The floor of High Concept Labs is littered with confetti from a fabulous event the night before. In the brick and concrete room, about two dozen or so young men and women perch on their plastic folding chairs, all with laptops warming their laps. Three men sit at the front of the room, addressing the group about an issue very dear to everyone in the room: the glitch.
Glitch art is still in an embryonic stage, with many competing histories. Depending on whom you talk to, or read, the glitch aesthetic finds its origins in Cubism, Dadaism, de Stijl, Expressionism, tactical media, and analog/digital transition, and the aesthetic manifestation of the work spans hacked video games, fractured images, abstract images, sound, and circuit bending. While practitioners and theorists debate these issues in online forums, they rarely get to meet IRL (in real life).
This is where Gli.tc/h 2112 comes in. Gli.tc/h 2112 is the third iteration of the festival, which started in 2010. Founded by Jon Satrom, Nick Briz, and Rosa Menkman, Gli.tc/h pitches itself as a festival, a conference and a gathering for those around the world interested in the aestheticization of errors, digital or otherwise.
Usually, conference proceedings are private and the structure is pretty set: who is going to speak; what topics are going to be discussed and for how long; the general idea is that polished ideas are presented and discussed. Alternately, Gli.tc/h is attempting to cultivate the best part of conferences, the conversations that happen in between events, by creating peer working groups to generate new ideas around glitch art, with more formal presentations in the evening. This structure challenges the conference format that artists and creative scholars are often faced with. Attendance at major conferences is a professional necessity, and for many, the only time you meet peers with a similar interest and breadth of knowledge on your particular area of research. With limits on funding facing many artists and scholars, setting up a way in which there is both an exchange of ideas and an on-site collaboration makes a lot of sense within discourses, particularly glitch art. So many artistic partnerships are born out of these brief but enchanting meetings, therefore nurturing nascent relationships ends up being in the best interest of both the scholar/artist and the discipline.
This is a workable model for Gli.tc/h as its audience is a (physically) small, but devoted one. Participants arrived on Thursday to take part in this four-day-long combination of working groups, panels and performances. This is the first year that Gli.tc/h has employed the use of working groups as a means of content production for the evening programs. The groups are divided along the lines of theme: dirty new media, language, technical obsolescence and scholarship. Each group met throughout the weekend to generate ideas and artwork to be presented during the evening performances and exhibitions. The daytime programming was by no means exclusive, but for non-glitch practitioners, much of the daytime discussions and activities are difficult to participate in, not to mention follow, if you don’t have a high level of technical competency and the right programs.
Detail from Defunct Installation, The Gallery Formerly Known As Happy Dog, Chicago. Gli.tc/h 2112; Courtesy Sarah Hamilton.
The manifestation of the working groups is a point of critical entry when discussing Gli.tc/h festival as an art event. The temporary and short-term nature of the working groups meant that the evening presentations could only be presented based on their fundamental theme (language, technical obsolescence, etc.). In fact, much of the presentations emphasize a wariness of the polished presentation of art. On Friday night, No Media performers were invited to sign up for group glitch performances with the caveat that they couldn’t start with any media. However the work ended, every loop had to be deleted and every circuit broken, all to ensure the temporary nature of the performance (an issue performance studies is always addressing inside its own field as well). The Saturday night performances included a display of circuit-bent and rewired obsolete electronics (children’s toys, digital clocks, monitors, radios, televisions, turntables, etc.) that produced a cacophonic video installation at The Gallery Formerly Known As Happy Dog. This work had an interactive component as well (good installations almost always do) so that participants could draw magnets across the electronic static on a television and produce new patterns. On a projector, a hacked Play Station 2 teases participants with a game that moved like a kaleidoscope, making movement within the screen difficult and ultimately futile. The electronic screeching that accompanied the works recalls any number of noise shows one is subjected to during an arts education, but the environment of the installation gave the sound necessary context.
Another performance, a presentation by the language working group (cleverly titled oulanGLITCHpo) ended up being more of a symposium, where the group discussed the sum of their efforts over the weekend. Their interest in "hacking language" generated some interesting ideas, in particular the creation of a program called “samesamebutdifferent.” The program takes a written sentence, provided by the user, and finds the synonym for every word in that sentence using an online thesaurus. It repeats this process again so that the resulting sentences appears as total nonsense, usually to alarmed laughter. The Dadaists would approve.
However, talking about words and language on a Saturday night does not a performance make. The festival largely felt more like a conference and symposium than a festival and art exhibition. This was due largely to the design of the conference which instead of soliciting and commissioning work as in past iterations, decided instead to set up a repository of glitch art (OP3NR3PO) and a Tumblr that could be used as a reference and tool during and after the conference. Much of Gli.tc/h’s preoccupation seems to be with defining and validating the aesthetics within the international community of glitchers rather than trying to reach out to the larger art-audience. As an art event, Gli.tc/h requires a certain amount of understanding of the medium to appreciate it even in its most basic form, something which remains a little alienating.
Detail from D1tTHER_D00M panel, featuring Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Alfredo Salazar-Caro, and Kevin Carey; Courtesy of Gli.tc/h 2112.
Additionally, there was little discussion within the formal aspects of the festival about the politics of the materials in play. While such terms as “googlebombing” (the act of confounding Google’s search algorithms by misinforming it) are bandied about, discussions about the hardware did not seem to be present. Nearly everyone in the room has a version of an Apple computer, plus a dozen or so accessories, but no one addresses the system of production and eventual obsolescence that haunts every piece of technology in use over the weekend. For factory workers in China, a glitch in the system is a difficult act of political protest. For electronics recycling facilities in the same places, obsolescence is a health hazard. Glitch art, however, is still defining itself as an art form – what constitutes a glitch and what form glitch art can take. Reaching out to non-glitch art contingencies, as well as addressing the global social implications of the art medium becomes secondary to the formalist issues glitch art is still reckoning with.
(Image on top: dirtynewmedia working group meets at High Concept Labs, Chicago. Gli.tc/h 2112; Courtesy of Daniel Rourke)