"Fracture Twenty-Five" by Micah Alhadeff.
My personal online experience has always been defined by creating new personas and identities. Not necessarily for the sake of anonymity but rather as a means of artistic and emotional expression—especially in my early Internet days when I would always be on the lookout for spaces where I could satisfy my desperate need to fit in. In the more recent years, I got to participate in the glitch discourse on various social media platforms and observe the way artists represented themselves and interacted with the space. So naturally, I was more than excited for the theme of this year’s fu:bar festival: digital+online identities. Upon familiarizing myself with the participants, I selected three of them to talk about their work in more detail: ellis laurens, Micah Alhadeff, and tojeira.visuals. I found it refreshing how all of them approached the subject differently with their own glitch techniques and unique aesthetic choices—all of them posing important questions about our perception, experiences, and the accessibility of digital+online vessels for personal expression.
How do we adapt and choose to represent ourselves in the ever-changing landscape of the Internet? How do the aesthetic aspects of our choices affect other users’ interpretation of us? Does it affect our interpretation of who we are? Are the natural limitations that we encounter in our offline experience enough for us to ignore the questionable ethics of corporations that curate the online experience? Let’s see what answers we can find with the guidance of the beloved pixelated mess also known as glitch art.
Fully embracing the idea of creation by destruction, “Fracture Twenty-Five” and “Blush” by Micah Alhadeff tackle the subject of digital identities in a creative exploration of what it means to be (/to have) a human body in the online realm. Seeing the physique as an essential part of the human experience, the artist creates a link between the digital and the physical by giving his figures clearly anthropomorphic features. Created with an incredible attention to detail, Alhadeff’s artworks are a feast for the eyes as veins, bones, and muscles are replaced by datamoshed textures and a complex infrastructure of 3D objects. All combining into a twisted and structurally fascinating digital interpretation of the organic matter. But it’s not just a captivating display of Alhadeff’s impressive craftsmanship. While the aesthetic choices could be inspired by the author’s fascination with human anatomy, the artworks also evoke a contemplation on our perception of bodies and what we identify as “flaws”. With a seemingly never-ending range of apps, filters, and softwares at our disposal, the practice of decorating and/or editing one’s photos isn’t uncommon. Although it was definitely enhanced by the rise of social media, it would be wrong to look for its origins there as it’s a carefully designed old system of exploiting insecurities. But are glitch bodies even familiar with the idea of insecurities? As hard as it is to envision a world devoid of beauty as an abstract concept, there is something satisfying in imagining the figures’ complete indifference towards the distorted aspects of their meticulously crafted forms.
Despite the chaotic nature of generated artifacts, the artworks’ balanced composition reminds the viewer that glitches aren’t completely accidental. They are merely a result of a machine trying to interpret the data it’s given to process. Glitch elements in Alhadeff’s work feel raw and represent exactly what they are: errors, alterations, distortions—a symbolic reminder of how much gets lost in translation in our every-day interactions within the digital realm due to phenomena such as desynchronization, presumed virtual anonymity, and unpredictability of online spaces.
While our URL experiences differ from the IRL ones, it doesn’t make them any less real (although the “IRL” abbreviation might suggest otherwise). An average netizen traversing through the WWW landscape is bound to eventually find themself in a position of confusion, frustration, or distress, either caused by other users or their virtual surroundings. Just as most of us can’t simply choose to disconnect themselves from the reality of the world we live in, our online identities are hugely impacted by the websites we’re logged into. For a queer contemporary art student and researcher, ellis laurens, glitch art is a creative way of breaking through the standards of a corporate and capitalist online hegemony. “Conversation with a Metaself” depicts a communication attempt with a digital version of the artist. In a nearly four-minute video, a generated voice asks questions about the nature of what it’s like to be a human in the offline world. Even though the viewer might think they found themself in a (slightly) more dystopian reality—after all, the initialization process does not seem to be something one can easily opt out of and the brutally honest Metaself doesn’t feel the need to hide its purpose—it’s not too far off from the state of the world wide web today. Our lives are still massively intertwined with the online products of data-stealing corporations. As easy as it is to tell someone to “just log out” when things start getting frustrating or spin out of their control, staying offline can prove tricky. Not just because of the addicting aspect of online algorithms designed to encourage endless scrolling and posting, but also because of how much our social lives depend on staying online—our local global pandemic being a good proof of that. Access to job opportunities, participation in events, or acquiring group memberships can rely on one’s online presence. While it’s not explicitly stated anywhere, having a social media account can even be useful for immigration processes as a means of proving one’s authenticity. Having no online activity is almost considered sketchy. Even when one decides to leave, removing their account hardly ever gets rid of all traces of their presence. Some of the things they posted can still show up in the search engines with their name attached to them. Most platforms make sure that nobody just disappears into the offline abyss: once googlable, always googlable. Similarly, in “Conversation” the voice assures its offline self that they don’t need to provide questions to its answers as it is programmed to learn everything anyway.
The voice explains that its purpose is merely to collect data to offer the user “the most adequate virtual interface”. This relates to a widely normalized practice on the majority of big online platforms: gathering personal information about users under the guise of improving the quality of their online experience. It’s a harsh observation on how over the years we’ve learned to disregard certain aspects of existing on these platforms—such as the cost of privacy. The shallow Internet that once seemed so vast and unexplored has become largely centralized and structured and that’s where most of its vulnerabilities lie today. It is not, by any means, a flawless machine. In fact, it’s quite well known for its inconsistencies and errors. Glitch artifacts present throughout “Conversation with Metaself” serve as a reminder of this digital fragility. And one doesn’t have to look far for the real-time examples: a Big Company struggling with the concept of legs in their poorly designed VR experience and a Certain Billionaire fighting for his bizarre vision of “free speech”*. And while some of these struggles are definitely entertaining to watch, the possibility of an online platform’s life coming to an end is a grim vision for a lot of people who spent years building connections, creating opportunities, sharing their content and intellectual value with their audiences. We’re talking about hundreds of petabytes of users’ legacy lost to a rich man’s ego and privilege.
Of course, inconsistencies and errors aren’t just a matter of the present (or future) digital struggles. One’s identity is shaped by past events and the ability to derive conclusions from their experiences. Francisco Tojeira (tojeira.visuals) takes us on a melancholic journey through the archived past. “Analog Faces in a Digital Past” reflects on the impermanence of the media used to store memories as well as the limits of our own biological capabilities. The wide array of techniques and devices used to create “Analog Faces”, presents a mixture of old and new, making the piece so much more self-referential. The footage used was captured over the last 10 years with camcorders and phone cameras and processed in real time using a Maxp/MSP patch and videobending with a custom-built dirty video mixer, old DVD players, and CRT TVs. It offers a glimpse into the older (perhaps even ancient by some standards) methods of capturing memories and shows how technologies that were once considered ground-breaking can easily be manipulated. But can one even expect flawless archiving tools when they’re created by and for creatures with a naturally unreliable memory? The spectacle of blurred faces, distorted figures, and oversaturated, mismatched colors feels like an accurate portrayal of human memory.
The artist poses a question: “Who makes our past?” The linear perception of time forces us into forgetfulness and nurtures the need for preservation. The dissemination of knowledge and history is at the core of development, both on a societal and individual level. Our brains not only have their limits when it comes to storing information but they’re also known to alter memories. Through his nostalgia-infused (and nostalgia-inducing) work, Tojeira contemplates on the importance and meaning of the process of remembering and how it impacts our relationships with others as well as with ourselves.
Reflecting on the fragility of human memory and how the quality of our online experiences is essentially dictated by large companies—who at any point may choose to wipe us all out from the surface of the Internet—paints a rather sad picture of the future of the Internet. All of the works seem to share a similar sentiment that expresses itself in the collective need for better-functioning
online systems in which people can freely embrace their identities. On an individual level, it might seem overwhelming. And it is, considering how little power we have against the arrogance of those who continue to exploit our need for connection and expression. But it’s not all completely hopeless for digital artists. Glitch is a powerful notion and the beauty of it lies in its accessibility and openness. My hope for the future, whatever it may bring, is that people continue to utilize glitch art in their creative work, because here, at Glitch Art & Co we believe that anyone can become a Glitch Artist™. Join us! Glitch your selfie. Obscure your display name with zalgo. Become ungooglebable. Embrace your glitchself.
*I prefer not to name the corporations or people behind them because they have a tendency to overshadow everything else that’s being said and that’s not my goal here. I’m writing this text in celebration and appreciation of glitch art. I hope most readers will be aware of the context of these situation. If not, just trust me, you’re not missing out on much.
Zoe S. a.k.a. Ras Alhague
A special thanks to Dina & Vedran for this opportunity and for their endless dedication to the fu:bar project. (づ｡◕‿‿◕｡)づ
This text is a part of the /’fu:bar/ 2022 Glitch Art Exhibition program.