Thematic Crit: Glitch

by Beauchamp Art

“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit ñ all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.”

[Eno (1996)]


As soon as something, such as distortion, becomes obsolete – by passable; optional; it has the potential to become desirable – fashionable. From a technological standpoint society aspire to transgress undesirable deviations, to improve, to get past problems; such as the glitch; once these problems have been overcome, they can then be re-examined, and may become curiosities in their own respect. Once curiosity is satisfied, then further reflection may be had. Often this may involve appropriation and deliberate adoption of these ‘glitches’ that were first seen as failures by creative individuals who may want to uses the processes that resulted in such errors to find something new, or reveal something about the process, and about the sociological and technological environment in which they first appeared.

It is one’s decision to engage with the glitch as a tool, or by “using existing equipment in unanticipated ways” [Manon & Tempkin, 2001], that allows the individual to transform a banal failure into a constructive and creative outlet; it could be seen as the role of the artist to initiate the transmutation of documentation to response. This could be why what is seen as art and not science, for example, is dependent on the context; on its display – whether in the gallery (et al.) or at the science conference (laboratory, academic articles, etc) defines its role, and thereby affecting how one judges the content. However, this is just one interpretation; one could say art is made by artists, and so on – these ends of conversation have seemed to come up in all three of the Thematic Crits I have attended; in attempting to define our context or subject, we ultimately are attempting to define ourselves; what it is to be an artist, art student, and so forth. Nevertheless, the discussion we had on the concept of the Glitch was particularly interesting, given the three of us brought our own unique points of view to the table, and what we chose to given as examples was telling of the range of topics ‘Glitch’ may cover.

Bing brought a small example of one of his pieces that involved pressing primary colour paints together in between two transparent plastic sheets; as well as an example of the psychological glitch.

A police officer stumbling across a bag of money during a response to a burglary, and the momentary mental slip of the policeman’s mind, to throw away all he stands for and to run away with the money, but with no real intention of carrying this out, but having to live with the thought afterwards.

I brought a camera with the Opticon footage showing a computer screen rapidly cycling through macro images of a computer screen displaying photos taken from on top of the Catholic Cathedral.

Henry showed an example of piece of visual game code which he was in the process of edited.

Three very different sorts of glitch; the hacked perception, the hacked visual (process), the hacked coding (process), which led for an interesting range of examples and points being exchanged amongst us and with the tutors. Three sides of the same (conical) coin.

One key topic was that of the hack versus the glitch; but in trying to establish a difference, we had to attempt to define each, with limited success. We discussed how it was some form of harnessed chaos; the managed unpredictable, a deliberate intervention or interruption of the norm. Indeed, both digitally initiated and simulated glitch relate to the psychological glitch; the moment of misinterpretation, the “momentary or punctiform nature of the initiating impulse.” [Manon & Tempkin, 2001].

It could also be compared to the literary ‘plot twist’, or it being an example of the Uncanny Valley of contemporary interfaces, the abject digital – though not limited tot the digital. Much of this comes through curiosity, in a bid to understand one’s own reality, one constructs artificial realities in order to understand what it means to be real – much as one may make a humanoid android to understand what it is to be human. Though with regards to reality; it could be argued there a no ‘false realities’ in as much as there are various perceived realities, even if they are illusions, reproductions, or digital representations; this is the difference between the subjective and the virtual reality; if something is seen to be true, then to a certain extent they are. The mirage can be seen as psychologically real. The landscape of Facebook is an extension of the physical, psychological and social environment. “Synthetic computer-generated imagery is not an inferior representation of our reality, but a realistic representation of a different reality.” [Manovich, 2002: 202]


Moreover, as glitch art has the potential to be produced rapidly through minor alterations producing major failure/results, this means that it has been widely adopted by ‘amateurs of glitch’ in order to make images that confided within the new aesthetic of glitch; as a style; as part of a sub-culture. This may be problematic (for the individual producing the images) as it may result in a banal homogeny, or beneficial to the over-arching creative environment, distributing tools to a wide audience (as most glitch art is digital, it is distributed, seen, and shared digitally, though online networks and screens). This could be seen as an example of “what makes good glitch art good is that, amidst a seemingly endless flood of images, it maintains a sense of the wilderness within the computer.” [Manon & Tempkin, 2001] Since I have a sustained interest in the information overload, this feeds in well with my general investigative thinking. However, in my recent works, I have been more involved with looking at the pixels; the process of making the digital image; much as Roy Lichtenstein looked at the half-tone; the process of the mass-press, or John Cage looked at the noise.


“Although digital compositing is usually used to create a seamless virtual space, this does not have to be its only goal. Borders between different world do not have to be erased; different spaces do not have to be matched in perspective, scale, and lighting; individual layers can retain their separate identities rather than being merged into a single space; different worlds can clash semantically rather than form a single universe.” [Manovich, 2002: 158]




Eno, Brian. (1996) A Year With Swollen Appendices: Brian Enoís Diary. 1st Edition. Faber & Faber.

Manon, Hugh S. & Temkin, Daniel. (2001) Notes on Glitch.

Manovich, Lev (2002). The Language of New Media (Leonardo Books). First Edition. The MIT Press.