Dive, Ed Grant, 2015. inkjet on aluminum 24x30 inches
Definitions are important; they let us frame ideas, make clearer our intentions and decrease the probability that a message is transferred incorrectly. Further to this, for a conversation between two or more parties to occur a definition needs to be implicitly or explicitly set up so a conversation can occur. When my students ask me a question about architecture, I always reply with the question ‘what do you mean by architecture?’ If the student’s definition of architecture is ‘architecture is the design and construction of buildings’ then it is clear that they discount a large cannon of unbuilt and unbuildable work from their definition. At this point, the student has framed the meaning of the word adequately for a conversation to occur. Glitch is no exception.
This short article will not attempt to give a clear definition of glitch, as the argument would be thousands of words long. Instead, I am going to offer a series of proto-definitions of glitch to frame a series of glitch works that have recently surfaced. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, the three proposed have their use within glitch discourse.
Each of these definitions has their own strengths and weaknesses. Moradi’s allows us to identify glitches via their visual appearance alone but also requires an ever-increasing string of visual qualifiers to maintain its set of glitches as new technologies and techniques arise. Menkman’s – most likely the strongest definition of glitch to date – clearly restricts glitches to a technological aesthetic, but provides little explanation to what constitutes a ‘break’. The final definition, something I am naively providing to catch a series of positions outside of Menkman’s, provides a logical continuity between process and product (for example, data bending will create a visual glitch, data moshing will produce a visual glitch, etc). The issues with this definition are numerous and Menkman (2011) begins to highlight some problems with this line of reasoning. Nevertheless, this article will proceed with the assumption that the readers understanding of ‘glitch’ falls within one or more of the three proto-definitions provided.
All three definitions do not have a problem with the following two artefacts.
Churn, Ed Grant, 2015. digital
H3333333K, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, 2015
Ed Grant’s water series, is a visual glitch; they use the pre-established technique of pixel sorting photography, in order to produce images that sit clearly within Moradi’s visual aesthetics (although perhaps horizontality is replaced with verticality), that sit as a break in the flow of our expectations of images. Similarly the photograph by !Mediengruppe Bitnik, is data bent (technique), looks data bent (aesthetic), that sits as a break in the flow of our expectations of images. The point being made here may seem arbitrary, further we could also argue that pixel sorting is not a ‘glitch technique’ but is purely algorithmic, however, for the most part the glitch community doesn’t openly contest this and that would be a conversation for another article all together. Almost hypocritically all three definitions are very poorly suited to deal with the following two artefacts.
Churn, Ed Grant, 2015. oil on canvas, 60x72 inches
H3333333K, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, 2015
Ed Grant’s water series for the Governor’s Island Art Fair (2015) and !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s ‘H3333333K’ (2015) pose a potential barrier and questioning of pre-established barriers, or lack thereof, on what constitutes a glitch. Hand painting and traditional architectural construction techniques are clearly not ‘glitch techniques’. The indeterminate breaks that Menkman suggests are related directly to the technology of information transferal and the mediums of hand painting and architecture do not maintain the required relationship between medium and message. Although Moradi’s definition may at first glance appear resilient, painting has an aesthetical out within modernist abstraction in which now the patterns and techniques are well established within impressionism, and architecture has an out within deconstructivsm.
I am not attempting to conflate or over intellectualise the difference between the digital works and their, for lack of a better word, ‘analogue’ counterparts, but that there is a difference between the two. But what constitutes such difference? The change in medium? The framing of definition? A general stretching of what constitutes ‘glitch’? Or maybe any definition of ‘glitch’ is inherently as error prone as the thing it hopes to categorise and represent?
Definitions are important; they let us frame ideas, make clearer our intentions and decrease the probability that a message is transferred incorrectly. Any definition of ‘glitch’ is inherently as error prone as the thing it hopes to categorise and represent. However now is the time to have a conversation around these artefacts; Does glitch art need a clause that restricts it from non-electrical modes of production? If so, can we print it? Can we seminate it through society? If your answer is ‘no’, where do you draw the line in the sand? If your answer is ‘yes’, looking like a glitch is not enough, it needs to have the possibility of being a glitch (for whatever that that means).
Moradi, I., 2004, ‘Glitch Aesthetics’, B.Arts (Hons), The University of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire.
Menkman, R. 2011, The Glitch Moment(um), Network Notebooks 04, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam.
Wakerly, J.F. 2006, Digital Design: Principles and Practices, 4th ed, Pearson Education, New Jersey.
Temkin, D. 2014, Glitch && Human/Computer Interaction, Nooart, http://nooart.org/post/73353953758/temkin-glitchhumancomputerinteraction
Matthew Austin is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney. His research focuses on glitch aesthetics, algorithmic design and mathematics, and there application to design thinking. He co-directs a Sydney-based design firm called EndOfLine; along with being the creator and an administrator for the glitch theory facebook page. He holds a Bachelor of Design in Architecture and Master of Architecture from the University of Technology Sydney and is currently completing a PhD in architecture.