What is a glitch? A glitch can be easily defined as the temporary malfunction of a system, with a visual effect as a result of the malfunction. Glitches can be purposeful – in the sense that you can manually edit a code to introduce a glitch. Glitches can happen as a result of the introduction of other factors, such as a piece of code that you did not realize was going to behave in a certain way, or even through the introduction of a virus or as a result of a hack.
Glitching as an Art
The idea of editing code as a way to create glitches, whether it be in music, images, etc, comes from a movement called screen essentialism. This movement, as described by Trevor Owens in “Glitching Files for Understanding: Avoiding Screen Essentialism in Three Easy Steps”, is a direct response to scholarly work that doesn’t examine how digital objects work. “They are, at their core, bits of encoded information on media,” Owens writes. “While that encoded information may have one particular intended kind of software to read or present the information we can learn about the encoded information in the object by ignoring how we are supposed to read it.” This point is extremely important because it plays into the power that lies behind glitching. By understanding the larger system and then editing it, there can be strategic purpose behind the glitching that is done, making it that much more meaningful.
More recently, glitching has manifested itself into an art form. Glitch art is not only about the final product — it is also about the process through which the glitch is made. The power that lies behind glitch art rests in the commentary that can be made through this creation process and final product:
The conversations it catalyzes transfer easily over to our contemporary relationships to the cities we live in, and glitch art is able to explore the balance of control between us and the institutions in which we are immersed. Mallika Roy, “Glitch it Good: Understanding the Glitch Art Movement”, The Periphery, Dec 2014
On a basic level, technology itself can be considered an “institution in which we are immersed” in the sense that it does play a huge role in the daily lives of millions of people. At this level, glitch art comments on the dependency we have on technology to function properly. On a larger level, there are other institutions that glitch art is being used to make commentary of. From political structures to other prominent social and cultural systems, glitch art has become a form of resistance. In the words of Lana Polansky, glitch art “is generally understood as a modern aesthetic, a DIY, and “f**k the system” attitude as applied in the digital age” (“Patchwork Hendrons”, Sufficiently Human).
Combination of Glitching and Viruses/Hacks
In “On Glitches: A Deconstructive Analysis of Archives and Experience”, Evan Meaney addresses how the only way to explore the true nature of a structure is to “examine its ruptures” (a Foucault way of thinking). Because the data structures that make up technology today can be seen as “protocol”, glitches, hacks and viruses exploit these protocols, allowing for a deeper examination of the “ruptures” in the structure. It is argued that “viruses do not infect from the exterior alone,” they instead utilize “pre-existing architecture to propagate” (Meaney). What this allows for, then, is the examination of the pre-existing architecture to figure out what the technology is actually trying to do, which is also what glitching does.
What we will see is that the use of one method, such as a virus or a hack, can lead to a glitch in the system. This effect can be both beneficial and detrimental: the realization that there is a virus present or that a person has been hacked can be purposeful. In certain instances, however, it might be better to remain incognito, where there are no signs of a virus or hack being in the system in order to truly come to know how the system works. A glitch that makes someone realize the true nature of what they are engaging in can also be beneficial, whether purposeful or not.
Glitching, Viruses, and Hacks for the Culture
The glitches, viruses, and hacks that will be talked about throughout this webpage will have to do with purposefully performing these actions for a cause — or “for the culture”. There can be and are larger motives behind these actions, especially as it relates to making commentary on the larger institutions that hold a lot of power today. It is through the process of glitching, introducing viruses, and hacking that much is learned about the underlying data structures that people so often take for granted.