topology of error: digital art and the glitch [b+m+n]

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. You can't solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it."
-- A. Einstein


Let's avoid an essentially pointless discussion. We can distinguish digital art from art pursued in another medium by the intrinsic dependence on computers for its realisation.


The thing about digital art is that it takes its technology seriously, it must take its technology seriously, because it is the computer which realises the signal we are calling art. And the nature of the computer, of technology, is that it breaks down. Programs run out of memory, systems crash, information is garbled as it falls before the cursor.
Wandering through a digital-art gallery, the visitors are not surprised seeing _yet another_ 'system-crash' sign pasted on the exhibit, or an 'error 404' at the end of a hyperlink. Although occuring in many artworks unintentionally, some artists recognise the glitch as a substantial part of their artwork. We have encountered two main approaches to the use of glitch in d-art:
1. glitch as d-art aesthetic, an aesthetic that plays with errors and noise in the presentation of the artwork
2. glitch as a component of the creative process, where the software/hardware/wetware conflicts play a necessary (even if unexpected part in the generation of the artwork. The ongoing pursuit of (artistic) development becomes a performance in itself. Here the glitch is a driving force for a play between the human and the machine, while the outcome is simply a fleeting target, that can be adjusted and even radically changed on the fly.
As computer systems become increasingly complex, resembling more complete worlds than mere tools, the processes that make them work are far beyond the reach of people who do not participate in the actual technology development.

For the average computer user, we know that this thing called "information"... code, microcode... is what makes computers work, but we don't know how. It is hidden, incomprehensible; we can't touch it, we don't need to deal with it on a day-to-day level.
The modern computing environment is a seamless landscape of point'n'click, a Pavlovian field of buttons and bright links. And it has a strict behavioural grammar÷we are all so accustomed to the WIMP interface that we are often unaware of this.
"Content" must be contained by windows. Point and click, scroll and slide. You need a trigger-happy mouse finger.

While her finger happily clicks around, arranging layered windows, the viewer is drawn into the seductive world of digitised catalogs, where content remains trapped in the clutches of stereotypical 'click'n'go interaction design and is iconised to flashy hotspots, screaming next to a Buy button.

The WIMP interface creates an illusion of objectness.


The metaphors from the physical world are relentlessly mapped to the digital: an ocean of electronic books, magazines, tv and radio-stations is flooding the little that is left of experimental digital interface design.


We can click there or there, rather like choosing Coke or Fanta from a soft-drink machine.


When the virtual enters the physical it is mostly through billboards, as a new addition to global advertising campaigns. It is not seen as a whole new realm, but as a swarm of virtual blurbs, conceived as small, self contained units, buzzing around our heads 24/7.
An example: Yahoo is advertising their new web-site and internet service: Yahoo travel in San Francisco through a huge billboard that shows the yahoo interface in the american 50ies style' All blue and pink and glowing neon lights. Saying please, trust us, don't look any further, drive home and login, we will take you to the "Yahoo world of Safe Travel", read through the experiences of others and learn the world the easy way. A window into virtuality, that will take you back into the isolation of your home, where the whole world speaks your language.


And there is an encycloapedic aspect to this. The quest to progressively reveal a hidden meaning. From Grolier's encycloapedia to the web, mainstream multimedia is about seamless content retrieval.
We rarely come in contact with the world behind the screen, the reams of code, the protocols and puppet strings. The information which creates this landscape for us.

0+1.luvl!+ express io n _ _ \ include in text absorb::assimilate


The world behind the screen is suffocating under the burden of the interface. And the interface has nested itself on the surface of the screen, and appears to be paralysed in that position, not allowing the general user to discover the layers behind it. The interface must be violated. Scratched and cracked or pulled out of the screen into the physical space so that its borders become elastic and transparent, revealing the world behind.


Historically, "information" is a theoretical entity... it has its origins in cybernetics, in the idea that the universe of objects is interpenetrated by ethereal "information patterns" that might be divined and controlled. It is a fragile entity.


Information is exactly the entity on which the hyped new-economy is based. Information is a buzz-word used to guarantee the objectivity of the virtual free-market. However, if its building blocks are so ethereal, this economy is much more inconsistent, incomplete and fragile than we are lead to believe.
There is a huge glitch between reality and virtuality. They are two separate entities, where the digital realm somehow became independent from the world in which it originated. The two worlds are mapped onto each other, but are not truly interacting. Instead of making the technology a part of our life, we made our life a part of the technology. A statistic with which more statistics can be calculated.
Did you know that various corporations are already madly attempting to estimate of your life-value from the minute that you are born? That they are going to target their advertisement campaigns directly to you, based on the statistical information that they carefully collected while you were sound asleep with your bottled water of brand X next to your bed and a book from an e-bookstore on your chest. And they will tell you that it is scientifically proven that this new product has been chosen for you based on objective information. The opposite is true: understanding the chaotic laws of hypercapitalism means understanding that information is the contrary to absolute, objective or stable.


Claude Shannon defined it as a probability function with no materiality, no dimensions. A pattern. An essence. It can be divorced from its context, from its body. Ideally, it is infinitely reproducible. Like zeros and ones in a computer program.
And this is important: we are speaking about cybernetics because it is more than a metaphor, more than rhetoric, because it works. Computers are cybernetic systems. They store, create and retrieve this "theoretical" entity--information.


A cybernetic system:
"The virtual-as-ideal: · stops short of engaging the underlying matrix of physics and materiality that makes both mind and cyberspace possible
.... limits itself to making isolated conventional forms in conventional space, dressing them in rhetorical conceit, and leaving the world unchanged."
M. Novak


"Noise" is deviation from the defined parameters of the signal. It is the corollary of information.
Noise interferes with perfect reproduction, the presumed goal. It interferes with translation from code to code. Viruses, errors and incompatabilities--these insert change into fragile patterns, the web page we are trying to download, the program we are trying to run.
Noise is the enemy of the seamless interface.


Noise or error allows us to reveal the worlds that our are a part of. It removes the interface and leaves the users helpless.... while they are listening to the same message for the 50th time: All our help-desk collaborators are busy. Please hold the line.
"All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints is noise, the only possible source of new patterns."
-- Bateson, Mind and Nature - A Necessary Unity, 1979


Noise draws us to the surface of the computing environment, to reflect on how the tool system is shaping us, on how arbitrary its behavioural and procedural grammar is.
I'm here to talk about artists who work with noise and error, the corollary of information.

While Belinda talks about the aesthetics of the glitch, I'm here to talk about the glitch as a process: where the participants do not represent, but perform, infect each otherâs worlds with alien loopholes, (mis)interpretations, and errors. Using glitches, interaction becomes more insipred drifting within inter-reality membranes and less a predefined menu browsing of digitized shop-windows. The glitch as last resort without a shopping mall attached to it. A forest of live wires.


They play with the puppet strings.
This is what we mean by "the glitch". The glitch draws our attention to the fragility of information as a cybernetic entity.
The glitch interferes with perfect reproduction. It interferes with the goal of a seamless, stable system by playing with the concept of information, code, microcode and pattern itself.


The space in between the interfaces is not a concern. And it is exactly in this space where d-art can function as a subversion of the polished make-believe future of the information era.


Noise undermines the illusion of objectness created by the point'n'click interface.
You will notice in some of the examples we give you that the code usually hidden from the computer user seems to wriggle its way to the surface of the screen, that the behavioural protocols encountered in mainstream multimedia either don't work or don't apply.
Their navigational systems often mimic and parody the modes of sorting and accessing information on the web. They are an attack on the assumed functionality, interactivity and "user-friendly" interface of the web. Code stripped of functionality, code drawn from the innards of computer hardware and set loose across the surface of the screen, code as an end in itself. Miles from the glossy, java-enabled, flash-heavy "interactivity" of the web.


The word interaction has been reduced to pointing, clicking, scrolling and dragging of cute moving objects on the screen.
Let me give you a couple of definitions of the word interaction:
1. Mutual or reciprocal action or influence; as, the interaction of the heart and lungs on each other.
2. Transfer of energy between elementary particles or between an elementary particle and a field or between fields
Does any of this happen when interacting with web-pages? There is a lot of theory around what happens when a person hits a link, but essentially, the only truly interactive, mutual influence here is that your pockets are being emptied and their filled.
And this has to happen as seamlessly as possible, so that your credit card number floats weightlessly to their database. I had the most revealing experience trying to purchase software from MASCHIN3NKUNST. The site was messing with me until I got to the purchase form, where I truly did hesitate a second before I entered my credit card number. Only because the interface was playing with web-protocols and error messages. Only because they showed me explicitly how fragile the system actually is.


Information, by nature, is open to corruption. We know this as computer users.


A few common computer user exclamations:
'Did you see what just happened? I lost everything!!!'
'Oh..... no.... it's there again!'
'But..... I didn't do anything.........'
'It just rearranged my boxes!'
'I'm sure I saved it correctly and look at it now, it's all gibberish!'
'No backup!!!!!'


A single keystroke can render a message unreadable--if at any time we change the parameters of the "signal" in cybernetics, we automatically render the remainder "noise".
Information lapses in and out of comprehensibility.
This is what I mean by the "fragile" nature of information patterns, usually hidden from us.

There is a limit to the glitch aesthetics. It often becomes an end in itself, where the user still cannot engage in a generative proces with the machine. The glitch should be viewedas something anchored in the same system as information, and as information is 9as said earlier) the building block of our society, the glitch is an essential part of our world as well, not simply an adjunct to an aesthetic movement.
The GUI interface is set on top of the machinic universe in order to make the user more efficient and comfortable. The multidimensional topologies that could emerge from the collaboration between the human and the machine have been prematurely bound to the cartesian system of x-y (and unconvincingly to z) coordinates and binary responses. In today's CHI world, it's all about control. Not interaction or responsivity but linear control. Control that does not account for noise in its predetermined course of action. The noise is the complaint of a spoiled, irresponsible child.

>Please don't let integer or whatever his/her name is back on the list. noted. ultra sanitary mammalian pollination system. >I'm on several list >where this person's >digital noise streams through >on a daily basis. "All that is not information, not redundancy, not form and not restraints is noise, the only possible source of new patterns." (Bateson, 1979) 1979 when i was 1 + making 01 ultra noise.

Particularly in sites like ; :,:; ,.; and ;:,:.;:; , reams of unparsable and corrupt code seem to lampoon the transmission of web-based sound, text and graphics.
Hyperlinks lead nowhere, a keystroke activates a hidden script which renders the entire page gobbledigook.
If you've ever tried to work your way through ;:;:;.:,.,:,: with a trigger-happy mouse finger and a desire to extract meaning, you'll understand what I mean.


Errors can have meaning. They are our portals to the machinic universe in which we spend most of our days. However, the machine is usually silent, or better said, muted by the interventions of software and multimedia designers.


A discussion of digital art would be remiss without mentioning, and beginning, with ;: : :, :: ;.
;:; :; : was started in ;:,:,::;:;.,,: in the early 90's. Amongst other things, it is famous for mercilessly crashing browsers around the world. It is also famous for turning the familiar web interface inside-out.
It deploys the hidden codes and glyphs of Internet protocol as central aesthetic components, a protocol which despite the liberatory rhetoric that surrounds it is put to work in the world enabling largely banal content.


What we need to build is not yet another gate to the 'age of access', but a media de-tox chamber, where we can sweat out the unnecessary icons, protocols and constraining interaction methods..... and above all, where we can wash away the content that has polluted both physical and virtual reality before they had a chance to evolve and grow closely together.


jodi >> leitmotiv string, "we serve no content", rests uncomfortably in the encyclopaedic world of the web.
There is no central meaning, no content to be progressively unveiled.
Just lots of peripheral visions.


It is on the periphery of understanding and intuition where we can expect unpredictable interaction to happen. When we move away from the well known paths. Where we don't know what to expect.


It lives on the other side of the web, the side filled with incompatibilities and error messages, machines speaking to machines in a language we don't speak.


Error during translation: (-3030) Translation path does not exist


In this space physical metaphors of superhighways, windows, desktops and elevators does not exist.


Error during translation: (-3030) Translation path does not exist


A far cry from flash, proprietary browsing. It comprises page after page of apparently incomprehensible code.


When the standardised interface has been stripped away, and the machine spits out all the complaints, that's when we start to interact, trying to comprehend both the machine proceses and the brain-waves of its creators. Here our worlds truly meet, and we engage in clumsy negotiations, trying to translate each-other's worlds into each-other's languages. Translation becomes a living system, through which the two realities warp into a hybrid tangled one.


The "index" to 7061, for instance, scatters a grid of luminous green lines and fragments of machine code across the page. Memories of Commodore 64 meltdown.
As with all ;:::,:; sites, the index is particularly random, and plays on the user's feeling of being lost in hyperspace after all, most of the time spent on the web is useless shuffling.

Instead of shuffling, we need to start drifting, making meaning of the unknown world by allowing it to influence our progression. The roads are not built for us, we make them up and draw their maps as we go along.
The computer is not a representation machine. It is a performance machine, engaged in shaping of itself through a generative process..... and most of its generation depends on our parameters and variables.


The visitor has difficulty working out if the broken hyperlinks, script-generated gibberish and hung system messages belong to her or to the site. Actually, they belong to the technology.


The technology alone does not engage with our world. We ask questions, the technology answers, but it answers with something which we fed into it.... and we fed into it a rigid, mapped and marked structure of reality, one which does not respond to the living world.
Error during translation: (-3030) Translation path does not exist


The glitch is dangerously political, anarchic.
It draws attention to the constructed nature of information, usually hidden from us.
useless shuffling


The most obvious recent example of the glitch between physical and informational reality was the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, where the obsolete maps served as a tactical excuse in a heavily technologically monitored zone.
topographical amnesia
We are told that Nato's 'accidental bombing' of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was due to the mission's use of maps made years ago: the embassy shouldn't have been there.
Topographical data previously collected from the site became digitally partitioned from the altering physical field and in an ironic return redescribed itself back onto the original surface with the conviction of ammunition.
Present culture confesses the relative, inherently representative condition of the photo-graphic image, yet it's authority is uncontested within the self determination of the military/scientific complex. The infinite transportability of the photograph suggests that it need not have any responsibility to its field for military and market agendas. This forgetful office between an object and its representation cannot be as succesfully exploited by the recorded sound, which, in order to be experienced, must re-manifest in/as a continuum of material events fundamentally vunerable to acoustic and mnemonic contingencies. This innate re-modelling of the recorded subject in playback threatens any investment in an aural substitution of objecthood. Anyway, we have made sound busy with its own substitution - music stands in for the rememebring of sound.
-- delire 18.5.99


It inserts an element of play into the corporate genome, like a virus.
It brings us back to the surface, to an awareness of the tools which are progressively colonising us.


Maybe this sentence would sound more realistic if we would say: to an awareness of the market whose tools are progressively colonising us. The machine is _not_ a colonial being. Humans are. Especially humans striving for power. Money. Speed. Even culture is not a safe haven any more. Reduced to bits, interchangeable and reproducible, a lot of digital art and culture is just a pretty name for a new commodity: cultural capital.


I'm not going to say that all digital art is about noise, viruses, error, the glitch, because it's not. But the projects which have inspired me, from which I have composed my own personal 'history of error', most certainly are.
The next piece I want to talk about is MindVirus, an electronic magazine from Adelaide, Australia. It was created by a group of artists called ;.;..:;;: , and the first edition came out in 1994.
The CD-ROM was distributed in plastic agar-jelly dishes with "infectious substance" stickers on the top. I don't think any of us ever really knew what they were on about.
MindVirus involves navigational skills and sensory apparatus that have been written out as incidental in mainstream multimedia.
Sound, pattern-recognition, proprioception and an element of randomness become central to the navigational experience.
In MindVirus ;:,.;:;:, after I'd spent a couple of hours watching fish swim backwards across the screen, I was given the option of pressing "restart" for fear of strange interfaces and alternative paradigms.


The mainstream of digital design still thinks of intraction in terms of presentation. However, strange and unexpected interfaces can draw the participant into the generative process of the work (the constructuion of the now). The one interface that many people don't know how to operate any more is their own body. When the coming into existence of a responsive reality depends on being conscious of their bodies, movements and physical social interaction, some people freeze. And when they freeze, so does the time and space of the responsive environment. The synthesis is interrupted.


The only problem was that the familiar "restart" button began to blink and skid across the screen in a most user-unfriendly fashion, with my cursor in hot pursuit.
In MindVirus 3.7, the reader is presented with a pair of monekys involved in an inexplicable cue-card experiment as they try to access "meaningful" information.
Habitual point'n'click action doesn't seem to yield results.
The monkeys, it seems, are conducting a psychological experiment on the faceless "user"--are you actually interacting with this machine or just responding to coloured links?
Another electronic magazine from the mid-nineties is called I/O/D,
Some of you may remember this.
In I/O/D2, the opening screen is black,
its field of links and hotspots dead to the eye. On touching the mouse, the user finds that she affects the sound emanating from the speakers. Slight movements introduce new bass loops and interstellar bleeps.
After a while, she discerns that the key navigational organ is the ear--
she must re-adjust herself to a sound-based interface.


Some people have a problem with searching for the interface, if it is buried under the surface of the screen, or when it bleeds off its edges. Especially with sound-based interfaces, that do not allow distracted clicking, an engaged involvement is demanded. Sound moves in and out of existence, and does not tolerate slack. Movement through sound is much more continuous then movement through a visual interface. The total user control is impossible, as different timelines intersect. The interaction becomes more a free play in time and less a rule baseg game in space.


The initial reaction is one of bewilderment: am I controlling these noises or are they pre-programmed? In fact, they are built on the fly by the user's movements.
Is it broken, or is it meant to sound like that?
That's the reaction Keith Netto, a Melbourne-based artist, also gets to his a-life program, Sonicform.
Sonicform came out in 1998, its stated mission to create a java-based sound environment for the web which capitalises on the nature of networked information--its capacity to infect and be infected by other information.
In each individual version of the Sonicform system, there are basic 'sound fragments' attached to images in the top left-hand corner of the screen at startup.
These sounds are then combined by users into a time-based system known as a 'transform'. This is a string of serial code, like a genome, which instructs certain sounds to evolve, switch on and off or remain inactive over a given time.
Each instance of Sonicform is linked via the net to 'sonicserver' and consequently all other versions of itself which are being executed at any point in time. It implements a threshold-triggered feedback loop to graft each set of instructions back into the main sound stream as it evolves.


Talking about mutual influence between humans and information systems leads us naturally towards a long discussion about a-life, expanding hybrid universes, flesh machines etc. However, we have decided to concentrate on the catalyst of these processes and will not dive into the processes themselves in this presentation.
Our goal is to scratch a milimeter beneath the surface of the point'n'click universe and draw your attention to the existence of another possible approach to coding errors, bugs, noise and other glitches....


What we have been calling the "glitch" is usually the enemy. It is the enemy of a stable system, of a seamless user-interface, of the point'n'click universe.
The glitch also draws our attention to the arbitrary and constructed nature of information itself.


We would like to end this presentation with Belinds's closing question, and hope that its ambiguity will open up a whole new set of approaches to this topic:


What happens to life in our embodied actual when the object of our investigations becomes the virtual replicator?


noise _ thermal stimulation of taste patent _ art.4rm xx _ luvl! xy _ kostly - speeding thieves on the international genostrada =cw4t7abs _ the future = life form [gene konglomerat] the only possible source of new patterns. 01 virtual architecture assemblage of crumple-free materie the chaotic tremor of finite resolution towards the progress of 01 trajectory as noise constantly resetting the trajectory is

  • digital_art_and_the_glitch.txt
  • Last modified: 2011-11-03 09:28
  • by alkan