Posted on June 21, 2012
For the past two years, GLI.TC/H has taken over numerous sites in Chicago as part of its program series encompassing events, workshops, exhibitions, lectures, screenings, and real-time audio/visual performances. By all accounts, the festival has made remarkable accomplishments, engaging hundreds of people daily through its extensive program lineup that has brought together over 100 practitioners to present, discuss, and expand upon the nature of their work and spark new debates. With artists from over 30 countries represented, the festival acts as a meaningful litmus test of the present state of glitch-related practices.
A core group of artists have served as organizers of the festival from its start: Chicago-based Jon Satrom and Nick Briz, and Amsterdam-based Rosa Menkman. The artists came to know each other by participating in online discussions and feeds relating to the ever-accumulating amount of imagery, videos, tutorials, etc., that the Internet ceaselessly archives. When Briz moved to Chicago in 2009 to pursue his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he and Satrom further established their shared interest in tinkering with electronics, digital systems of production, and, perhaps most importantly, art. Menkman was always present, even if remotely, all the while sharing in the flow of ideas and developing her (formidable) theoretical stance with regard to the subject of glitch. Almost inevitably, the impulse arose to work further with their larger online community—to re-create in a more substantial form the community-driven nature of online glitch practices.
The definition of the event as a “festival/conference/gathering” was quite intentional for Briz, Satrom and Menkman. Together they toed the line of being organizers as well as community members, with the organizational structure of the event itself a system open to being glitched by the very practitioners creating and participating in the system. 
But why Chicago? What is it about Chicago that makes it such a hotbed for the breeding of glitch art practices? I always had a strong feeling that somehow Chicago made sense, somehow the experience of that city (itself an elaborate, at times corrupt system) had the same kind of grit and grime as the parsing out of digital pixels, the wrenching visual incongruities of glitch. But each attempt at articulating the slippery connections I fabricated in my mind inevitably became nonsensical once written out; in the end, a forced argument. As it turns out there is a much stronger history to be mined to explain the current situation here in Chicago.
Generally speaking, the DIY spirit inherent to the tinkering and playfulness of glitch has a long history in the city; Briz and Satrom directed me to Chicago-based artist Jake Elliot, whose presentation Dirty New Media: Art Activism and Computer Counter Cultures is a crucial introduction to both the genre and its implications for developments such as glitch. Going back even further, the Electronic Visualization Lab of the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) has been producing so-called “dirty new media” before the term existed. It was there that, in 1971, “George Sandin began work on what would become the Sandin Image Processor, an analogue computer that could manipulate video images by manipulating the gray-level input.” The lab is still operating today and remains an innovative site for pushing the boundaries of new media art. Finally, Deadtech, a gallery that was operating in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago until 2008, and which – among numerous other groundbreaking exhibitions – hosted Beige collective’s show Post-Data in the Age of Low Potential Pt. 2. This, as it turns out, is a much more direct and meaningful description as to how and why Chicago is the dirty new media and glitch art hub that is today.
Jake Elliott, Dirty New Media: Art Activism and Computer Counter Cultures.
Now, back to GLI.TC/H. Through the vast array of programs offered during the first two iterations of the event, there emerged a wide-range of voices and perspectives. The more I learn, the proposed terms and ideas involved in this research become more unstable. Rather than putting on display any kind of coherent, singularly-minded presentation of glitch to an invited audience, the fundamental premise of the event seems to hinge on the variability of practices and ideas that fall under the umbrella of glitch. In fact, there remains a significant amount of debate as to exactly what constitutes glitch art – the framing around and types of glitches; its historical precedents; its aura (think Walter Benjamin). One thing that has become evident, however, is that glitch artists and all those invested in the practice self-identify as such. And furthermore, they – like Briz, Satrom and Menkman – participate in the growing community actively, even fervently. Glitch artists invoke the term to denote a working methodology as well as an aesthetic pretense, but what remains unexplained is how other artists whose work is related to glitch determine not to label their work as such. In other words, the works of art and aesthetic underpinnings of glitch are community-driven and determined (at least for the present).
While I am inclined to strip down the language around glitch in order to understand a much larger (historical, geographical) interest and aesthetic impulse, Briz and his fellow organizers – albeit to varying degrees – feel that this type of approach overlooks something unique and particular about contemporary glitch practices. For Briz the answer appears relatively definitive:
We could expand the glitch umbrella to include any and all errors/accidents/failures, but we’d be dismissing the term’s digital [or at least mechanical] origins + specificity, and as a result sacrifice potential realizations about our technological times. So we should say instead that a glitch is a break in a digital/mechanical system, an unexpected occurrence [or output] which by catching us off guard reveals the system[s] at play.
For many artists, glitch art is especially marked by its relationship to mechanical systems of production (with an emphasis on digital culture). I feel inclined to point out that mechanical systems do not necessarily rely on electronic circuitry as their power source. However, it is undeniable that the word glitch derives from the realm of electronic engineering, and so it would appear that this notion of electronic signaling and pulsing is in fact a fundamental characteristic of the term.
Jon Satrom and Ben Syverson, Introducing Satromizer OS.
Menkman, on the other hand, presents a slightly more nuanced and theoretical description in an essay she contributed to Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube. In her statement there is something more open-ended and seemingly less bound to the electronic-digital systems that are most often used to frame glitch art practices and modus operandi. Towards the end of her essay she posits that:
The glitch exists as an unstable assemblage in which materiality is influenced by the medium’s construction, operation and content of the apparatus on the one hand; and the work, the writer, and the interpretation by the reader and/or user – the meaning – on the other. Thus, the materiality of glitch art is not (just) the machine on which the work appears, but a constantly changing construct that depends on the interactions between the text and its social, aesthetic and economic dynamics – and, of course, the point of view from which different actors are able to make meaning.
Clint Enns, spider-man vs. macrovision.
This articulation of glitch seems to allude to the very possibility that the term glitch is a signifier for an aesthetic and conceptual quality that is not necessarily form or medium-specific, and could ostensibly be applied to systems and processes outside of the world of electronics. And to this point, the organizers have exhibited works by artists that are object-based, static representations. However, the driving force in all of the work that pertains to this genre derives from an interest in glitches, in meddling with and revealing the very “operating systems” that control and shape our daily existences, and more and more, global culture at large.
Despite my other inklings, I am inclined to agree with Briz, Satrom and Menkman that there is something different about how we relate to technology today (particularly digital technology). Looking more specifically at glitch as it pertains to electronic and digital media allows for critical insights into contemporary culture. For one, we have the Internet (and while obvious, this is no small matter). As Briz put it, “Never in the history of the world have so many people been able to share their transmissions through a nearly open+democratic network.” But along with increased access to information, and seemingly infinite content, there are a number of political, social and cultural issues that pertain to the present moment, which mark it as unique in the history of civilization (here, Menkman’s formulation returns with particular gravitas).
Jimmy Joe Roche, Pascal’s Room.
Rosa Menkmen, The Collapse of PAL.
Issues pertaining to copyright law, intellectual property, commercialism, and consumer rights are just a few of the major tags that glitch artists negotiate constantly. The DIY spirit that accompanies this growing community comes hand-in-hand with an underlining sense of activism that pertains to the tools and appropriative techniques that are common in glitch art. Many of the artists present at the festival engage in forms of digital activism, fighting against such practices as designed/planned obsolescence (see the work of Benjamin Gaulon), the so-called “walled garden” of control as exercised over applications, content, etc., by carriers and service providers (see the (hilarious) work of Jon Satrom and Ben Syverson), and digital rights management (see the work of artist Clint Enns). In addition, Briz also pointed out that a number of sub-genre’s within the discourse have come to be identified. This act of naming and categorizing (dare I say, art historicizing) offers a slightly more definitive look at the practices most commonly referred to as glitch today. These included works that engaged the particularities of the digital interface (see the work of art collective Jodi), cyber-psychedelia (see the work of Jimmy Joe Roche), upgrade-culture (see the work of Rosa Menkman), and a particular kind of retro-nostalgia (see the work of No Carrier). Sifting through these examples, taking time to absorb their differences as well as their similarities, has pushed me further to see the uniqueness of what is called glitch art. I will maintain, at least for the moment, that there is a larger, much more multi-faceted discussion to be had about the underlying impulses that find “elegance in noise.”
1. Nick Briz, personal communication with the author, June 8, 2012.
2. Nick Briz, Jon Satrom, and Rosa Menkman, personal communication with the author, June 11, 2012.
3. Joel Kuennen, “GEOslant: Joel Kuennen on Chicago’s Dirty New Media,” from ARTslant.com, http://www.artslant.com/chi/articles/show/29885, accessed on June 11, 2012.
4. Beige collective consisted of members Paul Davis, Cory Arcangel, Joe Beuckman, and Joe Bonn.
5. Nick Briz, personal communication with the author, June 8, 2012.
6. Nick Briz, personal communication with the author, May 27, 2012.
7. Rosa Menkman, “Glitch Studies Manifesto,” in Video Vortex Reader II: moving images beyond YouTube, edited by Geert Lovink and Rachel Somers Miles. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011: 345.
8. Nick Briz, personal communication with the author, May 27, 2012.
9. For an introduction to legislation in the US concerning many of these issues one can refer to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.
10. Jon Satrom, personal communication with the author, June 11, 2012.