The beautiful corruptions of Glitch Art 💻☠️
The joy of seeing a system break apart
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Today I am going to carve the third column of our digital art temple — the Glitch.
The glitch is the error, the decay, the deconstruction of our rendering machines. It breaks apart the illusion of coherence that pixels and smoothing provide, and exposes the raw chaos code underneath. It pulls the matrix apart into its component code and reimagines the pieces as abstraction.
Glitch aesthetic has an etymology dating back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, as video game consoles become popular and their computing hearts were able to break down into a distinctive machine artifact. Consider Jamie Fenton and the below art generated by messing around with the game cartridge — “When pressing the reset button, it was possible to remove the cartridge from the system and induce various memory dump pattern sequences”.
Another prominent early artist is Rosa Menkman, whose work brings forward the algorithms of encryption and encoding that we find in digital objects. These things are the texture of our electronic communication, like capillaries under the skin.
I feel like there are some vary tangible physical art pieces that play on the same ideas. For example, macro photography of rust or decay.
However, rusting and decay is a slow, incremental process that breaks down and wears out material. It eats away at structure through physical process. Glitch, however, captures something else — some element of reproduction, and then a structural transparency of the rendering medium.
Xerox / photocopy art also comes to mind. Consider Ian Burn’s “Xerox Book” which consisted of a sheet of paper that was repeatedly run through a photocopier, until the artifacts emerged and overtook the page.
I am part of a DAO called DOS Punks DAO — more on that in a minute — founded by the glitch artist Max Capacity. I had asked the group to help me understand the core ideas of the aesthetic, and Max pointed me to this beautiful language about the word “glitch” itself.
A beautiful concept for our digital world. A spark that breaks the confines of what we see. An explosion of energy that corrodes and pulls apart the veneer of construction.
But look, I don’t just like things that sound smart. I like things that are beautiful.
I was lucky to go to university with Sabato Visconti, who had transitioned from being a photographer to glitch artist and started to discover some absolutely astounding images as early as 2014 using pixel shifting algorithms.
These had felt so profound to me, so clearly generated by the complexity of a machine, and yet so delicate with the hand of a human editor.
I would later learn that the techniques to make this are called data moshing and data bending. Think of a DJ scratching a record, or a graffiti artist marking a wall, and you get the vibe. One of those DJs, Kim Asendorf, was the inventor of the pixel sorting algorithm, which is what creates that effect of individual pixels getting dragged out of their position like rain.
Kim’s work made it to the land of NFTs, much of it on Tezos. You can find works of his like this around — pixels swish around like tiny robot ants dragging along diagonal lines of algorithmic color.
Of course, you can start combining the rendering artifacts of one technology — the pixel — with the hallucination capabilities of other technologies — the neural network. Jon Cates, a pioneer in the glitch field, has recently been creating these gorgeous Westerns, reminding me of the reality-melting narrative of the Dark Tower series.
I wonder if what matters is the underlying original image, and how it falls apart, or the aesthetic of the falling apart. If you remove that aesthetic into its own brush, this leads to a creation of a consistent noise style, something like urban tagging.
But the abstraction can also veer into humor and a neon cyberpunk aesthetic.
There’s a pleasure in marking something up, sarcastically the way Banksy tells stories within an environment, but with this digital paint. The world itself is an illusion, our stories of it, our attempts at coherence, the things we respect. If our representations are this fragile, surely so is the underlying reality?
One example of this is Sgt_slaughtermelon’s Inaccessible Worlds, reminding us of how a Nintendo video game falls apart. You have to see the full collection, and its counterpart on Glitchforce, to appreciate the variety. But here’s a flavor:
It was a similar glitch take that Max Capacity spread out and over CryptoPunks, creating the DOS Punks. The NFTs are on ETH, Tezos, and now Ordinals. The style applies a DOS prompt and color scheme as a filter over the now iconic crypto originals.
There’s a beautiful nostalgia in this treatment.
A belief that cyber space is a real place, the one painted with words in Neuromancer. Or that cyborgs aren’t just people with phones and smart watches, but have a robot laser eye and wheels for legs. This sort of anchoring in the technology of the part, projected past where we are to the far future. There’s an edge here beyond the crude pixel art or cartoon grins of the Bored Apes — a cleverness we afford to our robot creations.
This cleverness can be pushed further into humor, and absurdism. I’ll quote some of Haydiroket’s work for effect. Play the videos embedded into the tweets.
This is the concept of the game being pushed into silliness, into nostalgic experiential overload. The physics of the metaverse are suspended.
An adjacent idea is of ASCII art or code art used as a language in which to render patterns and higher level images. Take the work of Andreas Gysin as a prime example.
There are many other artists I haven’t been able to mention that make astounding work in this field, and time will come to open their stories too.
What our review so far tells me is that glitch art is smart, clever, and beautiful. It evolves with the media we adopt as culturally relevant, and tears them apart into abstract aesthetics. I expect to see interactions with both generative and neural art to come.
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