Exhaustion Aesthetics Gallery Introduction | Leonardo

Exhaustion Aesthetics Gallery Introduction

In the clean, slick and fast-moving audiovisual content of commercial media and tech platforms (Netflix, IMAX, etc.), colossal numbers of liquid crystals seduce the eyeballs of millions of viewers, bathing them in a magical, 24/7 world of liquefied aesthetics. In contrast, the lesser-known DIY genre of glitch art subverts this promise and pursuit. That is, glitch art is difficult to look at for prolonged periods of time, communicates little content and provides even less meaning and apparent significance. Why then are so many young artists across the globe increasingly attracted to this disruptive and noisy aesthetic?

Defined as the artistic use of compression artifacts and related digital errors, glitch art emerged in the 2000s and has since become a set of vernacular media art effects, featured in digital videos by artists, net art, digitally manipulated photographs and the work of industry professionals and amateur media makers alike. Despite its rapid claim to 21st-century fashion, however, the technique has received little scholarly or curatorial attention. Exhaustion Aesthetics’s online exhibition counters this by offering a key selection of contemporary glitch artworks, created predominantly by new media or self-identified glitch artists. In my larger book project (High-Tech Trash: Beautific Failure from Eco-Art to Visual Noise and Chroma Glitch), I connect glitch art trends to a history of the avant-garde, analyze this style from a formal perspective and connect it to other forms of failure and breakdown in global culture. In this curatorial gallery, I link glitch art style to a lifestyle transformed and conditioned in and through the database economy.

Esteemed scholar Jonathan Crary has argued that the particular operations and effects of a new technology or network are less important than how their rhythms, speeds and formats of accelerated and intensified consumption reshape experience and perception. Considering the substantial developments in new media and global networks accumulating in the 21st century, new rhythms, speeds and formats of consumption can be identified in everything from work, socialization, travel, entertainment, grocery shopping, driving and research to one’s sex life. Put differently, there is hardly a place or time where the new rhythms of pervasive networks and data do not watch, gather and inform who we are and what we do. The condition was described by Gilles Deleuze in 1991 as the “society of control,” characterized by an evisceration of private space, individual or personal psychic life, or any ability to step outside of the increasingly pervasive algorithmic regimes of command and control that structure and orchestrate our existence. Glitch art, I submit, is one set of responses to these ubiquitous and insidious conditions.

The energy and rhythm of the colorful graphics on the one hand mimics the ongoing demand for increased sensory absorption and attention opportunities in media culture writ large. The form’s nonstop abstraction and failure to produce closure speaks to Crary’s observation that the once-unquestioned human right to sleep has now become a special privilege and luxury. Glitch art expresses a mass cultural and physiological exhaustion in 24/7 society. If code, signal processing and network flow have become the dominant tropes of our time, then it is perhaps only through error, failure and breakdown that one may find a temporary reprieve.

The works included in Exhaustion Aesthetics all draw on this notion of reprieve from normative cultural functioning in different and unique ways. These five international artworks include New York--based artist Cory Arcangel’s Data Diaries (2002), in which each day for a year he placed the data from his computer’s memory into QuickTime, directing the program to treat the data as a video file; Chicago-based glitch artist John Satrom’s Windows Rainbows & Dinos (2010), a 13-minute single channel comic video drama that takes place on a Macintosh desktop; Dutch-based glitch artist Rosa Menkman’s Dear Mister Compression (2010), in which the red-and-orange contours of Menkman’s face are juxtaposed with cool purples and a white, text-based love poem generated by the computer; Team Doyobi’s (Alex Peverett and Christopher Gladwi) Art of Memorex (2012), a four-minute music video featuring multicolored glitch artifacts in varying sizes and pattern formations intercutting scenes of a surfer riding ocean waves; and San Francisco–based artist and software creator Andrew Benson’s Status Update, 2am (35 seconds) (2011) a portrait of the artist awake at his computer at 2 a.m., accompanied by a morass of audio distortion and abstract colored textures.

Carolyn L. Kane
Assistant professor, Professional Communications
Faculty of Communication and Design, Ryerson University
Email: carolyn.kane@ryerson.ca
Excerpted from Leonardo, Volume 50, No. 1 (2017)


A special thank you to my stellar research assistant, Rachel Palen at Ryerson University and to all of the artists who generously gave me permission to reprint their work.