The Radical Capacity of Glitch Art: Expression through an Aesthetic Rooted in Error

“[The] purpose of my glitch art isn’t to destroy my photographs, but to expose the mechanisms beneath the surface, to turn an image inside out and expose its entrails, to invite viewers to immerse themselves in this seemingly undecipherable space, to find reconstituted forms, the ghosts of an image, or a disembodied breast. There is an emotional component to a glitch that many don’t acknowledge. A glitch bears traces of death and impossibility, the fatalism of inoperancy.” – Sabato Visconti

“One can see that the iconoclasts, whom one accuses of disdaining and negating images, were those who accorded them their true value, in contrast to the iconolaters who only saw reflections in them and were content to venerate a filigree God. On the other hand, one can say that the icon worshipers were the most modern minds, the most adventurous, because, in the guise of having God become apparent in the mirror of images, they were already enacting his death and his disappearance in the epiphany of his representations.” – Jean Baudrillard

Questioning Constructed Narratives

Image © Stephen Lofstrom

In his treatise Simulacra and Simulation, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard refers to signifiers as substitutions for reality. Anything tangible or intangible can be made to represent something else until it ultimately becomes identified as the reality itself — an oppressive and substitute hyperreality. In turn, Phillip Stearns cites Umberto Eco’s influential essay, Travels in Hyperreality, as reflective of such blurring lines between reality and artificiality. In this essay, Eco wrote about pop culture phenomena and the ways in which they perpetuate a world of illusion that has become entirely normalized. The primary concern identified by both Baudrillard and Eco is that these layers of representation are cultural constructs that are accepted as truth, so that a viewer’s perception is dictated by fabricated representations.

The acceptance of a precedent of meaning represents submission to the controlling motivations behind them or, as in Baudrillard’s words, as an abandonment of self. The expectation that artistic content be absolutely representative of something in order to be relevant perverts the individual experience of meaning. Emotional response, symbolic association and historical relevance within a work of art can then remain unchallenged, and the viewer becomes a tool of perpetuating the mechanisms of meaning.

“Trying to second-guess what will produce an emotional response is a fool’s guessing game. […] In my own digital work, before I went black and white,” Scott explains, “I tried to use color to convey themes and emotions. I’m not convinced glitch art was the right vehicle for this kind of treatment.”


Images © Sabato Visconti


“Though part of it may be attributed to a form of post-modernist self-reflexivity, most contemporary art forms, glitch art included, tend to focus more on their conditions as a means of approaching particular values within their respective societies. As a cultural practice, it’s one that is heavily invested in the nature of living in highly technologically mediated realities.” – Phillip Stearns

Glitch art enables artists to not only experiment with the capacity to alter these meanings by visually channeling image distortion, but to also question the relevance of any absolute representation. When the same images are preserved in their original form, we unquestioningly accept the modes in which we receive their visual information; we interpret them based on familiar symbols, triggers and definitions. But corrupted image that contains no intentional signifiers is inherently useless. Glitch is naturally a strong vessel for communicating the corruption of reality through the experience of meaning. Not only do glitched images use the mediums that create the hyperreality Eco defines through pop culture references – such as television stills, photographs, and other digital artifacts – they actually subvert their constructed meanings through an aesthetic of destruction.

If, on the other hand, we are to perpetuate the systems through which we assign meaning in glitch art, then we are avoiding the potential of glitch art to initiate important conversation about the validity of these constructs. The resulting collision of intentional meaning and purposelessness within glitch art stimulates the potential of ambiguity. Instead of blatantly assigning narrative to visual works, artists can simply hint at it. It’s vague, it’s elusive, and it’s noncommittal, but it forces viewers to become active participants not only with the artistic product, but with the context that gives it shape. This shifts a sense of responsibility onto the viewer, as opposed to sustaining their role as a passive recipient of information. Here lies one of the most important aspects of glitch art — the viewer is no longer an accessory to the artwork, and there is no abandonment of self.

So while glitch artists are increasingly experimenting with ways in which they can communicate deliberate messages, the absence of meaning within glitch art is still equally relevant, even if its only form is as a catalyst for discussion. As a collective movement, glitch art is at a stage where participants, be they artists or audiences, can reconcile the paradoxes that have resulted from years of experimentation.


“Our environment is highly constructed, an aggregate of materials shaped by a variety of factors. To open up closed systems, to reach inside and explore alternate pathways, both literally and metaphorically, is a way of coming to understand of some of the technical decisions, which are themselves shaped by other cultural factors. In rewiring a circuit, misconnecting pieces of hardware, or tricking programs into opening otherwise incompatible file formats, latent potentials are summoned into existence that give us a critical perspective from which we can assess or identify possible connections between technical solutions and cultural biases.” – Phillip Stearns

Images © Yaejin Lim

“Glitch to me is the opportune, happy accident, of taking a frame of anything and presenting it as something new. The good stuff will make you forget where you saw it or what it is even.” – Stephen Leafstrom
“The final image is never as explicit and rarely shows anything as provocative as the initial material. Instead, I want to create a subtle sensorial experience since glitch art is mostly ‘eye candy’ at first glance.”- Mathieu St-Pierre
“Figurative things work. Watching the body distort. Watching her arm scrape the chandelier 10ft above her head. The portals in the windows. That dog stretched from one side of the room into the archway 3 doors down. His pixels all broken and bent.” – KARBORN


Images © Mathieu St-Pierre



Stephen “Leafriver” Lofstrom


“Any common themes I could give weight to would be shape or color. I work with glitch layers mainly for its effect and a lot of the time they’re the epitome of a happy accident. Geometrical design often comes near the end and has more deliberate intention behind it. It really suites human forms and more often symmetrical animal prints. Recognizable images are a reflection of my use of public domain stock but some figures, like Natalie Wood, have personal meaning to them.

I like using really old pre-social movement photos, native art (because of my Métis background) and anthropomorphic images too, they hold a lot of untapped potential in their energy. Updating imagery can be fun as much as it is a responsibility, glitch seems like a nice medium most of the time. Other times glitch & data bending don’t work so well so it’s not a constant part of the process.” – Stephen “Leafriver” Lofstrom”

Yaejin Lim

Refraction 4
Refraction-she 2

“While a video is playing on a TV, I disfigure the TV images and capture them with a camera. In the process of disfiguring and capturing thousands of images, I find my ‘ah-ha’ moments when the distortion of the image and its beauty harmoniously mingle with each other to invoke in the viewer an intense emotional response.” – Yaejin Lim

Anton “vade” Marini // Glitch Generation & Intrastructure


“I’ve been intrigued by the idea of machine sentience – as a way to explore and contrast human sentience and experience. That performance [Glitch Generation] was an exploration and re-experiencing of living in a city, dealing with urban environment, and the emotional landscape that it brings. It is a very masked and abstracted narrative told through the lens of a broken machine attempting to understand its surroundings, desperately trying to make sense of garbled emails between lovers, the nightly news, dark alleyways and dimly lit urban environments, towering skyscrapers, artificial light, highways, subways, people, the occasional park, tree, and plant – how would it parse and interpret that environment?

Each audio-visual track ended up being an exploration/examination of specific environments visually and sonically, attempting to capture them, view them, mash them together in a way that perhaps, a broken machine might. We’re all broken machines in a sense… Most of my work with video is derived from footage I’ve shot myself – sampling the urban environment, focusing on texture, qualities of light and motion. Terry Golub (of Aerostatic) works similarly with field recordings. Then we both take these recordings and bend them with various processes to make the resulting piece. Terry would give me a sound or a work in progress for me to compose visuals to – or I would show him something I shot and was playing with compositionally – and he would compose audio to it.

The result of sampling the real world (versus surgically pristine computer generated visuals and audio), is a subtlety of texture, focus and detail that I enjoy greatly – and the same with sound. With video you can juxtapose multiple perspectives of the same reality on top of one another. Sonically you can play recordings of a subject from different times, at the same time, multiplexing these perspectives. Layering them visually and sonically can quickly give you an abstracted view on something real, that you can move in and out of focus of – like a word on the tip of your tongue, a layer of images that momentarily nets you a glimpse of something to hold on to, a sound that briefly reminds you of something you’ve heard.

Dreams feel similar to me, a cascade of moments you’ve experienced, that your mind is playing back to you with loose associations, out of order; textures, sights, sounds from a vast experience co-mingling to make a new, strange ephemeral reality.” – Anton “vade” Marini

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