Usually when a piece of technology breaks, certain symptoms emerge: the screen messes up, there are weird lines or patterns that mess with your use of the tool, or it just simply fails to function at all in the way that you want it to. These errors are frustrating, of course, but they can also be aesthetically interesting. “Glitch art” makes use of bugs in technology, exploiting what otherwise might look like flaws and turning them into powerful works of art.
What is a glitch, exactly? It could be a mistake in a source code that gives rise to an unforeseen artifact, the term given to the effect rather than the root of a glitch. It could also mean a way of tweaking a piece of technology, using it in a way that wasn’t originally intended. In celebration of the rise of glitch art and the glitch philosophy, here are 10 artists who have created artwork with glitches, taking advantage of the fallibility of machines and turning it to their advantage.
JODI are a Dutch internet artist duo who might be considered the grandparents of digital glitch art. Their website, jodi.org, at first looks like a train wreck. Then, visitors gradually realize that the site is supposed to have strange links, garbled text, and broken images. The homepage is never the same twice; it’s forever being changed and further developed. The process, along with the cracked-out code, subverts the true purpose of a website: to communicate.
Similar to JODI, Rosa Menkman’s website doesn’t make much sense at first glance. The black and white composition features blurred pixel designs, selection-box animations familiar from Photoshop, and, of course, copious posts of the Dutch artist’s own fractured images and videos (what is it with the Dutch and this stuff anyway?). Menkman’s “Glitch Manifesto” is one of the important documents of the genre.
Following on the work of his Year of the Glitch Tumblr, artist Phillip Stearns has been turning his glitch images into textiles using robotic weaving technology. He creates the sources for his intricately pixelated, beguiling compositions by modifying digital cameras in a process called circuit-bending.
John Cage used the piano like digital glitch artists use the computer. Cage “glitched out” his instruments by adding bits of sticks, metal, and detritus to impact the sound of the strings for his “prepared piano” compositions. The musical sound manipulated with the prepared piano is the audio equivalent of an image manipulated with a glitch-inducing software. Think about it. Just listen.
Nam June Paik, a Korean artist known for his experiments with media and sculpture, has taken advantage of glitches to comment on how we might interact with machines in a different way. He once attached a magnet to a cathode ray tube television, creating an abstract, swirling image on the screen.
Cory Arcangel, an artist who works across media with different forms of technology, often exploits bugs in machines to make his conceptual projects. Such a piece is Super Mario Clouds, a Super Nintendo cartridge hacked until that’s all that’s left in the game. Another example is his Two Key-Stoned Projectors, a minimalist projection of the empty screens left over when two VCRs are left without tapes in them. The empty screen isn’t a prominent feature of the technology, but Arcangel makes it the focus of his piece.
More literature than visual art, @Horse_ebooks is a Twitter bot gone rogue. Due to a glitch in its programming (or perhaps intentional human intervention), the Twitter account stopped drawing spam text from the horse-related ebooks it was originally programmed for and began to trawl the Internet for random pieces of content, which it digested and spit back up. It’s a fascinating error that’s been analyzed as a randomized exploration of language.
Artist Daniel Temkin changes the formats of his digital files in order to create glitches. His Glitchometry series images begin as just a few black squares or circles, but then are imported into an audio editor and sound effects are added to the individual color channels, creating a surreal, hallucinatory effect.
Glitchbot is artist Ben Baker-Smith’s automated, Flickr-based glitch robot. It chooses one image a day from Flickr’s open-source Creative Commons pool and glitches it, then reposts it to the same service. Baker-Smith explains, “GlitchBot is an imperfect machine built to create imperfections.”
Alva Noto is the stage name of visual artist Carsten Nicolai. Under the Noto moniker, the artist creates music from machine noises, including clicks and glitches. He samples technological sounds like fax tones and telephone pops, turning what we would think of as annoyances into abstract musical collage.