4. the practice of everyday glitch last year i gave a talk at the MediaLive festival in Boulder, CO entitled “how && why u should corrupt ur files” which framed glitch art less as a Fine Art practice && more as a digital folk practice: went over all the “classic” data bending techniques as digital literacy exercises rather than as a means of producing glitch art objects. again: igital literacy is a prerequisite for agency in networked culture. there are many different paths towards digital literacy, one path ( which i fully endorse/advocate ) is learning to program, another is glitch art: not as a means to an end, but as an everyday process/exercise. i gave a remix/d version of that talk/tutorial (as: the practice of everyday glitch) after hours at SAIC ( one of the schools i teach at ) in preparation for a talk i was invited to give at refrag:glitch at Parsons Paris. the new title of that talk is a reference to the book, The Practice of Everyday Life by Michel de Certeau, “which examines the ways in which people individualise mass culture, altering things, from utilitarian objects to street plans to rituals, laws and language, in order to make them their own.” According to de Certeau, we do ourselves a disservice when we understand everyday folks as passive “consumers,” when in reality, de Certeau argues, as “users” we’re always automatically re-contextualizing && subverting in everyday situations the strategic intentions of the institutional producers. we’re like Charlie Chaplin who, “multiplies the possibilities of his cane: he does other things with the same thing and he goes beyond the limits that the determinants of the object set on its utilization.”
I appreciate de Certeau’s perspective, a hopeful twist on resistance when it might otherwise seem futile… but it can be problematic to directly apply it to contemporary digital/networked life, where institutions of power presuppose a “user” in their design. In his essay Commodify Your Consumption: Tactical Surfing / Wakes of Resistance, Curt Cloninger explains: “The agency that de Certeau’s consumer enacted to tactically reassemble the one-to-many media broadcasted to her in 1980 is being increasingly usurped by institutionally recommended (and protocologically enforced) modes of interactive behavior. Once the consumer mistakes these institutional ‘suggestions’ for the exercises of her own tactical agency, she fails to exercise that actual agency. With so many ‘customizable options’ available, how can she ‘resist?’ […] The danger of MySpace and YouTube is not the threat that they may wind up archiving and owning all the ‘content’ I produce, or that they are currently getting rich off the content I produce, but that they control the parameters within which I produce ‘my original’ content.” Curt brings to light an issue beyond the familiar ( && important ) conversations around user generated content and digital labor: user agency. How decentralized/distributed is our experience of the network when we “use” ( consume/produce ) it through a relatively few set of centralized/ /controlled apps ( think Facebook ). at the end of The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin warns, “Fascism ( think Facebook ) attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property.” && so it would seem de Certeau’s tactical user has been co-opted ( as the story goes ). && yet i see another hopeful twist on resistance: what if we embrace mis-use ( glitch art ) as an everyday practice? let’s all take a few mins every morning, just after checking our social media && just b4 going through our email: open a few applications at random && mis-use them. do whatever it wasn’t designed to do. b/c glitch is all about doing things the wrong way i’d argue it’s an exception to Cloninger’s rule. disregard for a moment the “institutional suggestions” && “customizable options” of that particular app/platform && see if u can break it… not for the sake of breaking it, but for all the discoveries along the way the informal digital literacy ). u can share/like/comment/post on Facebook, but what can’t u do? or what isn’t it designed to do? what aren’t u suppose to do? In an interview with Creators Project, Laimonas Zakas ( aka Glitchr ) explained this line of thought behind his own Facebook-bending practice, “My initial idea was to explore how far I can go beyond the strict constraints of Facebook’s layout. It all started with combinations of unicode, but later I discovered that I could embed [the] site’s own graphical elements (chat boxes/search bars/captchas etc.) in the posts and this way distort the whole layout even more.” What would result was not only unexpected for Glitchr ut for any of his friends who’s feeds would break when scrolling past one of his posts. often these posts would lead to realizations/ conversations about these limitations. at one point ( bax when the only form of media allowed on Facebook was text and static images ) Glitchr found a way to post an animated gif to his wall, inciting a long discussion in the comments about the restriction && tactics for how to circumvent them.
eventually the gif was spotted by Facebook developers && the “glitch” was “fixed”, which seems to be the typical narrative of Glitchr’s exploits. at one point Facebook even offered Glitchr $500 for every “bug” he “reports”. while i’m happy to say he’s passed them up on their offer, this brings up an important point. there may come a time when silicon valley ( && prevailing power structures ) find a way of co-opting misuse as they did de Certeau’s tactical use, but at the time of this coding they have not + so i invite u, i implore u: make glitch art a practice in ur everyday life, not in the interest of becoming a “glitch artist” per se, rather in the interest of reclaiming some agency in ur digital space.