A theory: one of the drivers of our current wave of nostalgia—lo-fi analog hiss and pop in music and readymade vintage filters in digital photography—is the loss of imperfection. Increasingly powerful technologies render sound and vision too slickly pristine, glossy, hyperreal, and thus impersonal and alien. The latest episode of PBS Arts’ “Off Book” series (above) features a trend toward disrupting digital overproduction by deliberately exploiting the weaknesses in new technologies. Glitch artists makes use of “naturally occurring” (so to speak) corruptions of software, or create their own corruptions in a process called “databending”—opening images as text files, for example, and adding and/or deleting information from the image.
Unlike punk rock, to which glitch is compared by one of the artists above, some glitch art requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of digital technologies. For example, video artist Anton Marini describes how he writes his own software to produce glitch effects. But since virtually anyone can access a pc and standard text and image-editing software, it remains a fairly democratic aesthetic, similar to the bedroom technologies that enable almost anyone to produce and distribute their own musical compositions. There are sites offering tutorials on how to create your own glitch art and even a Flickr account called Glitchbot that will automatically generate glitch images for you, like Hipstamatic or Instagram will convert your careless snapshots into intriguing vintage artifacts. Sound too easy? Maybe, but so was Duchamp’s urinal. Context, as always, matters, and whether glitch art is “art” may ultimately become a historical question. At the moment, glitch images, video and music offer a way to humanize all-too-inhuman corporate products and technologies.
Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.