Glitches draw interactive artists

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

Glitches, whether in video games or a computer application, are often thought of as the pests of technology.  However, a group of artists have found a creative way to use them in  their work.

“Datamoshing,” the use of glitches to create digital video, was one topic discussed at a Nov. 7 lecture on “glitch art” hosted by the Interactive Arts & Media Department. The lecture was given by  Nick Briz and Jon Satrom, instructors at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who cofounded the Conference alongside Dutch artists and theorist Rosa Menkman and others. The duo is organizing 2012, a free event, which will take place Dec. 6–9 at Tritriangle, 1550 N. Milwaukee Ave., and High Concept Labs, 1401 W. Wabansia Ave.

“[Glitch art] has been around a while,” Briz said. “But only more recently, in the last decade or so, many digital artists [gathered] together and started calling it ‘glitch art.’ Once it had a name, it made it easier for people to find each other.”

The first Conference in 2010 united glitch artists, who use open online threads called “working groups” to build communal projects and pedagogy.

“We talk about it as a community, and sometimes that can be misunderstood,” Satrom said. “But it’s [an all-inclusive] community coming from an online culture.”

Glitch art is created when information technologies—operating systems, applications and interfaces—are pushed past intended limits, Satrom said. The glitch itself is a break from a flow, concept or system, and creating and documenting those moments are central to the form. He said the process is scary because the outcome is never certain.

“These assumptions that we notice after something glitches are presets, defaults and standards that go into these complex systems and boxes,” Satrom said. “I like to instigate those reactions.”

Satrom has used his work in musical performances. He utilized percussion by inserting a drum machine disguised as a loading prompt into his performance piece, called “Prepared Desktop.”

Briz created an application called Coldplay Song Generator, which recreates new music using Coldplay’s track “Clocks.”

“We’re starting to re-examine our relationship to culture in our own creative works and what originality means,” Briz said.

He said that he sees glitch art as an avenue for open dialogue on issues involving modern technology because it uses techniques

such as databending, sonification and datamoshing. These techniques give glitch art respective visual, musical, cinematic and interactive elements, he said.

Glitch artists manipulate digital media via modified coding, file extensions and commands. The effects of databending are unpredictable, Briz said. Files that are bent too far are corrupted or “broken,” Satrom said.

“I’m not trying to thwart the program,” said Rory McSweeney, a junior interactive arts & media major whose piece “Banner Glitch No. 3” is in the 20th Annual Hokin Honors Exhibition. “I’m trying to exploit what’s wrong with it.”

McSweeney said he has learned that every element of his process influences the outcomes of the work. Running a file through different programs exaggerates different glitches, which he compared to cooking and said extremely distorting the image is called “over-cooking.” The first step in databending is performed by opening an image file through an HTML editor in ASCI code—what the computer reads—and  then altering that code.

Opening a corrupted image file in Photoshop allows the artist to add layers and effects to specific regions of the image. The code can be altered again, then opened in another image editing suite, McSweeny said. Saving them as different file-types also influences the type and degree of “glitching,” McSweeney said. A firm knowledge of the systems he works with allows him to act with foresight.

“You can’t take it too hard when you don’t know what’s going to happen,” McSweeney said. “As with anything—whether it’s an ideological convention or a piece of software—you have to know how it works before you break it.”