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Glitch Art: Poetry of Error

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2016-07-24 11:22

Recently, an app called "Glitché" spread virally with its functions and interfaces looking exactly the same way as a your phone catching a virus. It can transform the pictures in your phones into an image fractured by digital malfunction. And behind it all, lies this new school of art. 


As the name suggests, 'glitch art' refers to “unworkable and disturbed art”, which is a branch of new media art. The first recorded occurrence of 'glitch art' in English was in 1962 when a signal error appeared during the NASA space program. John Glenn, a spaceman who was in the Titan rocket, explained the phenomenon as: "Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electric current." After that, these kind of digital errors that cause of whether factitiousness or accident, people called it 'glitch art'. 

Exploration of thepre-web age

Creating “malfunction” as an artistic approach can be traced back as early as 1935 when Len Lye, one of New Zealand's most noted expatriate artists, pioneered experimental filmmaking by painting and scratching images directly onto celluloid film. Same year, through his film Colour Box, we can detect the procedure of implementation result. This film is a combination of color documents and images, and was known as a kaleidoscope-like video art. 


Another prominent precursor to modern-day glitch art is Nam June Paik's Magnet TV, 1965. Nam June Paik (July 20, 1932 - January 29, 2006) was a Korean American artist who worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the father of video art. In 1965, he remoulded a black and white TV with a huge horseshoe shape magnet. 

Significanceof Glitch Art? 

Though it took 200 years to go from Classicism in the 17th century to the formation of Romanticism in 19th century, it took only 20 years from Nam June Paik's Magnet TV to the birth of 'Internet art'. Information and culture is spreading all over the world at a speed unprecedented in the history of humankind. 


In the 1990s, the newly arisen Internet art was not dynamic like its mother - the Internet. Internet art is most common art and popular approach of design, which was modern and unconventional. Although artists haven’t named their own works as Internet art because it is everywhere in current human life. And the existence of glitch art, which inspect and looking for the philosophy meaning of digital life. Russian artist Dmitry Morozov invented a handheld device “gigioxide”, it sniffs out pollution in the air and turns it into iridescent pixelated graphs. “The more pollution I get, the more beautiful the images are,” he says. “It’s a little bit ironic.” So, “glitch art” extracts the errors and imperfection and then sublimate it approximately poetical art language. 

Giacomo Carmagnola 

Though not strictly 'glitch art', the works of artist Giacomo Carmagnola holds many of its hallmarks. Carmagnola uses digital tools to add a unique, glitchy twist to photos of the past. Faces and objects are obscured with long, colourful strands that seem to melt, as if it’s some sort of ooze that’s absorbing the rest of the composition. 


Born in Italy, Carmagnola said he was completely absorbed by glitch art. Like Jesus’s crucifixion in Meltchrist, dramatic scenes bring up the keynote and the subject of his creation so as to give an understanding on his concerns over humanistic and religious issues through a digital era. Carmagnola himself, however, hasn't said much about it. “I’m completely absorbed by glitch art. I’ve always been attracted to its aesthetics; I’m not talking about philosophy or higher concepts, but just its plain visual pleasure. I see these images as an alternative beauty. I find it extremely fascinating how the same image can change so much by keeping its original ‘skeleton’. As for whether his pieces are supposed to be considered as kind of blasphemy or not, the interpretation should be left up to the viewers. 

About Giacomo Carmagnola 

This 25-year-old Giacomo Carmagnola comes from Treviso, Italy, and has released an impressive series of images in a specially altered pixel form while he was in college. 

Cory Arcangel

For some people, the notion of video games as a form of contemporary art might seem ludicrous. However, for the generation that grew up with Nintendo gaming consoles, the rigid digital landscapes, beeping base-color images, and 8-bit music have been deeply ingrained in their memories, forming an inseparable part of their childhoods. Cory Arcangel, who was born in 1978, recalls that his memory of video games actually started from watching others play, saying: “Because we didn’t have Nintendo at home back then, most of my work is about watching video games instead of the process of playing.” 


Most of Arcangel’s work is also the inspiration of glitch art. His best-known works are his Nintendo game cartridge hacks, including Super Mario Clouds (2002) in which a modified version of Super Mario Bros had all the graphics removed except for some white clouds left scrolling against a blue background, complete with 8-bit music. Burn Panasonic TH-42PWD8UK Plasma Screen (2007) sees Arcangel exploiting a flaw in flat-screen plasma televisions where in an image becomes burned into the screen when displayed for extended periods of time. Both these works, though different, are very representative of the 'glitchy spirit'. Bring nothing but his love of the games to the gallery space, this post-conceptualist artist had even wrote a command-line utility for ordering customized Domino's Pizza. 

“Computers are constantly upgrading, so is my work,” he says. “Although games are not artistic work, they both come from some certain culture.” In addition, creating the artworks are not as easy as the artist sometimes make them out to be: “What I told the public is it’s very easy to create them, but actually, nothing can be finished easily. Sometimes I create hundreds of pictures and then pick four, which looks matching each other harmoniously, from them. 

About Cory Arcangel


Cory Arcangel lives in Brooklyn, New York. The versatile artist draws, makes music, videos, behavior art, and tampers with electronic games. He usually reuses the videos from dancing blanket, gradients in Photoshop and YouTube in order to try to explore the relationship between digital technology and popular culture. 

Phillip Stearns 

The artist Phillip Stearns says that he almost killed himself by accident several times. In his performance artwork, Aux Input (2009), he taped electrodes to his arms. When he touches the instrument connected to the equipment, the instrument will make a sound which in turn controls lights and delivers mild electric shocks to the artist. As an artist practitioner combining sounds with visual arts, Stearns is a composer, performer, sculptor, and installation artist. In his opinion, technology is not only the tool to explore the global social environment, but also the key point to change the society and environment in which we live. 


As one of the early practitioners of glitch art, Stearn expresses his disappointment with the genre turning into a trend, citing; “Glitch can only be unintentionally produced. Glitch art is the instant explosion of wrong electrical energy causing that the electronic equipment loses logic, collapse or causing some kind of unexpected output process.” He is opposed to deliberately creating the effect of “glitch”. Stearns thinks forced, manmade distortion or misplaced image is meaningless. “Sadly, so-called glitch art goods are empty of meaning. All of these cause the most superficial and plain image results to descend to a word to be copied, reproduced, or marketed.” 

As the initiator of the exploratory projects of “Year of Glitch Art” - which connects digital arts with fabric pattern design, he turned random information, like the H1N1 flu virus DNA, into corresponding knitting pattern and made into various blankets. Through a variety of connected devices, his work provides a brand new vision about political agenda, noise, overturn, destruction, and interconnectivity. 

About Phillip Stearns


Phillip Stearns is from Brooklyn, New York. Under the alias Pixel Form, Stearns uses his own artist language to combine customized electronic products, artisan craftsmanship, hardware hacker, and media technologies. Beyond the deceptively simple or restrained surface, his work is filled with intriguing depth and interest. 

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