Advent Of The Glitch

Glitch art is a new and intriguing art form – and it’s changing the way we perceive and look at images.

Glitch art
Image by Rosa Menkman

The word 'glitch' itself has its provenance in the German word glitschen, meaning to slip. And that’s exactly what glitch art captures and presents – a minor, very often nanosecond slip from a steady, controlled image, slipping into a visual distortion that momentary stuns the viewer. The results of these images are disconcerting, jolting, unexpected, occasionally disturbing – and they make for visually arresting pieces.

Its first use in English was in 1962 during the American space program in John Glen’s comment: “Literally, a glitch is a spike or change in voltage in an electrical current.”

It’s a short fault, a temporary dislocation of a perceived visual image, and it’s a term that is widely used in the electronics and computing industries, as well as in circuit bending and video games.

In fact, electronic glitches have been exploited and manipulated in the experimentations of various musical genres in the 90s, Achim Szepanski, Oval and Pan Sonic being three of its exponents.

But the visual and artistic potential of the glitch concept is being incorporated into and embraced by a whole new raft of digital art movements and artists. It explores the imperfections, malfunctions and pixelated abnormalities of an image by saving and reproducing them.

In essence, it’s a visual defect, an artistic aberration, a pictorial peculiarity captured in a split second and reimagined in the form of a new medium, at once striking, unexpected and subversive.

Glitch art can be created with a TV, digital camera, scanner or printer – and it's being embraced by visual artists as a way of drifting away from, as well as questioning, the traditional modes and forms of art in the contemporary world.

Gurus Of Glitch Art

One of the most recent examples of glitch art was unleashed by Bristol-based artist Luke Jerram. His sculpture, Maya – created from over 5000 photos of his daughter – becomes more pixelated as the viewer gets closer.

Placed at Bristol’s Temple Meads station, it has left commuters puzzled and perplexed. Jerram himself is colour blind and creates works of art based on optical illusions and visual perception.

The sculpture was created through a series of Maya’s images which were scanned through an X-box Kinect and equipment at Machine Vision Laboratory in Bristol. These scans were transformed into more than 5,000, 12mm pixelated squares – known as voxels – and painstakingly placed on to an aluminium body to produce the final piece.

Canadian artist, Mathieu St-Pierre, creates his glitch art images in a slightly different, but no less intriguing way. He uses computer programmes and analogue video signals to generate original glitch images, manipulating the electronic malfunctions to create his own distinctive, creative palette.

In 2012, he created a series of ‘abstraction’ pieces that blend colours and glitches to dizzying effect. He has taken this technique and developed it one step further through his adoption of digital faults to create pieces saturated with colour with repetitive, wavering lines that act almost as brushstrokes.

And this concept can be taken even further – as it has been by Phillip Stearns of Glitch Textiles. He combined digital art with fabrics to create a crowd-sourced project in 2011. It’s a technique that sources patterns from malfunctioning hardware and short-circuited cameras and transforms them into soft fabrics and wool weaves with algorithmic, colourful and bright patterns.

This new technique may in some way be an attempt at contemporary experimentation and a style which can mark a stark contrast to older, more classical paintings, but London-based Quayola has found a way to create an artistic confluence of old and new. He has taken the classic paintings of Rubens and van Dyck and pixelated them in the glitch art fashion.

He utilizes a very precise computerised process that splits up segments of the painting and transforms them in to 3D shapes and blocks. In essence, its new technological forms creating new versions of traditional works – as many of today’s chefs might have it, a new twist on an old classic.

A clever variation on the 'glitching' theme has been appropriated by Manchester-based artist, Mishka Henner. He uses publicly available images to cleverly create his own variations on a theme, simultaneously blurring the lines of image ownership with new creative expression.

For example, he used Google map images of the Netherlands – parts of which has been itself pixelated by the Dutch government to conceal politically sensitive locations such as air bases and missile sites – and re-contextualised them, reframed them to question the censorship put in place by the government. And surely the best, most perceptive and true art should question everything.

Glitch art is paving the way for more innovative, ground-breaking artistic endeavours, and I’m sure plenty more artists will experiment in this medium to bring us thought-provoking pieces that challenge our perceptions of the artistic norm.

What do you think of glitch art and have you got any favourite artists? Share your comments below.