Saturday, 8 July 2017

Glitch art , the politics of software,hardware and the death of the gallery system

 As skin said ' Yes its fucking political , everything's political'.

I've just spent a week rebuilding a lot of my old laptops , it suddenly struck me that I needed to keep the systems on which I had made a lot of my earlier work functioning and intact , which meant a lot of trawling around in the loft in the hardware pile , and for one particular laptop a complete strip down and clean out after loft cat had, pre-spaying peed all over the motherboard that I had left exposed after retrieving a CPU to test another  laptop given to me by my brother in law . I also rebuilt possibly the most troublesome laptop I had ever owned - a Fujitsu Siemens v5535 . I think I've spent more time stripping and rebuilding that machine more than any other . I return to it every so often and try and run Linux on it , again to be failed by the graphics card ( a sis m671 ) for which there are no working 3d drivers - you can get a flat 2d interface but that's about it , so inevitably it ends up being reinstalled with its original os , windows xp ( well it was vista originally but xp worked better as when I bought it in a fit of hopefulness and ignorance it was under-powered and just nasty - though like a lot of Fujitsu stuff , bomb proof ) .

I was first attracted to Linux and open source software in 2003 , I read something about Beowulf clusters , supercomputers put together from cheap or redundant hardware - and one day wondering around a library in Wales came across a book 'Linux for dummies ' which not only had the cds to install redhat 7.3 inside , it also said I could copy the discs and use them on as many pcs as I wanted ( I'd just paid £80 for a copy of windows 98se to install on a second hand computer I'd bought after having buggered up the windows 95 installation ) , it was an eye opener - and over the next few years tryed to wean myself away from windows and proprietary software altogether - even when using windows the software that I was installing like The Gimp, Open-office, Vlc, and Bittorrent was open source . I didn't have the money to buy things like photoshop or pay for dvd playing/burning software  other than that which was bundled with laptops I had bought .  There was always some reason I kept coming back to Windows , especially when I was working on the film Colourkeeper , I needed a good solid video editor and I just couldn't find one for linux ( I was dual booting windows and Linux on desktops ) - in the end I found a cracked version of sony vegas which enabled me to finish the video ( Sony Vegas going for something like 300 euros at the time ) . Happily this changed and now we have Openshot , Cinelerra and Flowblade to choose from . And still I couldn't get Linux to work properly on that pig of a laptop - So the next laptop I bought in 2008, an overpriced Acer Aspire 2920z,  I made damned sure that It could  run what I wanted to run , at the time, Linux-mint bought with a copy of Linux format magazine - this was before I had a full time internet connection - so It had all the software I wanted and would play DVDs , mp3s and ran really sweetly with proper screen resolution and hardware acceleration - and from there I didn't look back.

Which brings me to my first point - the hardware and software you use , just like the materials you use in traditional forms of art , help to determine and direct the kind of work you make, thus software and hardware are inherently political, If , say , a gallery or a publisher  asks for a photograph ,music, a video or a piece of written work in a particular format and that particular format is only available through using a piece of software which will only run on one type of computer this naturally shuts out those who do not have access to that computer and that piece of software. Which also predetermines to an extent the socio-economic status of those who can and will take part .   Sometimes software will also place restrictions on what can and cannot be played by inserting itself into the playback process - I have applied to open calls in the past where thinking ahead I created a DVD which would play itself on any windows computer which didn't have video playback software of the kind needed to play my content , upon insertion into the gallery's computer the computer declared that the content couldn't be played as a particular piece of software which was set as the default to play content declared it needed updating - if the software hadn't been set as default the computer would have played the disc .  

This is why I use Linux , and this is why I use open source software , I don't want restrictions placed on what I can and cant do on my own hardware - I don't want a computer made out of components which are deliberately crippled to only use certain operating systems or software . I also don't want software which directs my use of it or which leads me to easy results which look like everybody elses work - to use the computer as a tool for making art the final results must be open ended and not guided by templates or presets . We must meet the computer and software as tools which can be adjusted and modified ( by us , the users )as our needs change , just as I can mix paint with water , oil or any other damn ingredient I choose , wise or foolish, and paint on to any surface I choose , be it canvas , door , skin , metal or dirt .

Which leads me to glitch art , as circumstance breeds response so computer and the internet bred glitch . In an increasingly computerized and data-centric society it would seem inevitable that the fetishization of error as a response to technology and its colonization of both our public and private lives is the new art. If  hardware and software try to direct us into paths of doing and thinking ( hardware and software also being a product of economic and political thinking ) what else would we do but applaud when that which determines so much of our lives breaks down leaving the visual traces of a failed photograph, a digital advertising hoarding that no longer tries to program us with a corporate message but instead melts and screams in dying colour and fading electronics - if computers and software create a false ideal of perfection ( photo-shop perfect model advertising , film digital-post production , the illusion of flawless surfaces, pro tool vocals from tone deaf singers, the power to edit in real time the perceived reality we are asked to accept through the ever present screen  ). 

In glitch art we try to force the hand of chance by choosing to break files and machines in a way which brings results akin to the frozen moment   when a graphics card fails or a cd sticks , to forge a different view , a glimpse outside of the simulation of appearances . In some of the groups I belong too ( loose affiliations within electronic meeting places , themselves guarded by the politics of the machine) we argue about acceptable software and methods - slapping a filter on something is not regarded highly , the easy photoshop glitch setting or preset also denigrated - the tools you use say something about the kind of work you make , Photoshop assumptions or after-effects prettification are seen as amateur or worse not serious or the derisive tag of 'wheres the glitch fam' -  we look for the authenticity of effort and the struggle to find and innovate , though file formats may produce similar results , the flexibility of method equates to the difference of individuals drawing hand - no two are alike . We are also archeologists , seeking out old hardware and software which adds different texture or pre-internet exotica to our arsenal . 

I abandoned painting sometime in 2015 ( a flexible year zero ) when it finally dawned on me that the gallery system was dead, more and more open calls coming with submission fees , competitions you could enter at a price, dishonest magazines saying how much they loved my work and pay such and such a fee for so many pages in one issue . As the unemployed have become profitable to workfare companies taking contracts from government to massage statistics and feed into the zero hours economy so the gallery system has ceased to invest in all but the easiest fruit and become a pay to play model ,which favors rich Sunday painters and the children of the wealthy ) any other money left in the system from arts councils or government hoovered up by special interest committees channeling money into this years approved cultural celebration ( money going into corporatised pockets modeled on shock doctrine capitalism - the charity business that perpetuates itself).  The gallery business is a self filling pool becoming ever narrower through the myopia of money and the illiteracy of bankers and the 1% investing in art as a hedge fund , art created as investment becomes tomorrows Bougereau's . It is hard to fit that which exists within the environment of the internets immediacy and constant comment and frenetic pace into the dead world of curation and career mapped from art college to bank vault - career art made in cold studios to be seen by a few, assigned a value then hidden away in a vault to accrue more value depending on reputation and  market conditions - this is a moribund format , an old model for old times .

What then replaces it ? 
My second point - in 2017 we find ourselves in a very different place , the internet has become in some sense a leveler - the price of access is the same , every one who has access can play , we discuss sometimes in our groups what hardware do you need to make what we make , well most of my hardware is second hand , coming to me broken and out of date , you don't need up to date all singing photo-shopping hi ram hi spec apple , the price of play is connection only , software is free ( open source won't cost you a  penny ) the laptop I'm writing this on was bought from a local second hand market for a tenner - nothing drops in price faster than technology you are told is outdated ( but that's another rant )  the operating system downloaded and written to a USB stick . The memory, processor, hard drive and psu pulled from a laptop a friend found abandoned at the local dump - the cost of admission is knowledge and the willingness to play if you use the technology you must learn how it works . As glitch becomes more seen and more available ( a network of infinite connections expanding ) I start to see where the new gallery is , its here , and I know what its currency is , Reputation , likes and novelty - it may not last longer than your flicking through it , but its there - a new aesthetic that any one can make - it does not exist within gallery terms or career terms , I suppose eventually the establishment will catch up with us , already advertising , that whore of a profession has started to co-opt its language and appearance but not its purpose - you can create the art of the future with the tools of the past - throw away your mac pros boys and gals and get down to the junk shop - the bots are going to take your jobs anyway .

postscript -

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