Culture jamming, or the strategic manipulation of media as a form of resistance against the institutions that control individuals through consumerist culture, can very well be seen as a predecessor to glitch art and the introduction of viruses and hacks for the culture. The term “culture jamming” was coined in 1984 by activist group Negativland to describe the satirist actions being taken by many to comment on corporate, government, and big market entities (Carducci). Culture jamming can take on many forms, but “is mainly restricted to the internet, posters, billboards and personal apparel”. The manipulation of pre-existing slogans/posters/billboards can also require the use of technology, although it is not absolutely necessary.
Banksy: The Culture Jamming Graffiti Artist
One of the most well known culture jamming artists is Bansky. Bansky is mainly characterized by his powerful graffiti art installations that tend to appear overnight — not many people have seen Banksy, and that is purposeful. His anonymity is extremely important, Feiten et al of Alternet highlighting that “Banksy interprets anonymity as freedom, a position consistent with the skepticism his art often expresses toward public surveillance” (2017). The anonymity of him as an artist translates to a digital type of anonymity also associated with technology, which I argue also plays an important role when introducing glitches, viruses, and hacks. The “freedom” that Banksy finds in doing this work is also the freedom that many others can find in the digital work that they do, especially because technology enables anonymity in many ways.
The work done by Banksy is a direct commentary to the world we live in today. In their piece “How the Artist Banksy Helps Us See the Authoritarianism All Around Us”, Feiten et al dive deeper into what Banksy’s work is actually doing:
Banksy’s culture jamming “intrudes on the intruders” on two levels: first, he reclaims physical space dominated by advertisements, and second, he also seeks to liberate the mental space thoroughly infiltrated by marketers. In doing so, he makes clear that street art’s relationship to advertising must also be a struggle about how we perceive images and what room we give them in our thinking and feeling. In order to issue potent answers, then, Banksy’s art has to succeed not only in reappropriating the space advertisements take, but also in subverting the messages they contain.
The goal of Bansky’s work is to reappropriate the means through which marketers attempt to control the world. As shown in the image above, to Bansky, consumerist culture is like being trapped behind bars. As Feiten et al express, there is some sort of mental liberation that happens through this work, which I also argue happens with glitching, introducing viruses, and hacking. This is definitely what you see in “Men Against Fire” as well, even though the mental liberation that occurs is not necessarily a pleasant one (it is necessary however).
The image above, which is not a Banksy piece but was shared by Banksy, is a direct commentary by Vancouver street artist IHeart on social media and the satisfaction that “likes”, “follows” and “comments” create in the lives of many. There are many technological ways to address such satisfaction, but culture jamming, specifically, is the commentary through the use of such present, physical art. Glitch art could have been used to digitally create this message, as well as a virus or a hack. But by occupying this specific space, where people are able to walk by, stop, and think, there is a different dimension that is added.
Culture Jamming as a Predecessor
Culture jamming serves as a predecessor for glitch art and the introduction of viruses and hacks for the culture because it has the power to address the same issues, yet was seen as a physical visual art movement from its inception. The spaces that culture jamming occupies are not the same spaces that glitches occupy, yet they achieve similar effects and commentaries. The anonymity that is also seen through culture jamming artists such as IHeart and Banksy can also be translated into the technological world, and the commentaries that are made through culture jamming can very well be about technology itself as well. Glitch art, like culture jamming, requires an in-depth analysis of the frameworks through which pieces and software’s are created, which therefore allows for a deeper understanding of the control mechanisms that the commentaries are made for.