hauntingly glitch

• text: jonCates • artwork: AK Ocol, noumenal, Marta Timmer • #fubar_expo • 2022

jonCates explores haunting Glitch Art in 3 definitions, through the work of 3 artists exhibiting at /’FU:BAR/ 2022: AK Ocol, noumenal, and Marta Timmer.

PART I: Ghosts && Glitch / Glitch Art;

Have you seen ‘the first photograph’?

“View from the Window at Le Gras” by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1826), Public Domain

“View from the Window at Le Gras” is now known as the ‘first photograph’. Nearly 200 years ago, Niépce captured this view through his open window. An image from the past. Architecture, French countryside, a horizon line… This single image, precious and historicized, may have taken him several days of exposure to natural sunlight in order to inscribe on fragile materials. Over the course of those days Niépce produced this unstable New Media with the then emergent technology of photography. The technosocial context of those days is hard for us to imagine because when this picture was taken, cameras, as we know them today, did not exist.

This image is wondrously strange and startling, then and now. Almost inexplicable in its technological achievement, Niépce recorded not a fleeting moment but rather the passage of time. When i look at this image nowadays, i see ghosts. i see technological ghosts of haunted pasts, fixed in time through early proto-photography. In our contemporary art context this image feels like a long lost Glitch Art. Made of unstable media, this artwork expresses ambiguity and uncertainties that take us towards abstraction. The image is not clear. It has passed through many different states and resolutions to arrive here in the present. It travels to you now, a digital file transmitted across a vasty tingleTangle of Internet, born of sunlight, originally written on metal, washed with lavender oils and mineral spirits.

AK Ocol’s Glitch Art also travels across mediums to enchant us into with hauntingly beautiful glitch. Ghost 1, 2, and 3 of Ocol’s Ghost series are similarly born from transformations, transmissions and physical/digital transcoding. i immediately connect with Ocol’s art on many levels. i am moved by their ghosts. Encountering their work through /’FU:BAR/ i can relate very personally to the form and content of their Ghost series as it emerges from Internet to haunt us and draw us near to spirits and places.

Ocol’s Glitch Art approach pushes us through different ‘fidelities’ to materialize their hauntings as glitch. Figures, faces, and landscapes appear. As if through a veil, these spectral apparitions materialize out of the aether, across very real Ethernet connections of network ports and protocols. The ghosts in and of this work manifest glitch and Glitch Art. The work itself embodies ghosts and glitches that haunt the work as the work haunts us. We look at Ocol’s ghosts to see what is there, or not there. Our illuminated screens glow with internal energies as they display the art. We try to see through the layers and textures to be able to perceive what is there, behind the veil (or screen) by peering through it.

The Glitch Art of “Ghost” numbers 1 through 3 by AK Ocol is exhibited in the photography section of /’FU:BAR/ 2022 connecting us to ‘the first photograph.’ Ghost is also a view through, into an outside, and simultaneously, a mirror to see ourselves, as ghosts, as glitches, in time. As The Major says, in the classic cyberpunk anime Ghost in the Shell, when she herself is haunted by another ghost: “now we see through a mirror darkly.” Wendy Hui Kyong Chun explains, in her book “Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, that The Major means she now has the ability to “see through the mirror, so that mirrors no longer reflect images but enable a vision, however dark, to an outside.” AK Ocol’s beautifully haunted Glitch Art reflects and reveals to us spirits in our technosocial times, glitching new materialities of our early 21st Century.

PART II: beautiful && not easily forgotten;

Abstract artworks affect me like musics. i remember melodies. i recall tones, timbers, notes, and feelings of the times in which i first experience them. noumenal’s beautiful “Reified (UTOPIA) #5” haunts me this way. i could not stop returning repeatedly to “Reified (UTOPIA) #5”, reflecting on the work and imagining meanings. Our interpretations are projections which we cast like magic lanterns to light the way into our own sense of wonder. We understand the art subjectively while the shapes and colors that literally compose the work exist independently. Mark-making of the artist lingers in my mind. We know memories are biochemical structures inside us. Memory is written and rewritten, imprinting pathways, we contain connections made and kept alive. In this way memories are physical events inside of us, occurring dynamically and changing over time. Haunting. Glitch.

A definition of haunting glitch is also the Glitch Art that haunts us, that we cannot forget once we have apprehended it. i am haunted by noumenal’s “Reified (UTOPIA) #5.” this artwork gives me a sense of perpetual deja vu so i have collected it to keep near to me. i return to the work again and again. i could say what i see and yawl would not be surprised to hear me speak of ghosts and spirits, doors and windows, energies that transmit and float through, appear and disappear, a memory of curtains gently moving in the breeze and unseen forces all around us. These energies move through us as we move through them. At the same time, i am also focused on the materialities that make “Reified (UTOPIA) #5” possible. noumenal carefully connects analog painting to digital processes. She transforms her heavily textured abstract paintings into digital Glitch Art, building bridges between materialities that we can travel together through the work. Because she crafts this path so carefully and intentionally i am able to drift in and out, wandering, and wondering what i can (and cannot) see.

To ‘reify’ is to make real, to convert conceptual abstraction into material reality. In the early days of New Media and Digital Art folks often thought of the computational as immaterial. People referred to these immaterialities as resulting from the process of creating art with code and electricity. They thought of these forces (computer programming and electrical flows) as invisible energies. Glitches in this context are ghosts in that machine, animating interventions, and destabilizing control voltages like poltergeists that go bump in the night. Hopefully now we know a bit better: Digital devices, data, and the networks that connect us are very material realities with direct impacts on our bodies and the world. And yet, these computers are also still haunted.

One of the art histories of abstraction, especially after the invention of photography, involves emphasizing ‘the hand of the artist.’ Artists make marks ‘by hand.’ We are meant to feel them after they have vanished into thin air. The artist is gone (like a ghost), no longer present, mayhaps no longer alive, past. The work stands alone, physically and/or digitally. We are meant to be able to continue to feel the artist’s presence in their work because they have physically (and now digitally) touched it. They left their marks, handcrafted. These ways of discussing abstraction are meant to assert and establish importance. To me, these descriptions have always sounded more like someone talking about being haunted. But now, through noumenal’s Glitch Art abstraction, i have another, different explanation of this idea, because i feel haunted by her work.

PART III: the actions of haunting, or: to glitch is a verb

Marta Timmer is OG, an “Original Glitcher.” As a community, we need to recognize Timmer who, for more than 10 years, has and continues to develop Glitch Photography, a specific form of Glitch Art. Her work critically investigates the possibilities of glitch in relationship to representation(s). i met Marta Timmer in Chicago during GLI.TC/H and online, in the closely-knit Glitch Art community of the early Twentyteens. She spoke on urgent issues in Glitch Art then and now. She addressed glitch as empowerment, Glitch Feminisms, and having complicated relationships with her inspirations and influences. She interwove her research on phantoms, spells, and corrupting codes. i listened closely and began to quote her as often as i could. i feel deeply fortunate and blessed to be able to collect and curate her work today, over a decade later.

In those early days, Timmer spoke of glitching and making Glitch Art as a process of drawing us in towards hidden forms of beauty. She described layers under glitch, which we are attracted to because of their imperfections, distortions, and instabilities. She said we perceive subjects of Glitch Art as if “through a veil”. She constructs databent veils by hand, not to obscure, but rather to reveal true forms, or forms that may be more true than the illusions cast by systems of oppression. She discusses politics in personal affective terms, detailing how Glitch Art “oscillates between chaos and order, accident and intention.” As Glitch Aesthetics have become so thoroughly integrated into postglitch design and fashion, Timmer’s earlier reflections on the difficult artistic challenges and choices we face as Glitch Artists becomes even more important today.

Timmer combines portrait photography and Glitch Art to create her Glitch Photography with subjects and self portraiture. She uses both to serve her expression and control representations through glitching, corrupting, and, as she has said, a “deliberate process of digital destruction.” Her Glitch Art is an art of intervention. She intercedes at the code level to manifest haunting glitch against the grain of “illusion, deception, and simulation.” More recently she describes herself as invested in “beauty, memory, decay, emotion.” Her current work takes on arguably more mediative approaches. She continues similar intentions, moving us through transformative glitch that reveals and veils simultaneously. As she says of her The Seeker Series: glitch is “a portal to dreamlike, alternative experiences.” Constructing this portal, she frames digital errors as “ripples through the strict reality that fools us every day with its scripted spectacles.”

Memories of glitch. An open windows machine, curtains gently glitching in the breeze, unseen forces, the energies all around. Us ghosts hauntingly glitch. Cameras that do not exist.

As i wrote last year in my curatorial text for /`fu:bar/ 2021: we are alive in The Anthropocene of this Fourth Industrial Revolution (or Second Machine Age). We live in worlds defined by our relationships with technologies and deeply hidden technological orders that we now take to be ‘natural’. Computational organizations of networks and data structures are not ‘hidden orders’ (so much) in the sense of being conspiratorial. These underlying systems are not secrets. They are celebrated, even if widely misunderstood.

Our misunderstandings of technologies contribute problematically to our feelings that they are natural, and/or part of our ‘natural worlds’. We store data in ‘clouds.’ We might envision them floating effervescently. We buy and sell digital assets across ‘chains.’ We might imagine tightly bound secure connections. These two examples, one light (clouds), one heavy (chains), illustrate how our metaphors shape us. Marshal McLuhan once explained that these types of metaphors are comforting rearview mirror projections, versions of a familiar past, forecast into always unpredictable present and uncertain futures: “When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear-view mirror,” McLuhan said.

Glitch Artists intentionally misuse technologies, integrate errors, and look for the ways in which these mechanical systems that define us can go wrong. We reflect on technosocial change. We code and craft new entanglements with the spirits of our times, glitch ghosts, and haunt broken down realities. We go on glitch adventures. We explore and extend what is possible with our art. We may see glitch as a secret source of knowledge, leaking out from beyond the grave of dead media, telling us the truth. We may want Glitch Art to give us glimpses into other worlds, what they are made of and how they work, channeling through aether, luminiferous like a medium in a seance. As the character Trinity said, in the original Matrix film, the black cat crossing our path (our experience of glitch), is a reset, an operation of codes below our perception of reality. This gnostic or techgnostic conceptualization of glitch may or may not hold truth value for you. We may or may never know until ‘we’ cross the threshold. Still, while we are here, alive, you and i, we are haunted in our thoroughly technosocialized times, attracted to and moved by glitch. The Glitch Artists i have chosen here for you today, take hauntingly Glitch Art approaches and they make them their own. This is the wonderful gift of Glitch Art, which is, afterall, the art of surprise.

November 2022
Written on the traditional homelands of the Indigenous People and Nation of the 泰雅族 (Atayal), the city of 台北 (Taipei), and the nation of 台灣 (Taiwan)

jonCates creates and curates Glitch Art online and AFK. His projects are widely recognized and shown internationally. From the Glitch Western to 金山 (goldMountain), his artistic practice now extends across blockchains. He curated the acclaimed exhibition Chicago New Media, an invited program of Ars Electronica, and most recently founded the Glitch Art Gallery to exhibit his extensive collection and archive spanning decades of Digital Art.


AK Ocol


Marta Timmer


This text is a part of the /`fu:bar/ textMode verbose, a selection of texts (defined broadly) addressing Glitch Art from text-based perspectives.
CC BY-SA 4.0