Questioning the creation process
We spoke with the curators of this year's / 'fu: bar / festival about the importance of glitch aesthetics in contemporary art and sustainability in digital art.
The seventh international festival exhibition of glitch art /'fu: bar/ executed by art organization Format C consists of over 500 digital works by 149 artists and collectives from 44 countries. After multimedia exhibition available at the French Institute in Zagreb in October, the exhibition remains available online until the end of the year. The construction of this virtual exhibition space through coding and programming, mapping, and 3D design of the space, with the application of photogrammetry on the space of the /'fu: bar/ festival home - AKC Medika, damaged by the earthquake, developed through a period of two years.
The curators of this year's exhibition are Zoe S. a.k.a. Ras Alhague, jonCates, Kaspar Ravel with Dina Karadžić and Vedran Gligo. From a large number of artists’ applications, Karadžić and Gligo accepted all those who followed the theme and propositions of the exhibition, after which the guest curators selected the collections they worked with and shaped into their curatorial concepts.
With guest curators Zoe S. a.k.a. Ras Alhague, jonCates, Kaspar Ravel we talked about their concepts, but also the development of long-term connection with /'fu: bar/ festival, the meaning of glitch aesthetics in contemporary art, as well as the theme of this year's festival which included contextualization of sustainability of digital art practice. In this year’s edition you are curators but your relation to /'fu:bar/ festival extends to previous editions of the festival.
KP: How would you describe the development of that connection to the festival but also to the physical and virtual space of Medika?
ZS: I've been a participant of the /'fu:bar/ festival since 2016, I believe. Coming to Zagreb has become the highlight of each year and one of the most anticipated events. And while it's significant for me on a personal level, there are also reasons for which it's the longest-running glitch art event in the world. Whether it's online or offline, every year it gathers many people from various different countries, therefore opening more opportunities and connections for all participants. The last two editions were held mostly online. Not just because of COVID, but also because of the earthquake in Zagreb which turned Medika into a safety hazard. And it's sad to observe how it's only getting worse and worse thanks to the neglect by the city. In a way, it was well reflected in the looks of the online replica this year. I enjoy the idea of the online space becoming more broken and more glitchy, the longer physical Medika goes without any repairs.
jC: My participation in the world's longest running Glitch Art Festival, /'fu:bar/:
exhibiting artist in 2015 with (k)NEW.ERR▷ (2013),
invited speaker in 2017, (AKA glitchActual) (2017)
and exhibiting artist in 2018 (Raw Archive), special /'fu:bar/ edition (2018).
In 2019 /'fu:bar/ hosted European premiere of my Glitch Western film 鬼鎮 (Ghosttown) and in 2021 I presented curatorial concept Cyberpsychedelic Abstraction in the World of Glitch!
KR: The glitch community has always been pretty tightly-knit, people participate as exhibiting artists, conference speakers, workshop animators, but also as public and spontaneously help around doing little bits and pieces offline and online to help the festival, it's always been like this. So helping out on more formal terms this year felt completely natural, especially since the team and the venue, whether off or online, has always felt like family and home to me.
KP: Your starting position as /'fu:bar/ 2021 curators was a wide selection of works accepted for this year's edition by Vedran Gligo and Dina Karadžić. Can you describe your selection process that led to collections you later worked with?
ZS: Upon familiarizing myself with the submissions, I realized that there were a lot of names that I've seen before on social media and more specifically through the group by the name of Glitch Artists Collective. It's a massive community that I'm fairly familiar with and that I've been associated with since 2014. I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about its history, the artists involved in it and the people who built it.
KR: The selection that I made was of some of the artists that I have been following for quite some years on the internet now. They are artists whose work I feel both very close to and very intrigued about. Often in the works that I select to talk about, there is both a very unusual technical motive intricately tied to an unostentatious form of figurative poetry.
jC: "New encounters, with folks whose work was new to me, are especially important to my curatorial approach. This text exists as my contribution to the curatorial process, a reflection of mine on Glitch Artists whose work I met for the first time this year. In this text I will talk about the work of: Allison Tanenhaus, , and Esteban Gutiérrez. I will organize these three artists together in a framework, an idea, which serves as the title of this text: Cyberpsychedelic Abstraction in the World of Glitch!"
KP: What were the points of contact in your concepts? To what extent did you collaborate and/or influence each other?
jC: Zoe, Kaspar, and I worked closely together with Dina and Vedran. We met weekly to talk and emailed/chatted between mtgs. We know each other alrdy so we are able to move quickly and with good understandings of each other.
ZS: We all worked closely together and had weekly meetups to discuss the progress and preparations. We also discussed some potential projects beyond the festival as well as the future of /'fu: bar/.
KR: I think everybody agreed on the core principles and key ideas of the selection process, we've been curating things together online for the past decade almost so nothing new here. Plus there wasn't all the complexity of having limited space to exhibit, or the option to print some works. These two things are usually the ones that pose the most questions.
KP: A playlist of glitch music and sound is a constant soundscape in this exhibition space and it interacts with the sounds of individual works. Were you and in what way able to influence the soundscape of this exhibition?
jC: I was not involved in the sound/music selection aspect.
KR: Not me!
ZS: While I wasn't responsible for the preselection, I did include music in my own tour since one of the audio submissions (BLESSED/CURSED) was created in collaboration with many people from Glitch Artists Collective. Much like GAC itself, it presents a wide variety of artists and genres. It's a very high-quality collaboration in my opinion, well compiled and mastered.
KP: What do you think defines a glitch aesthetic as a crucial element of contemporary digital art?
jC: Why is glitch important to Contemporary Art? Media Art is Contemporary Art. Glitch Art is an important influential category of New Media Art. We experience glitch, glitches, and glitch aesthetics across almost all aspects of our technosocial times.
KR: I'm not sure I understand the question, but contemporary digital art needs glitch art to be relevant. We can't just create art by following the guidelines laid out to us by software engineers, there is a time where we need to break from this and take inspiration from underneath the layers of our user interfaces. Glitch art is one of these ways an artist can go to question their creation process.
ZS: I'm a strong believer that as long as we're being provided with new technologies to break, glitch art will exist. Perhaps under different names and forms, but the concept will prevail and human-made technologies will always be destructible. I can't quite predict how much the political climate will change in the future, but it's hard to imagine a world in which artists wouldn't want to break something.
KP: This year’s exhibition topic was aimed at documenting, contextualizing, and expanding various forms of sustainability of digital art practice. If we return to basics, what is the meaning of sustainability in digital art and what do you think is its most significant threat?
ZS: In some sense, it's hard to think of anything as a threat to digital art in the world consumed by capitalism, giant corporations, and climate crisis. Especially in the midst of a global pandemic. I think we're already extremely deep into that dystopian future Hollywood movies warned us about. You could argue that in the world of ever-evolving cyber-surveillance and self-learning algorithms, digital art is more prone to censorship and elimination than non-digital. But at the same time, these kinds of threats are what drive people to create art that tackles them.
KR: To me, sustainability in digital art is finding methods to create/curate/exhibit/sell/… that will work for today and tomorrow without harming or disrupting anybody or anything. In the realm of digital art, it can all seem very abstract but a lot of the big questions that are relevant in the physical world are also relevant here. For example, the digital art collector's market and the NFT boom that we have seen this last year poses serious sustainability questions in widely different areas from ownership to the preservation of our planet's ecosystem. The most significant threat to this is ourselves because people aren't all interested in sustainable design, and many people will privilege personal gain over that.
jC: One way to talk of the threats is to speak of us: we are threats and also we are working towards sustainability ie via forms of access, archiving, and resource sharing. We are threats because we, people, are causing profound problems in these technosocial times. Also from my text that I wrote for the festival, my curatorial contribution: "the Anthropocene of this fourth industrial revolution (or second machine age) is characterized by our interventions into the once-natural worlds. We generate human-caused climate catastrophes that remap the physical world. We have ever-changing relationships with the nonhuman systems that we previously built but which have now become too complex and autonomous for us to understand."
In fact, this too-complex-to-comprehend is the origin of the term glitch in contemporary usage. "Glitch" was popularized by the so-called "American space program". In the context of NASA (the national aeronautics and space administration, a federal agency in the nation-state now known as the United States), the term began to be used by the scientists and astronauts to describe their experiences of electronics which they had built but could no longer understand. In the combination of minuaritization, wherein electronic circuitry becomes extremely small, and an overall process of complexification, by which electromechanical systems became increasingly complicated, people can no longer identify specific sources of problems or errors. They referred to these events as "glitches".
People designed these electronics for military purposes, such as space travel. People built these systems to be so complex and also so fragile or "error-prone" that they eclipsed people’s ability to understand them or describe errors (or their sources) in specific technical terms. Experts, scientists, developers, astronauts, engineers, and military personnel gave us this meaning of "glitch" as a form of systemic ambiguity.
Here is a more simple and direct answer: glitch is our material and at times glitches cause seriously real problems not simply symbolic errors. I love glitches and I also respect the impacts of glitches. The technological fragility I mentioned above (as a source of the term glitch) meets human frailty in glitch art, the art of surprise, a gift given to us by the ways in which our technosocial systems misbehave.