Technological body is present within the digital sphere as a visually tangible object, designed for communication. It distances itself from the physical body and alters it in accordance with technological possibilities and subjective desires. The technological body is hyper-real, simulated, distorted, invented, limited, alienated, repeated. It is affirmed, even when we are away from the keyboard. At the same time, new technologies constitute a new view of the body, simultaneously deconstructing it and simulating its idealized versions. Online, the physical body becomes a (three-dimensional) object, an empty shell whose content has yet to be inscribed, if at all. We will wear it like a suit and start to perform. The technological body thus provides a sort of additional space for the performance of (one’s) identity, but the possibilities are not endless. There is not much room for rejection of the expected performance or for performing differently.
The key questions remain: Whose body is operative? What kind of body is represented? What is attributed to it and what is written onto it? Can a singular body represent other and different bodies? Who produces it and does it enhance the existing prejudices, maintaining the bias towards certain traits? In other words, how much does the technological body reflect the society that produces it, as well as the existing political, economic, and social order?
The intrusiveness of corporate interests affects the ways in which technological bodies are shaped and it narrows poetic possibilities. This is why glitch comes as a response that contributes to the reinvention of a digital (self)portrait through nuances that are much more than the vivid aesthetics of a broken image. Glitch mutations, unpredictability, and affinity for randomness construct the meaning of an image. Not only that they point to the technological unpredictability and imperfection of the machine, but they also dissect the physiognomy of the idealized (and expected) technological body and open a new space for understanding emerging digital identities. The stripped and inverted digital structure of a set of binary data, forms resistance to endless simulations and heteronormative idealizations of the body.
As theorist of glitch feminism Legacy Russell writes: „Glitch moves, but glitch also blocks. It incites movement while simultaneously creating an obstacle. Glitch prompts and glitch prevents. With this, glitch becomes a catalyst, opening up new pathways, allowing us to seize on new directions. On the Internet we explore new publics, engage with new audiences, and, above all, glitschen between new conceptions of bodies and selves. Thus, glitch is something that extends beyond the most literal technological mechanics: it helps us to celebrate failure as a generative force, a new way to take on the world.“ According to Russell, glitch shows „that experimenting online does not keep us from our AFK selves, nor does it prevent us from cultivating meaningful and complex collaborative communities beyond our screens. Instead, the polar opposite: the production of these selves, the digital skins we develop and do online, help us understand who we are with greater nuance.“
Therefore, a glitch body has the possibility to dismantle existing identities and to create a space for multiple realities whose implications reach both sides of the screen. Moreover, the glitch body is much more than an empty shell of a digital avatar, it is always in the making and constantly changing. When Russell writes about (de)coding of gender, she also speaks about its construct and readability. As she writes: “Readability of bodies only according to standard social and cultural coding (e.g., to be white, to be cisgender, to be straight) renders glitched bodies invisible, extends safety, keeps bodies un-surveilled. Glitched bodies pose a very real threat to social order: encrypted and unreadable within a strictly gendered worldview, they resist normative programming.“
Perhaps in this we can search for an explanation why numerous artists experiment with online representation by creating multiple identities that are not necessarily exclusive of each other. For example, artist Ras Alhague creates multiple identities with glitch serving as a perfect tool for „the exploration of sexuality and gender expression through distortion of nudity and femininity.“ Albeit they have identities that are constructed differently, they all have in common usage of glitch self-portraits. The focus is placed on the image of their bodies; a bit broken, but always porous enough to keep the certain motifs recognizable. Such self-portraits, on the one hand, allow artist to be owners of the objectifying gaze, and on the other, to speak of their understanding of digital images circulating the Internet.
After all, a (self)portrait is never just a mere document of time; it shows different qualities of the represented subject, while also evoking immediate power relations and the socio-political context. In this regard, it is interesting to bring attention to the work A Vernacular of File Formats,(2010) in which Rosa Menkman draws on the language of compression algorithms by exposing a series of corrupted self-portraits. The work consists of „one source image, the original portrait, and an arrangement of recompressed and disturbed iterations.“ As the artist explains: „By compressing the source image using different compression languages and subsequently implementing the same (or similar) error into each file, the normally invisible compression language presents itself on the surface of the image.“ But, as the artist argues, in the process of creating these disrupted images, the final result is also a sort of a thesaurus or a handbook for glitch aesthetics. In the beginning, the artist’s glitched self-portraits circulated according to the random logic of the Internet, but with time the images became alienated from the author, as they started to represent other people’s identities (amongst other). Perhaps the explanation for such a circulation of glitched self-portraits should be sought in a specific aesthetic that escapes the normative of digital representation. However, the artist was primarily interested in the code, that is, the breakdown of the flow of information in the background of the image. The resulting aesthetic is just the result of her experimentation with breaking the code.
Finally, whether it is a fascination with aesthetic or code challenges, artists and their audiences are brought into a new space of meaning through the use of glitch. Despite the fact that the newly created meaning is not necessarily obvious, we are, on the one hand, approached by the machine language, and on the other by a human error. It is precisely the use of the random error to deconstruct the flow of visual and sound information that lays bare the structure of the technological body and makes it receptive to new meanings, or new realities.
Text by: Irena Borić
Duveau, Laetitia, Ras Alhague’s Glitch World. https://www.curatedbygirls.com/ras-alhagues-glitch-world/, 21st august 2022
Menkman, Rosa (2011) The Glitch Monument(um). Network Notebooks 04. Amsterdam
Menkman, Rosa (2020) Beyond resolution. i.R.D.
Russell, Legacy (2020) Glitch Feminism. A Manifesto. Verso