“Glicpixxx” Berk Özdemir’s new digital project merges historical glitch art processes with the possibility of changing the artwork’s parameters.
Many of the abstract paintings that Gerhard Richter has created over his decades-long career are characterised by gestural marks that evoke the artist’s gestures at the moment of creation. Using a homemade squeegee to drag paint across the images on his monumental canvases, the German painter decimates and distorts what lies underneath, making way for serendipitous moments and inviting chance encounters – drips, smudges, and ridges where fields of paint collide like tectonic plates. “I blur things to make everything equally important and unimportant,” he once explained.
Around the same time that Richter was blurring and scraping away layers of paint to create some of the most recognisable works of the 20th century, other artists such as Stan Brakhage and Nam June Paik were inviting chance into their experiments with other art forms, such as film and installation art. Throughout his career, Brakhage scratched and painted on film stock to create abstract, sensory films such as 1987’s The Dante Quartet, expanding upon a tradition pioneered by experimental filmmakers such as Len Lye. Taking it up a notch, Carolee Schneemann cooked the film for her erotic 1967 artwork Fuses in the oven, and left it out during thunderstorms in the hope it would be struck by lightning. Two years before, in 1965, Nam June Paik altered a black-and-white television set with an industrial-sized magnet for the aptly-named artwork Magnet TV. Just like Richter’s canvases, the “prepared television” collapsed the distinctions between the artist’s process and subject matter, allowing the viewer to distort electronic signals on the screen in real-time.
Today, we might label the broad aesthetic that ties these multi-generational artworks together under the term “glitch art”. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the word “glitch” itself has its roots in the broadcast culture of mid-century America, travelling between radio announcers, TV producers, and even NASA by the 1960s, as a means to describe momentary slip-ups and technical faults – in other words, the kinds of accidents and aleatory intrusions that began to be celebrated in the art of that period. That being said, the likes of Richter, Schneemann, and Brakhage didn’t use the term “glitch art” to refer to their own work. Rather, the phrase gained prominence in the mid-1990s, first describing a genre of experimental noise music before coming to be associated with the visual arts.
Even now, “glitch art” is much more commonly associated with a style of digital art that is warped or transformed by quirks or “errors” in the technology that was used to create it. If the title is applied to analog artworks, it’s applied in retrospect because they share the same fundamental ideas, of embracing randomness, mistakes, and the garbled aesthetics they create. This brings us to Glicpixxx, a project by the multidisciplinary digital artist Berk Özdemir.
Initially created as a “joke” in the winter of 2020, during a Twitch livestream in the depths of the pandemic – has there ever been a more appropriate setting for the genesis of a crypto art collection? – Glicpixxx is the product of feeding images through an encoding software named GLIC, and “fucking them up” in the process. According to Özdemir, he can’t remember what images were fed into the machine any more, and there’s no trace of them in the GLIC output: the source material was obliterated by brightly-coloured visual noise. Then, the artist tore one of the resulting images apart, splitting it into 36 unique tiles. These would form the basis for GlicpixxxVer001, a series of collectible images that, with their vivid colour schemes and jagged geometry, could be lifted from the television screens in Nam June Paik’s TV Garden (1974).
The same day, Özdemir processed another 48 images via GLIC, using different presets and parameters, and wanted to see what they looked like when broken down even further. He wrote a script to split each into tiny pieces, and ended up with more than 40,000 images: some bear bold stripes, some phase between colours in smooth gradients, some are almost entirely monochrome with bold pops of colour that originate somewhere deep in the long-forgotten source material. These, along with animated GIFs – or “dancers” – that flick from one image to another in varying rhythms, make up the 11,500-piece GlicpixxxVer0002 collection.
Echoing the opaque processes of nature or the human hand, the algorithms that forged these images are too complex to fully comprehend; their underlying logic remains mysterious to the viewer, and even the artist. Is it perhaps more accurate to say that artists work “in collaboration” with these machines, than that they use them as tools that they can master? For Özdemir, this is part of the appeal. “Coincidences are awesome. Randomness is fun. Calculations are wonders,” the artist says in a statement on the project. “Glicpixxx is a collection that appreciates misusing technologies, scripting for automating mass tasks, pure aesthetics of computer code, compression artefacts, noise, artificial networks, unpredictability and algorithmic music.”
To some extent, this is a change we will all have to embrace as our lives and art become increasingly entwined with digital technology: the delegation of responsibilities and processes to algorithms that are beyond our full understanding. However, new technological tools also open up fresh creative possibilities that may reinforce our bonds to each other as human beings. This is evidenced in GlicpixxxVer0001, which includes a “programmable canvas” that displays every artwork from the collection in one square of 36 tiles. At any time, the owner of each unique tile can tweak its parameters, and the changes will show up in the collage, making it a collaborative artwork that changes over time, reflecting the individual whims or coordinated efforts of the collectors-slash-curators-slash-contributors of Özdemir’s work. Hopefully, as we venture deeper into the metaverse, these spaces for collaboration and community expression will only become more common.
Then, there’s Özdemir’s other ambition for the Glicpixxx project: that it will help boost creativity among owners, who are encouraged to use the raw material for their own projects (regardless of whether they’re personal or commercial). The possibilities for their applications are quite literally endless, ranging from game skins and profile pictures, to data points to generate chance music, to inspiration for the texture, palette, and silhouettes of a fashion collection. Whatever happens, projects like Glicpixxx are part of a new chapter in the history of glitch art, embracing new media and technology for their revolutionary potential, and delighting in their dysfunction, rather than shying away from it.