By Tara Judah
“Take a familiar piece of technology and do something unfamiliar with it.”
Nick Briz – how to glitch art
What’s most exciting about the unfamiliar is that it offers up an opportunity to experiment. In turn, what makes the experiment appealing is that the art it produces has political aspirations towards democracy; the experiment removes ideological, financial and systemic barriers.
With reference to filmmaking this extends all the way from practice to exhibition: the experimental filmmaker by the very nature of his/her experiment refuses the dominant social and commercial parameters that surround the elected art form. Nick Briz, whose ‘how to glitch art’ hypermedia essay/tutorial/video I’ve taken as this article’s opening quotation, creates new media art, organises new media art events and works as a professor in a fine arts college in Chicago where he and his students discuss and produce experimental new media art. He also co-organises a conference interrogating the politics, progression, aesthetic and movement of glitch art called GLI.TC/H
What Briz does with his hypermedia essays – from ‘How To / Why Leave Facebook’ and ‘Apple Computers’ – is combine structuralist art with deconstructionist theory to empower and activate the viewer. In around twenty-five minutes the viewer can go from student to practitioner. Here are my own first few attempts, two of which I made whilst watching and pausing Briz’s four-part online tutorial. While my own beginnings amount to little more than a few minutes of humble data bending, the result – however artful and whether or not desirable to others – is that I have become a truly active participant in Briz’s art project.
Structurally it is easy to make comparisons between Briz’s advice of using “the wrong tool for the job” with DIY and underground approaches to filmmaking. Similarly speaking, if we understand the final result of a glitch as Briz expresses it to be “an unexpected moment in a system that calls attention to that system” then the process and result look a lot like early formal experiments with the materiality of film that served to draw attention to the artifice and construction of filmmaking.
But the structural elements of Briz’s hypothesis is only half way there – where things get really exciting is when he moves into a discussion on how “technology is not neutral”. Taking down the likes of Apple and Facebook – by which I mean revealing certain intricacies within their policies and structures that restrict freedoms for users and putting that up on an equally powerful platform (YouTube) with the intention of arming viewers to potentially become activists – is not only bold but it’s a specific, calculated and very clever way of using the contemporary capitalist system to reveal the inherent problems and obstructions to freedoms that those very systems create and protect, which, incidentally, is something underground, DIY and avant-garde forms of filmmaking have also historically purported to achieve.
Where, historically, we have a mountain of theory around the camera as apparatus including the semiotic and ideological functions it produces, what Briz is bringing to the table is a simultaneous language and aesthetic with which we can understand the position of technology within the broader discipline of glitch art and experimental new media. Whether you believe it was the chicken or the egg that started things off the final result is undeniable: we interact with and can manipulate technology.