Postmodernism taught many how to celebrate noise. Mainstream TV programmes in the 1980s such as Max Headroom gave us a new artistic language which includes TV static, jump cuts, and imperfect presentation. Out of this has come Glitch art.
Glitch artworks celebrate the erroneous, the unexpected, in good ways and bad. Produced by new computer programming, the glitched work can be a sensory revelation. Antonio Roberts has embraced the world of Glitch art through his studies and practice, culminating in GLI.TC/H, a global glitch art event which started in Chicago and has spread to Amsterdam and, now, Birmingham.
Roberts' own discovery of Glitch art was based on a simple exchange of tweets in 2009: he was asked whether he has looked at Glitch art, a question which sent him in the direction of Glitch artist Rosa Menkman. Roberts quickly struck up a friendship with Menkman, one of the founders of GLI.TC/H in Chicago. For his birthday, a generous and thoughtful friend bought Roberts a plane ticket to Chicago in order to attend GLI.TC/H 2010. While he experience opened his eyes to the conceptual and practical possibilities of Glitch art, with an event practically covering the whole of Chicago, he made one observation. "It was the first time that many people in Glitch art had met in real life, but there were not many from Europe. I was the only British person attending. Glitch isn't just about being online; you need to have people in a physical space."
On his return to the UK to finish his MA in Digital Arts and Performance at Birmingham City University, Roberts was undertaking a module on curating art shows. His project was to curate an imaginary Glitch art show with an element performance. BCU lecturer Greg Sporton was highly supportive of Roberts: "He has always questioned where the art is - is it just a fascination with technology? But when it is in art, it's more of an approach, a context. When I told him about Glitch, he said yes - let's do it. He's supporting it. It's not just about technology into art." The result is that Roberts is to shortly return to BCU in order to lecture on Glitched art and performance.
As the project took shape, Roberts was becoming increasingly convinced, encouraged by his friends, that a real Glitch art event was necessary. At the same time, Birmingham arts organisation Vivid launched a programme, The Garage Presents, where its space was renamed The Garage, available to people to put on interesting events themselves. Roberts submitted an idea for a Glitch art event to take place over one day, with Vivid providing support. The result is GLI.TC/H UK, curated and organised by Roberts.
The format of the day mirrors one of the days of GLI.TC/H Chicago, which featured a combination of circuit bending, talks, and performance videos . Its variety is implicitly designed to encourage visitors new to Glitch art to "dip in" and see what it's all about. Some of the content, Roberts admits, has previously been exhibited in Chicago, but has never been exhibited in the UK. The participatory events, where attendees can play with circuitry, may turn out to be one of the most fun parts of the day, building on Roberts' own experience of being part of Fizzpop Hackspace in Birmingham. He aims to give succour to those that may have concerns: "It's not scary. You will not destroy your computer. You will not electrocute yourself! It's easy and simple, and gives artists a new way to looking at their work."
Glitch art is increasingly being used in music videos. Kanye West's End of Heartbreak video is a well-known example of datamoshing video; Dizzee Rascal and Everything Everything have deployed similar techniques in their videos, which making the stylistic effects more accessible to a wider audience, even if they are not presented as "Glitch art" per se. Roberts has just finished a video with a Birmingham-based metal band which uses Glitch aesthetics. And, of course, many musicians and bands such as Aphex Twin and Autechre feature glitch-y techniques in their compositions.
Kanye West "Welcome to Heartbreak", Def Jam Recordings
While it's simple to label anything as 'Glitch art' if it has a "designed imperfection", it's not to say that this is a new concept at all. "If you look at the words around Glitch - errors, corruption, hasn't that always been there in artwork... painting, performance? Architects are using glitches. There are body and mental 'glitches'. This is about exploring the concept of Glitch, and not just being about something on screen. It's celebrating imperfection."
There is little coverage on Glitch art, and practitioners are still emerging in what is a nascent scene. "I myself have had emails from British Glitch artists, who I didn't know about. 'Oh, you do that too'!. There are more artists than I thought. I am pleasantly surprised at how big Glitch is." That's not to say that Glitch art is well-supported. Roberts is evidently determined to do more to promote it, and to encourage galleries to consider Glitch works for exhibition, and he is keen to get some more events under his belt.
Roberts is now looking at applying Glitch concepts across a wider range of media and performance. He references some of the pioneering work done by Kim Asendorf, the creator of Extrafile, a suite of new file formats designed exclusively for glitching. Media – files, stories, fonts, texts – is just one facet of what can be glitched. As long as the concept is part of Glitch art's meaning (rather than focussing on computer glitches, for example), it may turn out to be an important artistic development. Theoretically, as long as something can be glitched and can be worked into practice, it can be part of a glitched artwork.
For the viewer, appreciating Glitch art inevitably depends on the form that the work takes, and an understanding of the work not being "broken" but a new construction in itself. Glitched artwork "... can be beautiful, but it can also be chaotically noisy. It isn't just an hour of TV static or hard noise. They have a narrative; they tell a story in some way. I want the viewer to see the value in things that are corrupted, bent, and broken."
Antonio Roberts' trailer for GLI.TC/H
As the UK's first GLI.TC/H will bring in audiences that are completely new to Glitch art, Roberts wants them to think and question what they experience – and to develop a desire to know more about it, and perhaps even how to do it. Ultimately, Roberts has one aim for GLI.TCH's audience:
"I want them to be curious."
Antonio Roberts' website is Hello Catfood, and he is @hellocatfood on Twitter. GLI/TC.H takes place on 19/11/10 at Vivid, Birmingham. Further information is available at the GLI.TC/H and Vivid websites.