Digital Art and 'The Glitch'

Organized by Maja Kuzmanovic
Starlab, The Netherlands
[Home Page]

Abstract: Our panel consists of two presentations by Belinda Barnet (History of Error) and Maja Kuzmanovic (Topology of Error), while Nik Gaffney will give a real-time digital reaction to the papers. He will use different audio processing software and hardware to transform and garble our voices; also, he will work as www-jockey, cross referencing the theories and glitch-art examples, making the whole presentation a real-time improvisational performance.

A History of Error--Digital Art and "the Glitch"
Belinda Barnet & Nik Gaffney

"To avoid an essentially pointless discussion, we can distinguish digital art from art pursued in another medium by the intrinsic dependence on computers for its realisation."---Nik Gaffney

And the nature of technology is that it breaks down. Computers run out of memory, the web is full of dead links, programs crash, information is garbled. For the average computer user, we know that "information"... code, microcode... is what makes computers work, but we don't know how.

Computers are cybernetic systems. And historically, "information" is a completely constructed, theoretical entity. It has its origins in the war machine, in the idea that the universe of objects is interpenetrated by ethereal "information patterns" that might be divined and controlled. It is a fragile entity. "Noise" interferes with its perfect reproduction, the presumed goal.

Viruses, incompatible protocols, misinformation (eg: dead links) are noise: they interfere with the reproduction of patterns, with the web page we are trying to download, the program we are trying to run.

D-art is, by definition, ephemeral, evanescent. Information leaves no trace to call art if it is garbled, lost in noise. D-art, in particular, is absolutely dependent on a technology of translation and interpretation. So it takes its technology seriously, and it must take its technology seriously because it is the computer which realises the signal we are calling art.

Why is the glitch dangerously political, anarchic, then? It draws attention to the constructed nature of information. To its fragility, usually hidden from us. To its nature as bits, not atoms.

The glitch interferes with perfect reproduction. It interferes with the goal of a seamless, stable system. It interferes with the behaviourist landscape of mainstream multimedia--the Pavlovian universe of point'n'click. With the illusion of objectness. (Multimedia often represents a digitised world, not a digital one. It plunders the world of objects for metaphors--the book, the newtonian world.)

I'm not going to say that all d-art is about noise, viruses, error, the glitch, because it's not. But the projects which have inspired me, from which I have composed my own personal 'history of error,' most certainly are.

Digital Art and The Glitch: Topology of Error
Maja Kuzmanovic

Wandering through a digital art gallery, the visitors/participants are not surprized seeing yet another ‘out-of-order’ sign pasted on the screen. Although occuring in many artworks unintentionally, some artists began using the glitch as a basic principle underlying the d-aesthetics. As the computer systems become increasingly complex (more like complete worlds than mere tools), we might consider incorporating the “glitch-aesthetics” as one of the driving forces of the evolving d-culture discipline.

"The virtual-as-ideal:
… stops short of engaging the underlying matrix of physics and materiality that makes both mind and cyberspace possible

... limits itself to making isolated conventional forms in conventional space, dressing them in rhetorical conceit, and leaving the world unchanged." M.Novak.

In this paper, I focus on the discrepancy between the d-art concepts, particles and bits. This glitch can be used to create mutant realities, weird chimeric warps that are neither digital nor physical, that cannot be described through traditional spatio-temporal paradigms. However, reality and virtuality are often viewed as two separate entities, where the digital realm became independent from the world it originated from. The two worlds are mapped onto each other, but are not truly interacting.

When the virtual enters the physical it is mostly through billboards, as a new addition to global advertisement campaigns. It is not seen as a whole, but as a swarm of seductive virtual blurbs, buzzing around our heads (Noon’s Nymphomation), conceived as small, self contained units. The space in between these entities is not cared for. And it is exactly in this space where d-art can function as a subversion of the current pseudo-objectivity of the virtual free-market. It can show the incompletness and the inconsistency of the forming economy based on 'dromocracy' (tyranny of speed) rather than the promised consumer democracy, an economy that is much more fragile than we are lead to believe.

Simultaneously, the physical world is deconstructed by being optimistically mapped into virtuality. Its surface is intersected with layers of infrastructures, meteorological and strategical maps, its content disintegrated in rigid, hierarchical tree structures and geometrical cages. Everything is marked, structured and designed but dead: e.g. the 'error' of the Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade ...obsolete maps served as tactical excuse in a heavily technologically monitored zone.

The physical and the virtual in general, and more specific in D-art need to be reintegrated, both by immersion and by 'eversion' (spilling of virtual into real), not by way of mapping but by way of translating. Translation becomes a living system through which the two realities morph into one another. It is the topology of the glitch: a territory where the participants do not represent, but perform, infect each other’s worlds with alien loopholes, (mis)interpretations, and errors. In here interaction becomes more inspired drifting (Situationists) within inter-reality membranes and less a predefined menu browsing of digitized shop-windows.

About the Presenters:

Maja Kuzmanovic is director of Future Arts Corporation in Belgium. She teaches at the Utrecht School of the Arts and is involved in the international arts network Sponge.*. She was previously artist in Residence @ the Dutch Center for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI) & the German National Research Center for Information Technology (GMD).

Belinda Barnet is doing her Ph.D. on the history of hypermedia at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Nik Gaffney has been a d-artist for many years, published mindvirus in 1994, has done work for the Austrlian network of artists and technology, has worked for razorfish in Hamburg. Gaffney now works in Germany.