Breaking Reality: Talking about Glitch with Jon Satrom

Patrick Lichty, Assistant Professor, Columbia College Chicago
Jon Satrom, Artist, Educator, Provocateur, Chicago, IL



P.L.: Can you give a brief introduction to “Glitching” media, and how did you get involved in it?

J.S.: I believe that Glitches are ever-evolving, elusive entities that inhabit and disrupt systems within our realities. I am interested in the moment(s) and space(s) that Glitches materialize and/or are invoked and how they have potential to jolt us into noticing the systems at play.

I love tinkering… taking things apart… and seeing (or speculating about) how things work. I like asking why things are put together the way they are… Why do design choices like brushed-metal windows or certain algorithms make their way through the pipeline? I like to explore under the hood. What kind of programmer pet-projects can be uncovered in bloatware? Are there Easter Eggs? Are there unsaid political intentions? What happens if _______­­_ is plugged into _______?

 

Screenshot from StormCloudComputing™, 2013, http://jonsatrom.click-gallery.us

Screenshot from StormCloudComputing™, 2013, http://jonsatrom.click-gallery.us

Ever since being introduced to video at my local Public Access Television station in the mid-1990s, I’ve been both involved with and invested in bending, subverting, breaking, kludging, interrupting, and deep-diving with media in an effort to grasp tactile understandings of the complex devices and algorithms that drive so much of our lives. I’m a hands-on learner; by playfully approaching these often forgotten aspects of using a computer, I uncover pathways full of surprises. Often, things don’t work the way I want them to, and by trying to investigate why, I find amusing disconnects, loop-holes, and exceptions; I’m presented with beautiful Glitches; and I’m constantly crisscrossing, re-wiring, and feeding back into my process to recreate and provoke Glitches. I enjoy digging these rabbit-holes, spelunking these black holes, and sharing these pathways with others.

 

FUBRIX, 2013, DVD Dead Drop 5: BEST OF Fach & Asendorf Gallery at Museum of Moving Image NYC

FUBRIX, 2013, DVD Dead Drop 5: BEST OF Fach & Asendorf Gallery at Museum of Moving Image NYC

P.L.: Can you talk a little about the Glitch Festival, its history, and what has been happening in the three years it has been taking place?

J.S.: GLI.TC/H is a free and open “conference/festival/gathering.” It was hatched from the simple notion of folks gathering together and engaging, chatting, and debating the issues, theories, and concerns of failure, systems, art, and Glitches. GLI.TC/H emerged in 2010. The first iteration was: September 29, 2010 in Chicago. In 2011, GLI.TC/H 2111 held events in Chicago, US, from November 3rd through the 6th; in Amsterdam, NL, from the 11th through the 12th; and, in Birmingham, UK, on the 19th. This past year, GLI.TC/H 2112 was held in Chicago from December 6-9. With much support, effort, and motivation from the “Glitch art community,” GLI.TC/H has evolved into a (friendly) multi-tentacled monster with expanding concerns and deepening dialogues. Using multiple descriptors (“conference/festival/gathering”) allows for organizational flexibility and experimentation. If Glitches are moments that make us aware of the systems at play, how do we engage them without critically considering the structures and systems we are developing to celebrate breakages and fissures? After organizing GLI.TC/H for three years and being involved in numerous Dirty New Media initiatives since the turn of the century, I’ve become increasingly interested in the structures that can emerge out of realms that celebrate deconstruction.

Karl Klomp performance at GLI.TC/H 20111, 2011 at PlanetArt, Amsterdam NL, photo by Rosa Menkman

Karl Klomp performance at GLI.TC/H 20111, 2011 at PlanetArt, Amsterdam NL, photo by Rosa Menkman

 

P.L.: What different art forms and discursive spaces can the Glitch genre entail?

J.S.: Simply, I think the little sparks that drive the process of making things have a lot in common with Glitches. Things become interesting when they surprise you. Mistakes can be motivating. A Glitch can be considered as a perception shift that allows you to step back and consider your place at that moment; often, that’s what art does. I like an expanded view of Glitches, which are technically rooted in “the digital,” but the reality is that our world is digital. I can’t think of a day that I have not been affected by nor participated in digital systems, from Facebook to using my transit card. Glitch art reflects our contemporary society: glitch art is contemporary art.

 

Ant Scott using Satromizer OS, 2011 at VIVID, Birmingham UK, photo by Pete Ashton

Ant Scott using Satromizer OS, 2011 at VIVID, Birmingham UK, photo by Pete Ashton

This past year’s conference/festival/gathering illustrates that an expanded consideration of Glitches can be fruitful. Many different contexts for discussion (discursive spaces) are invoked in GLI.TC/H meatspace: spaces with white walls, glowing rectangles, dark noisy spaces, spaces with pizza, spaces with beer. GLI.TC/H 2112 experimented with a new super-structure. Rather than a call for works, there was a call for ideas. Working Groups, similar to Internet working groups, formed online prior to the conference/festival/gathering to consider and expand the proposed ideas. Folks collaborated, created, and explored various incarnations of Glitches via threads of inquiry. Workshops, projects, discussions, installations, and performances spanned the range from virtual-world manipulation to pixel-sorting algorithms; strategies for radical inclusivity to language hacking; impromptu performances to e-waste installations. The input was enthusiastic, the work was demanding, and the output that emerged was invigorating. GLI.TC/H 2112 was illustrative of an infinitely inquisitive, insanely talented, critical, open, energetic, and somewhat quirky community. I believe that the best contexts for Glitch art are hands-on, self-critical, open, and praxis-driven.

 

 

GLI.TC/H 2112 ouLANGltchpo Thread Session at High Concept Labs, 2012 Chicago US, photo by Ben Syverson

GLI.TC/H 2112 ouLANGltchpo Thread Session at High Concept Labs, 2012 Chicago US, photo by Ben Syverson

 

GLI.TC/H 2112 ouLANGltchpo Thread Output at TriTriangle, 2012 Chicago US, photo by Ben Syverson

GLI.TC/H 2112 ouLANGltchpo Thread Output at TriTriangle, 2012 Chicago US, photo by Ben Syverson

P.L.: What parallels, if any, do you see between Glitch as a culture, Punk, and the Internet ‘1337’ (‘Leet’) hacker culture?

J.S.: I think the ethos of: DIY/DIT, sharing skills and knowledge, and playful trickery, are all embedded in Glitch-culture(s). There are folks who create ‘zines (both on deadtrees and as bytes), many artwares and works are distributed freely, and Glitch-tentacles reach out and highfive hackerspaces, cassette culture (and other media-specific cultures), and demoparties.

P.L.: Glitch often involves the injection of noise into a digital system, which is one that is supposed to be inherently noise-free.  Do you see any coincidence between the rise of Glitch and the elimination of analog TV, and also the death of TV noise/static?

J.S.: Is analogue noise/static dead, or has its technology been abandoned and our collective memory of it has become an icon? It makes me think of the photo filters on Instagram or the TV static on YouTube 404 pages. I agree with Jussi Parikka when he advocates for the use of the term “zombie media” over “dead media.” Formats and technologies don’t die. They are plowed over, intentionally forgotten, and exiled. The Environmental Protection Agency states that 250 million of all our annually discarded consumer electronic devices are still functioning.

As for noise and absolute lossless perfection, the reality is: you can never escape it. As Evan Meaney mentioned a bit ago, when he was a visiting artist in the Glitch course I teach at the School of the Art Institute, “Electrons are constantly flying off of our hard-drives, even if they are not plugged in, due to the velocity of the Earth.” Folks are beginning to see through the empty promises of “progress” and “digital perfection”: being sold the idea that the device you are about to purchase is the “most amazing thing ever” and knowing that you’ll be forced to buy another one in three years; being taken advantage of by EULAs; constantly running updates to fix buggy software; and, being forcefully migrated through new technology, such as DTV, DRM, and other propriety ventures. I think Glitch art reflects where we are as a digital culture.

Most of us traded in our old televisions for a higher definition, but less fidelity… When DTV breaks, it becomes silent. It does that pixel smear/datamosh thing that I love… but it fails hard. In contrast, the analogue television signal is robust and fluid. I’m curious to see how (and if) emergency messages can be broadcast when there is excessive strain on the proprietary systems we (have to) rely on. With analogue broadcasts, we would see some doubling of the image and some “snow,” but our brains can filter the noise and garner any information needed. If alien beings came to our reality/earth and started snooping the broadcast spectrum, back when we were broadcasting analogue, they might have been able to capture and decode it. Now, they would have to first pay patent licensing royalties to MPEG LA.
http://www.osnews.com/story/23236/Why_Our_Civilization_s_Video_Art_and_Culture_is_Threatened_by_the_MPEG-LA

P.L.: Glitch has a huge following and artist base in Chicago. Can you explain some of the history behind this (Phil Morton, Dan Sandin), and why Glitch is so pivotal there?

J.S: Chicago is a noisy and – historically – dirty city. Chicago is home to a ton of talented artists who use and abuse technology, make noise, and organize “Glitchy” events. There have been numerous artist-run spaces that have supported such hackerly approaches, from spaces like: CampGay (2001-2005), Deadtech (1998-2008), Enemy (2005-2012),  Flowershop (2006-2008) The Mopery (2008-2010), The Nightingale Theater (2008-present), and TriTriangle (2012-present); to small apartment galleries and basement shows. (I know I’m leaving folks out… Ack!) I feel that concerns, now manifest in Glitch art, have roots in the self-critical, political, DIY, experimental, radical, and improvisational Chicago art scene(s) further amplified by the city’s work ethic. I’ve been inspired by the early video moments of the 1960s and 70s, the dirt-style initiatives by the beige collective, and have had opportunities to collaborate on organizing Dirty New Media and Glitch art events through projects like r4wb1t5 and GLI.TC/H.

 

(a)r4wB1t5! microFest flyer, 2005 Chicago US

(a)r4wB1t5! microFest flyer, 2005 Chicago US

 

 

GLI.TC/H 2010 flyer, 2010 Chicago US

GLI.TC/H 2010 flyer, 2010 Chicago US

Chicago has a long history of being a hub; for freight and industry it was actually constructed as a transportation hub. For music (blues and jazz), technology (the world’s first web browser: Mosaic), and art, it was a primary hub of experimentation. In the early video art days, it was a hub for dubbing master tapes. My longtime conspirator and media art historian friend, jonCates draws from folks like Phil Morton, Dan Sandin, and other video art pioneers who worked in Chicago. I feel that there are a lot of notable shared conversations, issues, and ethics between Chicago’s early video community and the Glitch moment(-um) going on now. Although one difference may be found in what motivates Glitch artists to get messy under the hood. In addition to teaching a Glitch art course at the School of the Art Institute, I teach a course that features the use of a Sandin Image Processor – a general purpose, patch programmable, analogue computer – built in 1972 by Dan Sandin and Phil Morton for video manipulation and synthesis. See: http://www.copyitright.org/. I often have Dan Sandin visit class both to discuss the “early days” as well as to share his current work (which is amazing!). While talking to him a few years ago, he acknowledged the fact that there were of course happy accidents and experimental approaches: doing something contrary to the “right way”; but in the end, they were most concerned with constructing systems. In contrast, Glitch artists often operate as deconstructionists: drowning in presets, disillusioned by promises of perfection, and excited by failure. There is no doubt that these hyper-threaded hystories fuel Glitch art.

P.L.: What do you think has been some of the most exciting work being done in the Glitch genre, and who is doing it?

J.S.: There is so much exciting work going on around the notion of “Glitch” that I prefer radical inclusivity to exclusionary curatorial models. To me, Glitch art is more of a community than a style or aesthetic. You can find a list of Glitch artists here on the Glitch wiki: http://gli.tc/h/wiki/index.php/Glitch_Artists. It’s hard to list people and I always fear that I will leave folks out…

In particular, I think Glitchr’s work: https://www.facebook.com/Glitchr is a wonderful example of someone who is actively engaging with the systems we use (and take for granted). There is literal push and pull between the work and Facebook Inc. From day to day it may look different because certain bugs are fixed and loop holes are filled. Beflix AKA Ant Scott http://www.beflix.com/ first started using the term “Glitch Art” on his website in 2001. Recyclism http://www.recyclism.com/ AKA Benjamin Gaulon, Arcanebolt http://arcanebolt.net/ AKA Mark Beasley, Tamas Kemenczy & Alex Inglizian, and Cracked Ray Tube http://crackedraytube.com/ AKA Kyle E. Evans & James Connolly are all doing excellent things with obsolete technology and e-waste. Karl Klomp http://www.karlklomp.nl/ and Gijs Gieskes http://gieskes.nl/ are a couple of Dutch hardware wizards that should also be noted. The recent Glitchy take-over of Notacon and pixeljam by jonCates and Jake Elliott has been interesting to watch. http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.com/2010/04/critical-Glitch-artware.html This year, they are actually running aspects of the convention/demo-party! http://www.pixeljam.com/ Rosa Menkman http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.com/ deeply considers her Glitch art theory practice and is someone to follow. Nick Briz’s work is always refreshing and well-articulated http://nickbriz.com/. Rachel Weil http://www.partytimehexcellent.com/ & Melissa Barron http://melissabarron.net/ both kill on the zombie media front. hellocatfood AKA Antonio Roberts http://www.hellocatfood.com/ and stAllio! AKA Benjamin Berg http://www.animalswithinanimals.com/stallio/ are making great work and have excellent tutorials online. Evan Meaney http://www.evanmeaney.com/ helped birth the GLI.TC/H monster and has a great databending tutorial and beautiful videos (check out the ceibas cycle). Anton Marini AKA vade http://vade.info/ and Tom Butterworth aka bangnoise http://kriss.cx/tom/ have created glitch tools in addition to other wonderful warez. Kevin Benisvy http://www.kevinbenisvy.com/, YUNG PH∆R∆ØH http://yungpharaoh.com/ AKA Kevin Carey, Yølk AKA Joseph Chiocchi http://yolk.cc/, Theo Darst http://www.theodoredarst.net/, Ted Davis http://www.teddavis.org/, noteNdo AKA Jeff Donaldson http://notendo.com/, The evolving Dither Doom Project http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/dither%20doom, Morgan Higby-Flowers http://morganhigbyflowers.com/, Rob Ray http://robray.net/, Jason Soliday http://www.jsoliday.com/, Phillip Stearns http://phillipstearns.wordpress.com/,  Daniel Temkin http://danieltemkin.com/, William Robertson AKA Glitchard Nixon http://www.lastdayonearth.info/ and many, many, many others (check the wiki link above)… JODI’s work http://www.jodi.org/ is a Glitchy storm cloud that keeps striking us with lightning… I also feel that Andy Kaufman http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001412/ is a kindred “glitchy” spirit. There are some nights I can’t get “Datamosh” by Yung Jake out of my head… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS7QvOX8LVk

Various artists, 2012

Various artists, 2012

P.L.: As I mentioned in the introduction, Glitch is starting to bleed into mass media, as all “cool” media do.  How do you feel about Glitch being appropriated by the mass media?

J.S.: As you mention, it’s inevitable… but the beautiful thing is that Glitches are always moving. Though aesthetic elements may become codified and recognized, the ethics and implications of said aesthetics can be difficult for mass media to digest. An example might be: the fake twitter “hack” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/19/mtv-bet-twitter-hacks_n_2719086.html which the  vertically integrated Viacom platforms MTV and BET performed (and got flack for and got tons of followers for) or Glitchy interstitials and title sequences employed everywhere. The other reality is that corporations such as Apple – and any other entity built upon hypnotizing culture into believing in “perfection” – will constantly subject their product to “the Glitch”… https://vimeo.com/55034341. Although Kanye West’s “Welcome to Heartbreak” video was popular amongst Glitch artists (for a number of reasons), it wasn’t broadcast much, because, at the end of the broadcast chain, folks thought there was something wrong with their TV/satellite/service-providers… Within the contemporary digital society, Glitches are our contemporary condition.

 

 

Satrom Portrait, 2012

Satrom Portrait, 2012

P.L.: Is Glitch only a digital phenomenon and tactic or is Glitching more of an ontology or state of becoming?  Are there bio-Glitches, experiential Glitches, and so on?

J.S: I want to simply say: #YES #HICCUPS #FARTS #EXISTENCE. First off, I believe that all Glitches burst from the experiential nature of being. Domesticated, tamed, cultivated, aestheticized, and captured Glitches – all exist – but at one time… they were experienced as something that deviated from a path or broke context. The idea of an error, or to err, was championed by religious organizations in the 1300s to define “wandering” or “going astray” from a “righteous path.” Thus, to err meant specifically to deviate from a pre-defined path. A Glitch presents a moment infused with agency for anyone. Glitches happen and we have the potential to become, but we also know that – at lower levels – we are already mutating, adapting, and reacting to things we can’t perceive.

I recall a conversation we had at Columbia College Chicago a bit ago about your lens implant coming loose, producing a weird effect in your field of vision. Rather than being pissed, you as an artist considered your situation and your relationship to the failing implant and lulled yourself into the wonderful position of being aware, amused, and (maybe) a little annoyed. I hope that Glitch art can poke at everyone’s annoyances within culture’s compromised and pre-defined paths and encourage deviation from the normative.

P.L.: With the emergence of home 3D printing, I see the potential for Glitching actual objects and beginning to inject noise into reality, as we know it.  Do you see this as a possibility?

J.S.: Absolutely… Where there is context, it can be broken. I can’t wait to see corrupted  Crate & Barrel digital assets. (Think of Sven König & Bitnik’s “download-finished,” but for .obj’s)

Still from Plugin Beachball Success, 2011 at transmediale, Berlin DE

Still from Plugin Beachball Success, 2011 at transmediale, Berlin DE

P.L.: What do you think the future of the Glitch movement is as of the beginning of 2013?

J.S.: Well, the world didn’t end in 2012, and I’m happy about that. I also think that with every update, upgrade, and advancement, there will be folks who seek out and fetishize the new (Glitch) aesthetic(s). My hope is that the moment(-um) can continue to address the political and ethical issues embedded within the misuse of our everyday systems. Glitch has a way of touching folks and expanding perspectives. In our current media environment, there are still – ever closing, constantly expanding, always exciting – hpotentials for deviation, innovation, rejection, playful disobedience, criticality, and Glitch.