in technological errors and mishaps and glitch aesthetics as “fake glitch”. I agree with him, that glitch has its roots in the accident of technology, but to me glitch art is something more complex and there is no such thing as the “fake glitch” in glitch art. The genre of glitch art and its histories are too complex to become simplified into a binary opposition of fake vs. real; it subsumes the twists and turns, the developments the genre has gone through and the many interesting qualities glitch art has. Back in the days, glitch art was often conceptual or based on technological experiments. It was a means to exploit technology and to create new modes of functioning. I think today the glitch is often used as a signifier, a lot of glitch art is entirely focused on aesthetics. Besides, I think “fake” is a quite negative adjective.
Do you know each other from the online communities?
ucnv I didn’t talk with her so much then.
Menkman I knew of ucnv from Flickr and maybe also from Yahoo groups back then. The same goes for Youpy. But we did not talk so much to each other. Today the communities are fragmented, not just because of the diversity in platforms due to the platform wars; as the genre of glitch art has developed, different platforms and groups support entirely different ways of approach (and even rules to approach the genre). Facebook alone has around 10 active or semi active glitch groups, that all have their own rules for posting within the platform. Besides that, there are new festivals taking place such as Fu:bar 2015-2019 in Croatia and Blue\x80 in Paris in 2018 (the latter organised by Kaspar Ravel). These are examples of new glitch art events and communities in which the conversations have evolved since I took part in them, although sometimes I still like to check in.
ucnv I understand that.
Menkman I think it’s partially because the glitch art genre has grown up so much. Glitch is not just an aesthetic on the internet, glitch is in the world now. The understanding of artifacts inherent to digital technologies, such as cracked screens, broken images, analog noise… All these artifacts have become normalised: digital technologies have become ubiquitous and so have these artifacts. They are everywhere. Everywhere is now littered with glitch. Glitches are on the flyer of my local sushi shop in Berlin. Glitches are no longer scary, unexpected breaks. Instead, we put them on our face as a face filter on instagram!
Glitch has become very popular.
Menkman The glitch effect is either used for its aesthetics, or as a reference to where it comes from technologically. This is why the glitch has evolved from meaningless break of a flow, to an effect with a signifying quality – the glitch has become a figure of speech. I have tried to research this in “A Lexicon of Glitch Affect”. Because of the central role technology plays within Sci-Fi, I thought this would be a good start of my research. The Lexicon intends to offer an insight into the development of meaning in the aesthetics of distortion in Sci-Fi movies throughout the years, via an analysis of 1200 Sci-Fi Trailers. Starting with trailers from 1998, I reviewed 30 trailers per year to obtain an insight into the development of noise artifacts in Sci-Fi from before the arrival of the home computer, to Sci-Fi adopting the contemporary aesthetics of our ubiquitous digital devices. My source for the trailers is the Internet Movie Database, where I accessed lists of the top-US Grossing Sci-Fi Titles per year. When watching these trailers I took screenshots whenever a distortion occured, and when possible interpreted them. Currently the database includes findings from research done into 630 trailers (1998-2018) but I wish to extend it to 1980-2020, spanning the 40 years of advancements in digital technologies and its distortions.
For instance, in the “Terminator 3” from 2003, the Terminators last words are: “The machines are starting to take over!” Then T-X knocks him out. A combination of what seems like digital and analogue, monochrome red distortions cover the ‘interface’ of the Terminators point of view as he goes down. Clearly the glitch here signifies the collapse and corruption of a technology. But over time, glitch aesthetics have become more sophisticated. When something is going wrong, the glitches can be used to show what is going wrong. In a movie called “Looper” (2012), which is set in 2074, the mob wants to get rid of someone. The target is sent into the past, where a hired gunman awaits them. In this movie, time jump problems are shown by a sliced, misaligned image with ghosting colors.
ucnv The new language glitch offers today is kind of normal. When the the character jumps through time, the movie seems to use an MPEG glitch.
Menkman Yea, or at least a similar effect.
Menkman Yes. This is interesting because these static macroblocks are often used in time based compressions and here these macroblocks signify complications in time travel; its almost a funny joke that they use the JPEG reference of the macroblocks artifact. Datamoshing, the video “smearing” effect that became very popular around 2010, are blocks that move too far on the vector of time. Datamoshing is based on the deletion of a key frame – it represents a time jump or time lapse. A good reference here would be Takeshi Murata’s “Pink Dot” video (2007).
“Pink Dot” is a very complex work, so complex that when you first watch it, the complexity might be lost on you; you will just see a pink dot, in a sea of artifacts. Daniel Rourke actually first explained the complexity of this video to me me. Let me try to explain it to you. In “Pink Dot”, Murata plays with different layers of time on top of each other. Sometimes he deletes a key frame and the background gets distorted (moshed). The pink dot is then clearly edited on top of the video. In another sequence in the video, the pink dot is suddenly mixed with the distortions, which means the video with the pink dot must have been moshed with the base video. This means Murata is giving us an insight into the levels of post-production part of the video editing process. He added the pink dot not just at the end of the video, but also somewhere in the middle of the editing process.
Takashi Murata “Pink Dot”
It’s a very interesting perspective. This kind of glitch as language is very different from what you are doing, isn’t it?
ucnv Well, I think so too.
What do you think of the aesthetic or sampling?
ucnv I think it’s interesting.
Nukeme Yours are more technical.
ucnv Yes, I look mostly at technology, since my perspective is the perspective of the programmer.
What do you think? I think your position is a little bit similar to his.
Nukeme My position is a little different. I consider how to utilise glitches. I don’t focus as much on the structure of the data as ucnv does. I am not a programmer. I rather challenge myself to think about the areas that glitch has not reached yet, for instance, embroidering, knitting or the production of clothes and things like that. It’s a diversion of glitch. Actually, I choose clothing just because I make clothing.
Nukeme – Glitch Embroidery
Menkman Yeah. I think what is really nice about this interview is that here we sit at a table with 3 people that work with glitch. We have all been connected for quite some years, but all 3 of us, we work quite differently. There is beauty in how glitch has developed as an art movement – and how it is still developing. Nothing is just a sudden storm, glitch always changes and so do we and our practices. It an ever changing process.
Nukeme What is the core of your desire to work with glitch? If you would not work with glitch, what do you think is essential to your curiosity?
Menkman It’s a really good question. Around five or six years ago, I tried to not use the word glitch any longer, because it felt like my practice had evolved and I wanted to be evalutated what I was doing, what I was researching. This is when I started to consider what other words I could use. I wondered how video became what it is today: for instance, its interface is square, it’s never round. There is no way that I can compress a circular video. This format is simply never developed or implemented, because it would take too much data and time to organise data in this way; its faster and easier to compress a quadrilateral formatted video. Circular video is basically a dysfunctional mode of operation. I realized then that I researched resolutions. A resolution means not just a modus operandi, which is reached or set when different objects or actors make concessions between their affordances. A resolution is also a state of concession, of compromise.
Could you give us some more examples of compromises?
Menkman Sure! Here in Japan, I have been working on “Behind White Shadows”. A research on bias inherent to the history of color test cards. Color test cards are a type of resolution test cards. You can find resolution test cards in the histories of all types of (imaging) technologies. The US Satellite for instance, used the Corona Test Targets; physical beacons located in the Arizona desert, which they used for the spatial calibration of their cold war spy satellites. The Kodak color test cards were known as “Shirley cards”. They were used for color calibration – to calibrate the color settings during the photo printing process. Even though there were many women posing as Shirley, Shirley was always a white skinned (caucasian) – she was never of another race. Only in the mid 90s they introduced the “multi cultural” color card (which features not just a caucasian Shirley, but also a black and an Asian Shirley). Which was a way to deal with the bias in color photography, which had previously been calibrated just for white people. A big chunk of the history of racial bias embedded in color test cards has been researched and written up by Lorna Roth (a media professor at Canada’s Concordia University). In the video for “Behind White Shadows” I took her research topic and transposed it to the digital era, where very similar stories can be found. For instance the JPEG, one of the most used image compressions, has only ever been tested and engineered with the help of the Lenna test card, again, a caucasian – white – woman. So in a way, what I do today is not just glitch, I think I zoomed out. But I also believe glitch is a part of my work today. ‘Glitching’ a technology is a very instrumental way to find (some of) the objects that take part in the setting of a resolution. It shows how the technology is built and supposed to work. After that, you can start thinking what parts are compromised.
Pique Nique pour les Inconnues (1)
Nukeme I think it’s almost a story about how the world is built, how technology and machinery recognize the world, or what the makers think when producing things.
How about you?
ucnv It’s about the standardization, isn’t it?
ucnv When something is compromised, for example, when a televisions shape is decided, it’s a compromise. Someone decided to compromise all the other possible shapes. Her research starts at doubting the standardisation and the included compromises. In the case of the standardisation of the color test card, which features just white women, the process of standardization involves a real problematic bias: by not including any other skin color, the color test card compromises the imaging quality of any other skin color.
Could you tell us about this visit to Japan? What was your lecture about?
Menkman When I visited the Tokyo City Flea Market, I saw a kimono that was very beautiful. It was stitched with a thin thread using very long stitches, different from what I am used too. When I looked for stitching methods I found this paragraph on wikipedia: “It matters what threads are used to construct a garment: using a thread that is stronger than the material that is sewn (the fabric) can end up causing rips in the material”. So threads generally need to be thinner, or less strong than the fabric it stitches, so it does not impose. In the Kimono, just like in any other technology, one needs to pay attention to the different parts of the product, what strengths they have. I felt Japan is special because here they even care about this in a very small piece of fabric. I found this such an interesting metaphor for resolution. For my presentation I started to think about all the artists that I met here in Japan, and how they employ this way of thinking in their work. How they thread message and (digital) material together in a very considerate, new way of presenting, often laced with a particular type of special, maybe Japanese humor.
Nukeme But this type of treatment of fabric is changing now, with the emergence of Gore-Tex. Today we can create garments without stitches. Sometimes these fabrics are stronger than woven garments.
Menkman Yeah, Gore-Tex is very strange material. This is also an interesting metaphor, Gore-Tex.
Actually in my presentation I showed your (Nukeme) business card. The culture of giving and receiving business cards in Japan is big. Your card considers this tradition by presenting it in a ‘scratch and win’ format. You once told me: “You can find most information by searching by my name. I think that business cards are a bit outdated and have lost some of their original function. Besides, I believe that it is much more important to have my character remembered than the traditional information that goes on a business card.” So in the case of your business card, you considered it matters in what way, how or in what format we make our information available. It matters how you offer your personal information.
I also once showed a work by ucnv in a curated exhibition, it was an exhibition titled “Tactical Glitches” and it was in Italy, close to Pisa. Do you remember this story about? (laughter)
ucnv Yeah (laughter)
Menkman ucnv’s work “New Vulnerability” offers the visitor to experience the LCD screen, which is ubiquitous in our daily live, in a more tactile way. When we re-installed the grid of displays during “Tactical Glitches” in Italy, in 2014, the audience seemed a bit more brutal than the original, from Japanese, for which it was designed, and the installation was broken 5 minutes after the opening of the exhibition because of a “jumping on the display” incident. I learned then, it matters where the work is shown. I have learned a lot from the sensitivity with which Japan treats particular materials.
ucnv – New Vulnerability
Menkman During my stay in Japan I also visited the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. I never expected to be touched as deeply by a museum of war as I was there. The exhibition was overwhelming. The stories of the people, the materials on display as an evidence of violence. It was really well done and it touched me deeply. One piece especially I will never forget: the images of the shadows the bomb caused due to its unimaginable heat. Do you know these images?
Menkman There is one image that showed the shadow of a person in front of a building. I find it hard to bring this image up, to talk about it. It is the image of an incredibly violent event and I am not sure if it is ok to bring it up, or if Japanese culture rather does not talk about the event. But the image is so incredibly powerful. It is not just the image of the terrible act that the United States put over Japan that day, that instance. You also see what it did: the shadow became an evidence of the event of someone that might have disappeared. In my experience, the image was therefor two-fold. It showed me not just an effect. You see not just the person who was directly touched by the bombing, but also how they related in space and in time. It’s the evidence of a moment stuck in time that is directly connected to the hand that dropped the bomb: the US. And it makes you immediately think, even in 2019: why did they drop that bomb there and why did it have to be powerful?
Nukeme I have one more question. My last question. You mentioned that Japanese artists’ humor involves a sensitivity very unique to Japan. What influence did you get from your own environment where you grew up?
Menkman I’m absolutely Dutch. It is very clear to me. Dutch are very direct. I don’t mean to be insensitive or say things in a wrong way, to hurt someone. But there is a straight forwardness in Dutch people, which in many cultures, can be read as rude or insensitive. Being in Japan also makes me reconsider this. I cannot always act the way I would in my own country.
Nukeme When I watch work on the Internet, I don’t think the differences are there because they were made by people from different countries. I don’t care if they are made by men or women, how many people they are, or where they live. But of course, actually they are men or women who grew up somewhere. So I would like to ask them about the influences from their background. I think that when their work focusses on the nature of digital media or its formatting, their work might be a bit further removed from their ethnicity or personality. For example, Jodi’s work, I don’t care who made it, if Jodi is a man or a woman, a robot or a human, I don’t care. I just see it as a work.
Menkman When you mean the newer work of Jodi, yes, I understand this. I think also because the internet today is such a mess, it kind of mixes and mashes any background and reference. I think when talking about the older works of Jodi, like the ones from 1996, they were developed very clearly in the context of Tactical Media. Jodi would for instance send work (via links or emails) to the Nettime mailing list, which was started in 1995 by Geert Lovink and Pit Schultz. Nettime was an international mailinglist, focussing on net culture and net critique. But the mailinglist had many Dutch people. When looking at Jodi’s newer work, I think it’s much harder to recognise a particular heritage. A lot of work on the internet is just work for the internet.
Why did it come from Holland at that time?
Menkman It didn’t necessarily come from Holland, but Tactical Media finds its roots in a conference called the Next 5 Minutes, which was based in Amsterdam. The Internet was not so developed yet, it was before the times of social media and platformization. From those meetings, the conversations at the Next 5 Minutes as well as on the Nettime mailing list, Tactical Media was born. But the artists and theorists making work within this subversive genre were from all over. I see Tactical Media, in a way, as a prequel to glitch. Do you know the work by Bitnik (also a type of internet counterculture)?
Bitnik, it’s a movement?
Menkman I mean “!Mediengruppe Bitnik”.
At first, the Internet was rather powerful, it was a tool for activism. Now it has lost this power.
Menkman The Internet is no longer free and open. It’s platforms. And this has changed the dynamic of our problems, our criticism and our fights.
It’s just a second world.
Menkman Yeah, and now I think its time to create a next iteration.