The Crisis of Representation: Glitch Art and the Rise of Technological Abstraction

Critical Writing
Record Status: 
Abstract (in English): 

Since the emergence of photography in the 19th-century, ‘technical images’—which media philosopher VilĂ©m Flusser defines as images constructed through the use of an ‘apparatus’— have replaced traditional images (sketching, drawing, painting, etc…) as the principal mode of objective documentation for mapping and representing reality. In fact it is this perceived objective character of the medium that has historically problematised its classification as an accepted artform. As a reaction, artists have long explored methods for circumventing the overriding social status of photography, by developing practices that operate to undermine its primary existence as strict documentation. Historical examples of this include, the photomontage of the early 20th-century by Dada artists (eg. Kurt Schwitters, John Heartfield), who spliced together images from mass media in order to construct new aesthetic scenes, and The Pictures Generation of the 1970s and 80s (eg. Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince), who utilised methods such as staged and found photography in order to question the long embedded interpretation of the medium as that which is simply a transparent window overlaying the world. In more recent years we have seen the appearance of many artists deploying glitch techniques as a means of probing the limits of digital objectivity in contemporary image culture. Technically referring to an unexpected error that occurs within a machinic system, encounters with glitches have become much more prominent due to the increasing prevalence of computerized technologies. Caleb Kelly has argued that artistic practices that explicitly attempt to exploit and utilize glitches for aesthetic purposes, ‘became popular in the late twentieth century’ and are ‘a key marker in the development of digital arts practices.’ This turn towards harnessing the artistic potentiality of the glitch has been described by Kim Cascone as part of the ‘postdigital aesthetic,’ which developed from immersion within ‘environments suffused with digital technology’. Constant envelopment within these spaces has made us more attuned to the ‘“failure” of digital technology’, resulting in a growing awareness of the presence of errors that exist within all computational systems. This paper will explore what happens when technologies of representation break down, through an analysis of the concept of the glitch as utilised within photographic artworks. The central aim is to highlight how the dominant social construction of the technical image—and its historically indelible relationship to the real—is undermined by instances of glitch art, by problematising its claim as objective document of reality, and via an extension of the aesthetic possibilities of machinic agency through its foregrounding of (non-human) noise and error. Through an articulation of the inherent presence of randomness and non-objectivity in the technical image, the indeterminate and speculative dimension of the medium will be discussed as that which is not simply a trait that should be ignored, but instead one which forms a necessary condition of its perceptual existence.

The permanent URL of this page: 
Record posted by: 
Vian Rasheed