Rosa Menkman - The book makes sense of recent glitch art and culture: technically, culturally, critically, aesthetically and finally as a genre

Rosa Menkman, The Glitch Moment(um). Network Notebooks 04, Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam, 2011. 
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In this book, Rosa Menkman brings in early information theorists not usually encountered in glitch’s theoretical foundations to refine a signal and informational vocabulary appropriate to glitch’s technological moment(um) and orientations. The book makes sense of recent glitch art and culture: technically, culturally, critically, aesthetically and finally as a genre.
The glitch takes on a different form in relation to noise, failure or the accident. It transitions between artifact and filter; between radical breakages and commodification processes. Menkman shows how we need to be clearer about the relationship between the technical and cultural dimensions of glitch culture. Honing in on the specificities of glitch artifacts within this broader perspective makes it possible to think through some of the more interesting implications of glitched media experience. Using a critical media aesthetic orientation, Menkman addresses the ongoing definitional tensions, paradoxes, and debates that any notion of glitch art as a genre must negotiate, rather than elude.

One need only look as far as the upstart GLI.TC/H festival and its vibrant constellation of related practitioners to see that the glitch aesthetic is alive and well. Rosa Menkman has been active as an artist, theorist, organizer and agitator within this milieu and at the tail end of last year she published The Glitch Moment(um), which threads together a number of writing and research projects into a rather authoritative overview of engineered disruption as critical media practice. Released under the auspices of the Institute for Network Cultures Network Notebook series, The Glitch Moment(um) provides a really thorough examination of glitch aesthetics in relation to classical communications theory, questions of categorization, the propagation of glitch art as a ‘genre’ and presents some related research into the community of artists active within this realm. Menkman also tosses in a manifesto for good measure.  Despite the numerous moving parts that comprise this text, it really works as a cohesive enterprise – not only in providing an overview of the history of glitch art but as an expert framing of the media theory that underpins the field.
So, how do we make sense of practices such as codec corrupting, datamoshing and circuit bending? Menkman describes glitch as a wholesale rejection of utopian dreams of the seamless media experience, a dispelling of the transparency of various mediums: “To study media-specific artifacts is to take interest in the failure of media to disappear… in noise artifacts.” In contemplating failure, she breaks down these noise ‘artifacts’ into three categories: compression, feedback and glitch, and identifies the latter as an indeterminate force, one that is “unaccepted… unwanted… unordered”. After ruminating on this undefined space Menkman eases into a consideration of the phenomenology of glitch that is buoyed by careful case studies of key works by Ant Scott, Gijs GieskesJodi and Paul B. Davis.
The Glitch Moment(um)
The remarkable thing about The Glitch Moment(um) is the depth of research informing the work; Menkman moves beyond stock discussions of Paul Virilio (catastrophe) and Kim Cascone (the aesthetics of failure) and invokes less overtly relevant media theorists like Alan Liu and Jay David Bolter to great effect. The concluding examinations of ‘the commodified glitch’ and the glitch scene’s crystallization into a genre are really quite savvy and self-aware. Menkman cites McLuhan’s adage that “obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning”, which perfectly encapsulates the challenge (and promise) of this particular moment for error-driven practices. Given that The Glitch Moment(um) is basically a handbook for embracing noise and obsolescence with open arms, the text is a vital read for anyone interested in critically engaging media. - Greg J. Smith

Rosa Menkman's book "The Glitch Moment(um)" is a comprehensive study of the theory, practice and social context of contemporary digital Glitch Art. Glitch Art is similar to the ironisation of the noise of old media into cultural signals seen in Trip Hop and that is the basis for the nostalgic image-making of Lomography or Instagram. But it is based on current digital technology, rather than past analogue technology.
Glitch Art is growing in popularity and critical attention, and is already being recuperated by the mass media (for example in a recent Calvin Klein perfume television advertisement). Analogue glitches have been part of art and popular culture for decades, for example in Nam June Paik's television-based art or the titular character of the cyberpunk TV show "Max Headroom". Digital glitches and their simulation featured in the postmodern graphic design of the early 1990s created by groups such as Designers' Republic. But between a history of analogue media and a future of mass media recuperation there is the current Moment(um) of digital glitch aesthetics that Menkman identifies.
Menkman begins by explaining the basics of Shannon/Weaver information theory as the basis for a theory of what glitches are. In information theory, messages are sent as a signal from a transmitter to a receiver over a channel which is disrupted by a source of noise. This "noise" is the crackle on analogue telephones or on vinyl records, the static on analogue TV and radio, and the corruption that sometimes affects digital images or audio streams (nowadays notably Skype chats).

Where kinds of noise are associated with a particular we can recognise them as particular "noise artifacts". We can also recognise compression artefacts in digital media such as those seen in over-compressed lossy image and video files (JPEG and MPEG artefacts). These noise and compression artifacts are experienced by the users of communication media as glitches. Menkman describes these phenomena in detail, providing the reader with a firm foundation in the sources and expression of Glitch phenomena.
How artists can deliberately create these phenomena is the subject of the next section of the book. Titled "A Vernacular Of File formats" it is a condensed adaptation of Menkman's 2010 artwork of the same name. It is a thorough and accessible resource for both understanding the production of and creating visual glitch aesthetics. Each picture demonstrates a technique for modifying the data of an image file format so that a computer can still parse and render the file but it will appear corrupted to a human viewer. Starting with an uncorrupted (but unnervingly contrasty) "RAW" image, Menkman explains the production and principles of corrupted digital images in sufficient detail that the reader can recreate and build on these techniques themself, or use this knowledge as the basis for understanding and appreciating the work involved in the Glitch Art produced by others.

The next two chapters cover the phenomenology and philosophy of Glitch. The theories of Paul Virilio and Alan Liu are usefully deployed here to give Glitch a philosophical grounding. But there is also a recognition that Glitch is an inherently open concept that is difficult to define. Menkman rightly considers the work of Beflix (Ant Scott) as a leading Glitch Art figure. The diversity of Beflix's work illustrates the problem with categorizing Glitch neatly, or at all. 5VOLTCORE, JODI, and others provide alternative views of what Glitch can be. This builds to Menkman defining "Glitchspeak" as the vernacular, or in possibly the creole, of Glitch Art.
In "From Artifact To Commodity", Menkman turns to Glitch aesthetics in music, particularly the glitches created through circuitbending, and the precedent this has set for the creation of standardized tools for glitching visual media. As such tools have been created for images, Glitch aesthetics have found their way into the artistic mainstream and into music videos and other mass media. Glitch may be impossible to categorize but it is all too easy to commodify. This marks its emergence as a genre, and Menkman finishes this section by considering Glitch as a recognizable but still problematic genre that relies heavily on spectators' technical, aesthetic and theoretic literacy.
Having given the reader a solid grounding in the theory, practice and philosophy of Glitch, Menkman finally moves on to its sociology. Using a tool that looks like Gephi but isn't (Issuecrawler), Menkman models the social network of relationships between Glitch artists that exist on the Internet. Clustering blogs and other Internet expressions by the number of links between them allows the tools of social network analysis to be used, revealing who is central to the Glitch artworld as judged by the clicks of their peers.

Finally Menkman sums up Glitch aesthetics in a section called "The Emancipation of Dissonance Glitch". Starting with a quote from Jackson Pollock:
"I don’t use the accident. I deny the accident. There is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end."
Menkman concludes that "Like the best ideas, glitch practices are dangerous because they generate awareness". By which point the reader is perfectly placed to understand just how and what kind of awareness Glitch generates, and how they can appreciate or produce Glitch art themselves.
Glitch Art has been long overdue serious critical attention. I cannot remember the last time I read a book that so thoroughly and concisely presented the theory and practice of a contemporary art movement in as does "The Glitch Moment(um)". - Rob Myers

Through your academic research you’ve developed an intimate understanding and typology of the glitch. You even refer to glitches as a “wonderful interruption that shifts an object away from its ordinary form and discourse, towards the ruins of destroyed meaning.” Do you think that the rarity of glitches gives them a greater significance amidst the endless improvements and sleekness of new technologies? Are there any issues around the production and the exhibition of new media art that you are concerned about? 
Naturally, working with and researching glitches, a concept that etymologically refers to an unstable moment(um) makes me reflect on related issues on a regular basis. In glitch art, where the glitch has been lifted from its technological or informational basis into a social context), the glitch often breaks the expectations of the user, the viewer or maker and as such, infuses a specific momentum with a different or new meaning.
Glitch art is often something to reflect on, a momentum that depends on informational input, technology, time, context and the actors (audience) role or perspective. I like to ask questions like: what are the materials of a particular work of digital glitch art? And from which perspectives should I describe it (from the makers point of view, an art historical or technological point of view or a viewers perspective). What is the (technological) process or referenced process behind the glitch? Problems of conservation and preservation I think are equally interesting - although in certain cases a negative answer (glitches don't need to be preserved) can be sufficient. I think the answer to these questions depends on the particular work of art; there is not one unequivocal answer.
I don't think glitches are rare; every medium has its glitches, its fingerprints of imperfection that can be exploited by artists. What is rare today is to reflect upon the media we use (not in the arts but in general). Today, the black box is often totally accepted as impenetrable - which could actually make them the perfect acousmatic instrument, both for audio and for visuals. The post-procedural essence of glitch art is opposed to conservation; the shocking perception and understanding of what a glitch is at one point in time cannot be preserved for a future time. The artist tries to somehow demonstrably grasp something that is by nature unstable and ungraspable. Their commitments are to an unconventional utopia of randomness, chance and idyllic disintegrations that are potentially critical. The core of a work of glitch art is therefore best understood as the momentary culmination of a history of technological and cultural movements, and as the articulation of an attitude of destructive generativity. In short, glitch art practices are invested in processes of non-conforming, ambiguous re-formations. At the same time, however, many works of glitch art have developed into archetypes and even stereotypical models, and some artists do not focus on the post-procedural dialectics and complexity of glitch at all. They skip the process of creation through destruction of a flow and focus only, directly, on the creation of new formal designs for glitch, either by creating the final imagistic (or sonic) product, or by developing shortcuts to recreate the latest-circulated glitch re-formation. Purposive, design-driven efforts at glitch can be created in plug-ins, filters or ‘glitching software’ that automatically emulate, simulate or mimic a particular glitching method. These tools tend to surrender ‘affect’ (the shocking moment(um) of glitch) in favor of ‘effect’.
Searching for naturally occurring glitches in different media types takes time and energy. In your extensive experience with glitches have you developed any practical methods for glitch hunting and is there any particular software or hardware you prefer working with?
My favorite software is Quicktime. My favorite compressions are Cinepak (for moving image) and gif (for static images).A software I would suggest to any beginning glitch artist is Monglot - developed by Johan Larsby and me (unfortunately we did not have the time and knowledge to make this cross platform - it only works on mac osx something). Glitch-wise, what works for me is late nights and a glass of wine. And learning not to be afraid to break something.
Your recent performance “Collapse of PAL” at Art in Amsterdam memorialized the disappearance of PAL (Phase Alternating Line) the analogue video encoding system. How strongly do you feel narrative concepts play into your work with glitches and do these narratives relate to your own relationship to the technologies you use?
Medium reflexivity sometimes kind of feels a bit like beating a dead horse; although every medium has its own language or medium specificities  and its own medium languages -- artists and audience by now have been so trained at this language and the misappropriation thereof, that the works based on these tricks often feel a bit one dimensional. I am trying to find ways to play with medium reflexivity and at the same time, to take this way of working one step further. I am looking for new ways of doing research, new stories I want to tell. Sometimes they are about techniques, and sometimes they are more personal.
Viktor Shklovsky, the Russian theorist from the early 20th century who pioneered the theory of de-familiarization, was quoted saying “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.” Do you feel this idea is closely related to the objectives you outline for Glitch Studies in your manifesto? How would you describe Glitchspeak’s relationship to your theories?

Let me explain a theory of Glitchspeak: Within the constructed ruins of glitch, new possibilities and new meanings can arise. There is something more than just destruction: new understandings lie just beyond the tipping point. The glitch generates new understandings of techno-culture through the gestations of Glitchspeak, glitch’s constantly growing vocabulary of new expressions. I use the term ‘Glitchspeak’ in opposition to George Orwell’s ‘Newspeak’. For Orwell, Newspeak is a language whose political goal it is to shrink its vocabulary and grammatical nuance over time, so as to render any alternative thinking - which he referred to as ‘thoughtcrime’, or ‘crimethink’ - impossible. The final goal of Newspeak is to construct a society in which only politically approved (dominant and conventional) statements can be articulated, at the expense of the possibility of free expression, rebellion, and so on. Fighting Newspeak, Glitchspeak contests the obfuscated limitations of language created by proprietary technology, to capture the constant transformation and growing wealth of glitch artifacts and their meanings. Glitchspeak explains the utterances that do not fail to be heard, yet at the same time exist outside of knowledge.

I was born one year before dystopia; before the The Party started ruling, the first Macintosh was released and "the individual was forever subordinated to the state".
In another language: 01001001 00100000 01100001 01101101 00100000 00110010 00111000 00101110.
How long have you been working creatively with technology? How did you start?
I had my own photo camera before I was 10 years old, my mother would buy me one roll of film for special occasions; holidays, parties and when we moved.
Later, I took developing courses in the local 'creativity club', where we also made our own cardboard cameras, and so on.
I also remember my friend sending me 14 faxes for my 14th birthday and me sending her 14 faxes back. My father got really angry because faxing (paper) was expensive at that time.
When I was 16 I was part of the technical commission at high school - I was one of the high school djs and one of the directors of the school paper.
I also played soccer on district level (middle Netherlands) but I guess thats another form of technique and creativity.
Where did you go to school? 
When I graduated at the University of Amsterdam in the subject of new media, I wanted to try my luck in art school. After 3 weeks I was so annoyed that when I accidentally dropped my 'art' on the train tracks it seemed to be a sign from heaven to leave it there and never come back.
Right now I am doing a phd on the subject of digital artifacts (anywhere from compression to glitch).
What traditional media do you use, if any? Do you think your work with traditional media relates to your work with technology? 
I don't really care to make a difference between digital and analogue (or traditional and non traditional) media, right now I am kind of trapped by technology, but I like to pick up a pencil and paper too and I still have plenty of analogue cameras lying around.
I just wished I could play the piano.
Are you involved in other creative or social activities?
Over the last year I considered going into politics, but when I attended a real debate I realized that my vision of politics is different from what happens in reality. High-end politics seems nothing more than corruption - which would actually in speaking terms make sense for me as a career choice ...
Besides this, I am a co-organizer of the GLI.TC/H festival, together with jonSatrom, Nick Briz and Evan Meaney. This years festival will have a triple installment (in Chicago, Amsterdam and Birmingham - of which the latter is run by Antonio Roberts). I also curate other exhibitions, performances… I do as many things as time gives me opportunity… 
What do you do for a living? 
I am not making a lot of money, but everything I put energy in (besides my friends) has something to do with my artist-theorist practice.
Who are your key artistic influences? 
I would like to leap like Yves Klein, contemplate like Virilio, have the humor of Lewis Caroll, the vision of Edward Lorenz, be as strong as Bob Flanagan, as Romantic as Caspar David Friedrich and as active as Rosa Luxemburg.
Besides that I would use my camera as David Lynch, circuits like Gijs Gieskes, bend your expectations like Jodi and play like Kim Gordon.
I would also be interested in having tea with them. 
Have you collaborated with anyone in the art community on a project? 
I like to collaborate, but I also find it very hard or sometimes impossible.
To list some 'collaborations'  (chronologically)
Kim Asendorf: Vernacular of File Formats expandedRafael Rozendael: Flash vs. avi CinepakJohan Larsby: Monglot Live performances: Goto80, Extraboy, Failotron, Bernhard Fleischmann, Isan, Vade and Pixelnoizz under the leading of Alexander Galloway: "ipbrowser"
Digital Methods Initiative, August 2007: 'Diagnosing the state of Iraq: The web view'
When did you become interested in focusing your practice around the glitch? 
Glitch first came into my life in 2005, when I visited the WORLD WIDE WRONG exhibition by the Dutch/Belgium artist collective Jodi (Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans) at MonteVideo/Time Based Arts in Amsterdam (now known as the NIMK, Netherlands Media Art Institute). An introductory text on the work of the artists by Annet Dekker went a long way in articulating the artists’ deconstructive methods. However, the work that made the biggest impression on me, Untitled Game (1996-2001), which was a modification of the videogame QUAKE 1, seemed the most incomprehensible. I could only understand it as irrational and void of meaning, and so I walked away from it, confused. In hindsight, I learned about myself in that moment - about my expectations and conceptions of how a videogame should work. The strange game seemed only to return me to my own perspectives and expectations around the medium that it was failing to be. A second text by Josephine Bosma usefully outlined Jodi’s active deprogramming of computers, and the paradoxes and tensions inherent to their working method. Even still, Untitled Game in particular remained for me under-articulated in theory, which increased my curiosity about this kind of art practice. I did not realize it then, but my taste for glitch, and for its potential to interrogate conventions through crashes, bugs, errors and viruses, was spawned by that initial and persistent critical evasion of Untitled Game from my theoretical grasp - which finally inspired me to write this long thesis.  
Glitch more fully entered my practical work when I began an artistic collaboration with the musician Goto80 (Anders Carlsson) in 2007. He explained to me how he exploited the Commodore 64 sound chip (the SID chip) for the creation of music. The bugs Goto80 used gave a very specific texture to the sound (the result of noise artifacts) and I began to develop and recognize visual equivalents to this process. I found more and more artifact-based correspondences between audio and visual technologies, such as compressions, feedback and glitches, in my (at that time) mostly online art practice. Then in early 2008, Geert Lovink invited me to the Video Vortex conference for a visual live performance (which was quite a challenge since I had never stood onstage before) and in 2009 put me in touch with Matthew Fuller, an artist, author and lecturer in London, which later turned out to be two key turning points, artistically and theoretically. I began performing and more strongly theorizing what I was then calling my Acousmatic Videoscapes. I explained to Fuller my observations of compressions, feedback and glitches in sound and their correspondences to the visual sphere, who pointed me to the early information theory of Claude Elwood Shannon and Warren Weaver. Their work proved most useful to my project of developing a technology-driven framework for theorizing these usually unwelcome, increasingly exploited noise artifacts in which my practice was so invested. More about this can be read in my in November to be released INC Notebook: "The Glitch Moment(um)" - which will be freely distributed in both digital and analogue (physical!) form.
Is the community primarily online or offline? Do you help each other by sharing techniques and artworks?
By organizing festivals like GLI.TC/H, I hope the glitch community grows more strong both online and offline, indeed by sharing techniques, concepts and observations (which I think is already a very integral part of the glitch community). Since the last GLI.TC/H festival in Chicago, I have been noticing glitch networks growing more and more tight. This observation was reinforced for me after May 18, 2011, when JamesBWatson deleted the ‘Glitch Art’ article on Wikipedia. Some strong reactions to this deletion within the online glitch scene were aroused when I (re-)posted an image of this moment on my blog. This made me reflect more deeply upon the implicit organization of glitch artists on the internet, as a complex community of specific inter-influencing actors and objects. This notion inspired me to attempt to map the difficult-to-represent online existence and associations of glitch art practices and culture. 
I invited Esther Weltevrede, a PhD candidate at the humanities department of the University of Amsterdam working on internet sphere mapping and analysis, to assist me in some modest experiments towards this end. There are a number of problems that immediately arise in mapping web spheres. First of all, we had to choose a bias - some starting points from which to ‘search’ - because there is no way to create the ‘integral map of glitch art’ without starting points (and also no way of representing all possible starting points). There is bias in the tools used to do the mapping, in the web platforms that the researcher chooses to focus upon (where tags are scraped from), and in the depth and level of mapping assumed to glean useful levels of detail and degrees of understanding from the larger data set acquired by the process. 
More info on these graphs can be found on my blog
- Jason Huff |

Rosa Menkman is a Dutch visualist, theorist and curator, working with glitches, compressions, feedback and other forms of noise artifacts, aiming to contribute to the development of a discourse for glitch art and culture.


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