Glitch Studies Manifesto

Rosa Menkman




Amsterdam/Cologne, 2009/2010

The dominant, continuing search for a

noiseless channel has been, and will always

be no more than a regrettable, ill-fated


Even though the constant search for complete

transparency brings newer, ‘better’ media, every one

of these new and improved technologies will always

have their own fingerprints of imperfection. While

most people experience these fingerprints as

negative (and sometimes even as accidents) I

emphasize the positive consequences of these

imperfections by showing the new opportunities they


In the beginning there was noise. Then the artist moved from

the grain of celluloid to the magnetic distortion and scanning

lines of the cathode ray tube. he wandered the planes of

phosphor burn-in, rubbed away dead pixels and now makes

performances based on the cracking of LCD screens.

The elitist discourse of the upgrade is a dogma widely pursued

by the naive victims of a persistent upgrade culture. The consumer

only has to dial


to stay on top of the

technological curve,


waves of both euphoria

and disappointment.


user has to realize

that improving is

nothing more

than a proprietary protocol, a deluded

consumer myth

about progression towards a holy grail of



the operating templates of

creative practice; fight

genres and expectations!

I feel stuck in the membranes of knowledge, governed

by social conventions and acceptances. As an artist I

strive to reposition these membranes; I do not feel

locked into one medium or between contradictions like

real vs. virtual or digital vs. analog. I surf the

waves of technology, the art of artifacts.

The quest for complete transparency has changed the

computer system into a highly complex assemblage that

is often hard to penetrate and sometimes even

completely closed off. This system consists of layers

of obfuscated protocols that find their origin in

ideologies, economies, political hierarchies and

social conventions, which are subsequently operated by

different actors.

Some artists set out to elucidate and deconstruct

the hierarchies of these systems of assemblage. They do

not work in (binary) opposition to what is inside the

flows (the normal uses of the computer) but practice

their art on the border of these flows. Sometimes, they

use the computers’ inherent maxims as a façade, to

trick the audience into a flow of certain expectation

that the artwork subsequently rapidly breaks out of. As

a result, the spectator is forced to acknowledge that

the use of the computer is based on a genealogy of

conventions, while in reality the computer is a machine

that can be bend or used in many different ways. With

the creation of breaks within politics and social and

economical conventions, the audience may become aware of

the preprogrammed patterns. In this way, a distributed

awareness of a new interaction gestalt can take form.


away from the established action scripts and

join the avant-garde of the unknown. Become a

nomad of noise artifacts!

There are three occasions in which the static, linear notion of transmitting

information can be interrupted. I use these instances to exploit noise

artifacts, that I sub-divide as glitch, encoding / decoding (of which

compression is the most ordinary form) and feedback artifacts.

Etymologically, the term “noise” refers to states of aggression, alarm and

powerful sound phenomena in nature ('rauschen'), such as storm, thunder

and the roaring sea. But when noise is explored within a social context,

the term is often used as a figure of speech and as such has many more

meanings. Sometimes, noise stands for unaccepted sounds:




valid information or what is


a message. Noise can also stand for a

(often undesirable, unwanted, other and unordered) disturbance, break

or addition within the signal of useful data. Here noise exists

within the void opposite to what (already) has a meaning. Whichever

way noise is defined, the negative definition also has a positive

consequence: it helps by (re)defining its opposite (the world of

meaning, the norm, regulation, goodness, beauty and so on).

Noise thus exists as a

paradox; while it is often

negatively defined, it is

also a positive, generative

quality (that is present in

any communication medium). The

voids generated by a break

are not only a lack of meaning,

but also powers that

force the reader to move away

from the traditional

discourse around the technology,

and to open it up.

Through these voids, artists and

spectators can

understand the politics behind the

code and voice a

critique towards the digital media.

It can be a source

for new patterns, anti-patterns and

new possibilities

that often exist on the border or





glitch as

an exoskeleton

of progress.

The glitch is a wonderful experience of an

interruption that shifts an object away from its

ordinary form and discourse. For a moment I am

shocked, lost and in awe, asking myself what this

other utterance is, how was it created. Is it

perhaps ...a glitch? But once I named it, the

momentum -the glitch- is no more...

But somewhere within the destructed ruins of meaning

hope exists; a triumphal sensation that there is

something more than just devastation. A negative

feeling makes place for an intimate, personal experience

of a machine (or program), a system showing its

formations, inner workings and flaws. As a holistic

celebration rather than a particular perfection the

glitch can reveal a new opportunity, a spark of creative

energy that indicates that something new is about to be


The glitch has no solid form or state through time; it is

often perceived as an unexpected and abnormal mode of

operandi, a break from (one of) the many flows (of

expectations) within a technological system. But as the

understanding of a glitch changes when it is being named, so

does the equilibrium of the (former) glitch itself: the

original experience of a rupture moved passed its momentum

and vanished into a realm of new conditions. The glitch is a

new and ephemeral, personal experience.

Use bends

and breaks as a metaphor for difference

As an artist, I find catharsis in disintegration, ruptures and cracks. I

manipulate, bend and break any medium towards the point where it becomes

something new. This is what I call glitch art. Even so, to me, the word

‘glitch’ in ‘glitch art’ means something slightly different than the

term ‘glitch’.

The glitch art genre moves like the weather; sometimes it evolves very

slowly while at other times it can strike like lightning. The art works

within this realm can be disturbing, provoking and horrifying. Beautifully

dangerous, they can at once take all the tensions of other possible

compositions away. These works stretch boundaries and generate novel modes;

they break open previously sealed politics and force a catharsis of

conventions, norms and believes.

Glitch art is often about relaying the membrane of the normal, to create

a new protocol after shattering an earlier one. The perfect glitch shows how

destruction can change into the creation of something original. Once the

glitch is understood as an alternative way of representation or a new

language, its tipping point has passed and the essence of its glitch-being is

vanished. The glitch is no longer an art of rejection, but a shape or

appearance that is recognized as a novel form (of art). Artists that work with

glitch processes are therefore often hunting for the fragile equilibrium; they

search for the point when a new form is born from the blazed ashes of its


Even so, glitch art is not always (or by everyone) experienced as an art of

the momentum; many works have already passed their tipping point. This is

because glitch art exists within different systems; for instance the system

of production and the system of reception. Not only the artist who creates

the work of glitch art is responsible for the glitch. The 'foreign' input

(wrongly encoded syntaxes that lead to forbidden

leakages and data promiscuity), the hardware and

the software (the 'channel' that shows functional?

collisions) and the audience (who is in charge of

the reception, the decoding) can also be

responsible. All these actors are positioned

within different (but sometimes overlapping) flows

in which the final product can be described or

recognized as glitch art. This is why an intended

error can still be called glitch art and why glitch

art is not always just a personal experience of

shock, but has also become a genre; a schematic

metaphor for a way of expression, that depends on

multiple actors.

Realize that

the gospel of glitch art also tells about new

norms implemented by corruption.

Over time some of the glitches I made developed into personal archetypes; I

feel that they have become ideal examples or models of my work. Moreover,

some of the techniques I (and others) used became easily reproducible for

other people, either because I explained my working process, or sometimes

because of the development of a software or plugin that automatically

simulated or recreated a glitching method (that then became something

close to an ‘effect’). I have started to believe that the popularization

and cultivation of the avant-garde of mishaps has become predestined and


The procedural essence of glitch art is opposed to conservation; the

shocking experience, perception and understanding of what a glitch is

at one point in time, cannot be preserved to a future time. The

beautiful creation of a glitch is uncanny and sublime; the artist

tries to catch something that is the result of an uncertain balance, a

shifting, un-catchable, unrealized utopia connected to randomness and

idyllic disintegrations. The essence of glitch art is therefore best

understood as a history of movement and as an attitude of destructive

generativity; it is the procedural art of non con-formative, ambiguous


Nevertheless, some artists do not focus on the procedural entity

of the glitch. They skip the process of creation-by-destruction and

focus directly on the creation of a formally new design, either by

creating a final product or by developing a new way to re-create or

simulate the latest glitch-archetype. This can for instance result into

a plug-in, a filter or a whole new 'glitching software'.

T h i s f o r m o f ' c o n s e r v a t i v e g l i t c h a r t ' o f t e n f o c u s e s m o r e o n d e s i g n a n d

end products then on the procedural breaking of flows and politics. There

is an obvious critique: to design a glitch means to domesticate it. When

the glitch becomes domesticated, controlled by a tool, or technology (a

human craft) it has lost its enchantment and has become predictable. It is

no longer a break from a flow within a technology, or a method to open up

the political discourse, but instead a cultivation. For many actors it is

no longer a glitch, but a filter that consists of a preset and/or a

default: what was once understood as a glitch has now become a new


But for some, mostly the audience on the receptive end, these designed

errors are still experienced as the breaks of a flow and can therefore

righteously be called glitches. They don’t know that these works are

constructed via the use of a filter. Works from the genre ‘glitch art’ thus

consist as an assemblage of perceptions and the understanding by multiple

actors. Therefore, the products of these new filters that come to existence

after (or without) the momentum of a glitch cannot be excluded from the

realm of glitch art.

Even so, the utopian fantasy of 'technological democracy' or 'freedom'

that glitch art is often connected to, has often little to do with the

colonialism of these glitch art designs and glitch filters. If there is such

a thing as technological freedom, this can only be found within the

procedural momentum of glitch art; when a glitch is just about to relay a

protocol. Not when “one disruptive click is just about to create a new



the critical trans-media

aesthetics of glitch artifacts

I use glitches to assess the inherent politics of any kind of medium by

bringing it into a state of hypertrophy.

Within software art, the glitch is often used to deconstruct the myth

of linear progress and to end the search for the holy grail called

the perfect technology. In these works, the glitch emphasizes what is

normally rejected as a flaw and subsequently shows that accidents and

errors can also be welcomed as new forms of usability. The glitch does

not only invoke the death of the author, but also the death of the

apparatus, medium or tool (at least from the perspective of the

technological determinist spectator) and is often used as an anti

‘software-deterministic’ form.

This fatal manner of glitch presents a problem for media and art

historians, who try to describe old and new culture as a continuum of

different niches. To deal with these breaks, historians have repeatedly

coined new genres and new media forms to give these splinter practices a

place within this continuum. As a result, an abundance of designations like

databending, datamoshing and circuitbending have come to existence, which

in fact all refer to similar practices of breaking flows within different

technologies or platforms.

Theorists have also been confronted with this problem. For them, terms

like post-digital or post-media aesthetics frequently offer a solution.

Unfortunately, these kinds of terms are misleading because in glitch

art ‘post’ actually often means a reaction to a primer form. But to act

against something does not mean to move away from it completely - in fact a

reaction also prolongs a certain way or mode (at least as a reference).

I think that an answer to the problems of both historians and

theoreticians could be found when glitch art is described as a procedural

activity demonstrating against and within multiple technologies. Something I

describe as

critical trans-media aesthetics

. The role of glitch

artifacts as critical trans-media aesthetics is twofold. On the one hand,

these aesthetics media show a medium in a critical state (a ruined,

unwanted, not recognized, accidental and horrendous state). These aesthetics

transform the way the consumer perceives the normal (every accident transforms

the normal) and describe the passing of a tipping point after which the medium

(might) become something new. On the other hand, these aesthetics critique the

medium (genre, interface and expectations). They challenge its inherent

politics and the established template of creative practice while

producing a theory of reflection.


nomad of noise

travels the acousmatic videoscape

I am a voyager of videoscapes: I create conceptually

synesthetic artworks, that use both visual and aural glitch

(and other noise) artifacts at the same time. These artifacts

shroud the black box, as a nebula of technology and its inner


What actually happens when a glitch occurs is unknown, I stare at

the glitch as a void of knowledge; a strange dimension where the

laws of technology are suddenly very different from what I

expected and know. Here is the purgatory; an intermediate state

between the death of the old technology and a judgement for a

possible continuation into a new form, a new understanding, a

landscape, a videoscape..

Whenever I use a ‘normal’ transparent technology, I only see one

aspect of the actual machine. I have learned to ignore the

interface and all structural components, to be able to understand a

message and to use the technology as easy and fast as possible.

The glitches I trigger show the technology as the obfuscated box

that it actually is (and not absent or transparent). They shroud its

inner workings and the source of the output as a sublime black veil,

while they confront me with a message that I cannot understand. I

perceive the glitches and the machine without understanding where

they originate from. This realization gives me the opportunity to

concentrate better on their formal qualities - to interpret their

structures and to learn more from what I can actually see. These

glitching technologies create an acousmatic videoscape in which I can

perceive an output outside of my goggles of immediacy, transparency

speed and usability.

In the acousmatic videoscape, the critical trans-media aesthetics

reflect on the perception of technology and its messages; they create

an opportunity for self reflexivity, self critique and self


In the acousmatic videoscape synesthesia exists not just as a metaphor

for transcoding one medium upon another (with a new algorithm), but as

a conceptually driven meeting of the visual and the sonic within the

newly uncovered quadrants of technology.

I curate a Vimeo video pool about conceptual synesthetic artifact