I would like to think of Rosa Menkman as one of the most skillful story tellers of our time. She enjoys narrating stories about the intriguing relationship between the computer and the user questioning the importance of visual integrity. What is a breakage in a communication flow? What would happen if we redefined the concepts of comprehending and integrating a message as transmitters and receivers?Glitch came as a visualized answer to this wave of philosophical quest only to bear out the very existence of the machines’ faulty nature while raising some queries on sociopolitical -but not exclusively- matters. As a true master of her crafts, Menkman has published numerous papers on the philosophy behind Glitch and Glitch art along with artwork which can be found on her website. Without any further delay, we would like to introduce Rosa Menkman and our small talk on glitches aesthetics, technological protocols and the loss of control as an integral part of 21st century’s new dialect that goes under the name “Glitch Art”.
What defines an error?
An error is a technological failure; a mistake or misconception that is often connected to an expectation of technological flows and their functioning. But the error can also be employed as a technique for artistic creation; which is now popularly referred to as ‘glitch art’.
How do you perceive the strong dipole of commodification processes and radical breakages in contemporary glitch art?
In 2011 I wrote a little book about the strange tension between the uncanny glitch and the popularization of the glitch aesthetic, which I think is both a very interesting and important subject in the studies of glitch art. In the book I referred to this as the ‘glitch moment(um)’; something today I would rather refer to as glitch moment/ums. Anyway, generally I still believe in the same mechanics of failure as I wrote up in the book. Though the relation between unwanted failure and the popularization of glitch is not straight forward, I will try to be short about it here.
The first encounter of an error is often a brief one: an uncanny, threatening feeling of loss of control, that moves the user into the void (of meaning). This moment itself becomes a catalyst, with a certain power (momentum) that pushes the user or spectator to engage it as a glitch. From here the glitch reaches a tipping point; it either tips away into failure (not understood, error), or instead forces new knowledge about the glitch’s techné, the technologies actual and presumed media flows, onto the viewer. The latter means that the glitch can transgress from Cool to Hot and become part of a standardized vocabulary and maybe even an effect with a certain preconceived meaning.
It depends on the work of art in question. Though glitch art has now become a genre, this genre itself has a very decentralized essence. Different works of glitch art deal with very different subjects. Some works focus on glitch aesthetics, while other works are sociopolitical, economical or solely technological based.
Clearly, there are works of glitch art that deal with the premise that there is no such thing as a perfect technology. Within media design and development cultures, the pursuit of ultimate, noise-free and hi-fi channels and supposed highest levels of ‘reality’ has tended to be the Holy Grail (epitomized for example as media dreams in the Holodeck of Star Trek, or the direct brain cinema of Bigelow’s Strange Days, and so on). While the ideal is always unreachable, innovation is nevertheless still assumed to lie in finding an interface that is as non-interfering as possible, enabling the audience to forget about the presence of the medium and believe in the presence and directness of immediate transmission. Works such as Benjamin Gaulons KINDLEGLTICHER or UCNVs “New Vulnerability” indeed deal with these kinds of subjects, commenting or even criticizing these developments.
Could entropy exist in an art piece without the standardized glitched aesthetics, as formed up till now?
Yes, definitely. First of all, as I wrote before, standardized glitch aesthetics are just one side of the glitch-coin. Besides that, every new technology brings its own new protocols and flows that can be broken, which also means that they bring their own functions of entropy.
Since the machines themselves operate on a predetermined set of algorithms and rules, one can only assume that, at some point in the future, their faulty nature could be explored to its core, eliminating the “surprise factor”. Care to comment?
It is part of human economies to keep creating new machines; we live in an upgrade culture in which it is necessary to develop so called ‘newer and better’ technologies. While hype cycles forestall us from exhausting the failures and their possibilities of the technologies at hand, the ‘newer and better’ technologies bring ‘newer and better’ glitches. This results in the fact that there will always be new glitches to deal with. Besides that, I like to believe in magic (in the machine) which is to me another ingredient for surprise.
Could the heretical usage of a software (and not the code interference) generate a new type of glitch?
Heretical usage of the computer can of course create unexpected results, which sometimes, especially from the perspective of the audience read as ‘glitch art’. The glitch’ aesthetic may be rooted in the look of malfunction, but when it comes to actual practice, there does not need to be a lot of technological malfunction in glitch art. For instance, when I open an interleaved RAW image in photoshop as non-interleaved, the rendering algorithm is in fact still rendering the image computationally correct. However, the information value that is being rendered has slipped away (due to rearrangement of file data). This is where error, failure and glitch can be set apart. While there is no error in the computation, there is a glitch, a break from a flow of expectations; namely the expectation of rendering a ‘functional’ or ‘human readable’ file consisting of visual information. The human and the machine have failed to work together and its result is interpreted or re-purposed as a piece of glitch art. Glitching is not necessarily about breaking technologies but about breaking the flow of expectation or conventional workflows of the machine.
These days any technology involves so many protocols that it would take very brute force to make the whole machine break down completely. Any glitch, and dare I say even any broken technology, involves a lot of protocols that might work perfectly fine. An interesting glitch is often the result of ‘minimal’ slippage (small glitch or minimal loss of flow). A major cluster slip involving for instance both broken / lost data and malfunctioning protocols would probably be called HAVOC / CHAOS / BROKEN / ERROR ….. which is generally speaking less interesting.
In the works I make I always try to add a personal story. It is easy to make something break; this is not a challenge. Personally I find the challenge in the problem of how to combine a specific glitch procedure with a ‘story’ I want to tell.
I assume that you create artwork from the perspective of the artist. Would the results be any different if you switched to the actors’ perspective, if you interjected somewhere between the receiver and the destination (Shannon and Weaver communication model)?
If I would make art for the audience, I would focus more on the end result and less on the process. Personally, as I wrote before, I believe in balancing my process with the story I want to tell. Besides that I believe that the authenticity of an artwork has much more to do with the personal touch of the artist then with the knowledge of technology in general.
Have you ever experimented with mediums other than your own computer?
I don’t really care to make a difference between digital and analogue (or traditional and non traditional) media; I enjoy getting to know electronic circuits as well as compressions and always find it a challenge to match different kinds of machine outcomes (analogue and digital) together. In any case, it seems that right now I am kind of trapped by technology in general, like most of us. But I still really like to pick up a pencil and paper and like the Goodiepal says; in 2014 real hackers send letters by post.