'Is anybody there?'
- posted two months ago in the comments on the Glitch Art flickr pool discussion page
I first discovered glitch art while digging for new live video processing techniques on Create Digital Motion. An article by Peter Kirn introduced me to datamoshing, and with my appetite whetted I soon stumbled on the flickr Glitch Art pool.
Here's a little history about the pool. Flickr was launched in February of 2004. A few months later the Glitch Art pool was founded by LiminalMike. The pool's description / statement of purpose reads as follows:
'Glitch is a short-lived fault or malfunction in a system. Whenever camera lenses erroneously save the data of what they see to it's recording device or whenever the binary code of an image file gets corrupted (intentionally or accidentally), the final result is a faulty image, which we call Glitch. Please only post images that have had authentic digital glitching through computer or digi-cam error. This includes databent images (eg. inserting randomness with a hex editor). Please DO NOT post images that have only been manipulated in image editing software (unless it's the software that has failed and glitched the data) or abstract images made up of authentic light - these will be removed from the group.'
The content spans a broad range of styles and techniques. There are text / hex editor hacks, images processed with audio editing software, broken ROMs, screenshots of browser glitches, hardware circuit bends, and datamoshes. In addition to the intentional works of art there are also plenty of serendipitous, accidental glitches posted both by regular and one-off submitters.
Members of Glitch Art and other similar flickr pools have had their art featured in Glitch: Designing Imperfection, and present their work at festivals and shows around the world. Dtemkin recently displayed his Sector series at the Bent Festival in NYC, and Rosa Menkman seems to always be busy with one public project or another.
The pool became an immediate source of inspiration for me. It introduced me to a wide range of techniques and artistic styles, and put me in contact with many artists that I would otherwise never have discovered. This potential for immediate one-to-one contact with other artists of various levels of ability was invaluable.
One particularly useful resource was longtime flickr user and Glitch Art pool member stallio, whose blog stAllio!'s way provides lots of great databending and glitch art related guides (highly recommended for aspiring glitch artists). Other users like Antonio Roberts, aka hellocatfood (and now myself) also host sites with instructional materials related to glitch art techniques and processes.
These connections, along with information presented in the image descriptions and comments of other users, got me started glitching jpegs using TextEdit and Audacity. I joined the pool and soon began uploading the results of my own experiments.
Despite the obvious interest shown by the thousands of members and posts that have accumulated over the last few years, some users have recently voiced concerns about the current and long-term health of the community. A few months back I was surprised to see the following post leading the pool's discussion page:
'Is anybody there?
Is activity in the flickr glitch community on the decline? What has kept some users involved for years, and what is gradually pushing others to alternative outlets?
Ben Baker-Smith: Do you see flickr as a community, or simply a platform on which to display your work? / What are the pros and cons of displaying work on flickr?
Max Capacity: At first flickr was just a platform to display my work, and for me to refer back to from blogs and such. But I started hooking up with other people who are interested in or doing the same things I am. And holy shit, people actually like my work on there. So the community aspect is absolutely one of the main contributing factors to how much time I spend making stuff. I live for the anonymous praise.
Dtemkin: Flickr has a wonderful community of glitch artists who are very approachable. For artists starting out with databending, it is a fantastic resource. [But] there's definitely an 'instant gratification' aspect to flickr. If you simply post an image and send it to a bunch of different groups, you can get positive responses, but not necessarily the thought-provoking or instructive comments that will help you move forward.
Rosa Menkman: I used to be more active on flickr, but because my personal work revolves around video, I think I moved a lot of my attention to platforms like Vimeo. There I started a similar (video) pool, which I called noise artifacts. I think the community on flickr used to be more active, there used to be a little bit more discussion on there. Now it seems to have become more of a dumping pool … or platform.
[Rosa Menkman / rom glitch 3.2]
B B-S: What display environments and mediums would you like to explore in the future?
stallio: I've been trying to move away from purely abstract glitch to introduce more traditional illustration aspects, for example doing illustrations and using glitches for textures/fills.
Dtemkin: Most of the databending software I've written has been geared toward producing a final still image or set of images. I'm experimenting with writing software where the program itself is the final piece, rather than a tool to create an effect It's a different sort of challenge, but an approach I'm excited to explore.
Rosa Menkman: In May I will be doing a live audiovisual television show in Denmark [ed. This show has now passed]. Therefore I am getting deeper into composing and sound generation. I am also hoping that during the summer I will find some more time to play around with videomixers and other hardware.
[Dtemkin / mario 39.2]
B B-S: How do you first develop and explore an idea/concept?
Max Capacity: I've always been drawn to the aesthetics of degradation and decay. And I love obsolete media. ... Pixels themselves in old video games had to represent something much more epic in scope. Today's video games don't need to be symbolic or representative, they look like what they're supposed to look like. So the video games become a fun medium or subject matter to degrade, as there's still a certain level of basic recognition after the fact.
Stallio: Glitch projects are usually about solving some kind of puzzle: how to bend a certain type of file, how to get the effect I want, how to get it to glitch in the right place, how to get the best colors, etc.
Detemkin: It's the hands-on approach that appeals to me about databending, so usually experimentation comes first, and concepts develop from the work. I began Sector, the series much of my early databent work belongs to, by looking at different file formats as raw materials with their own qualities, and asking what JPEGs want to look like, vs. say, BMP files.
[glitch-irion / 32 dezembro glitch 11 2008]
B B-S: What are some of your influences? Where do you find inspiration?
Max Capacity: I can't help but think about Warhol or Lichtenstein when I look at pixels. Pop art and punk art are big influences. I eat up anything by Yves Klein or Jim Phillips. I'm a huge William Gibson fan, and all his books give me tons of inspiration. Science fiction movies, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, lots of anime. Looney Toons, I watch cartoons constantly. Kraftwerk and Atari Teenage Riot.
glitch-irion: Pop art, graphic design, flickr's glitch/databend galleries, urban snapshots, graffiti, abstract art, and classical art concepts such as form, composition balance, color composition, composition unity are very important for me.
Dtemkin: My Sector series was heavily inspired by Bauhaus-era work and Pop Art, both of which I see as natural companions for glitch art. Repetition of images is of course common in Warhol's work, and also occurs often in databent images. Iconic symbols work well with databending, since the images are still highly recognizable when bent. In this project, I used databending partly in response to Warhol's ideas of automation in art; it's what happens when the machine breaks.
Rosa Menkman: I think Goto80 has been a really big inspiration to me - his work has a lot of tension in it; it takes place within this vortex of randomness, brokenness and perfection, which keeps me interested. I am naturally a curious person so I ask a lot of questions and always search for these tensions in my own life and research. Besides music, I think my main influences and inspiration are in concerts and festivals, books and bad television. I think I find most inspiration between the cracks of whatever else I do in daily life.
[Max Capacity / Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back (1982) (Parker Bros)]
B B-S: What methods, mediums, and tools do you use?
stallio: I'll use any software I can figure out how to databend with. Mostly I use hex editors, wav editors, and notepad.
Max Capacity: My NES circuit bending is all hardware, so I actually have to go through the process of testing and bending the circuit to get desirable results. ... The rest of the glitches are perpetrated using emulators.
Rosa Menkman: I don't feel like I am stuck into using any particular hard or software, or within the distinction between analogue and digital or sound and image. I have my preferences, but my final choice of method really depends on the moment.
Dtemkin: Most of the software I write to glitch images begins with automating manual work I often do to the files, and then expands in complexity as I discover new effects. Some of it builds on bugs I've discovered accidentally when using various image editing software. Much of it comes from testing what would happen if I tried to process data of type A through system B and see how it is transformed.
[stallio / tvslib4]
How the community will evolve is yet to be seen. But with the Glitch Art pool alone claiming 3,142 members and 4,914 images (by far the largest concentration of glitch artists and enthusiasts I have come across), it is certain that it has already played a part in nuturing the development of the glitch aesthetic, and will continue to do so for a some time into the future.
Members of the flickr glitch pools have certainly helped me to develop my own work. However, over a relatively short amount of time (a year) I have become considerably less active. Like Rosa, I attribute this in part to having to split time between video and still image hosting sites. A proper combined audio/image/video hosting site is seriously missing.
Dtemkin's comment about the "instant gratification" quality of viewer feedback also ring true to me, and partly as a result of this I increasingly view the pools primarily as virtual display galleries and artist profile listings rather than places to seek meaningful feedback and ideas.
I admire the stalwart, longtime contributers for their tenacity and commitment to flickr as both a platform and a community; I think it has the potential to be both. And I hope that fresh faces continue to bring new energy and fresh approaches. There is tons to be learned already from the body of images and information, and it is increasing daily.
Partway down the "Is anybody there?" thread, hellocatfood contributes a note of cautious optimism, "You're right, things have slowed down. I think the interest in glitch art has fallen a bit. But I'm sure it'll come back soon."
Like receding feedback waves on the screen of a broken analog television set, I too think that it has fallen only to begin another inevitable climb.