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Interview with Rosa Menkman, Dutch Visualist

29 June 2010 by


Rosa Menkman is a Dutch filmmaker and artist; Rosa is a trailblazer in the glitch video scene. Rosa experiments with video compression, feedback, glitches, and other forms of noise to create visuals unique to the realm of digital media.

Most discern visual glitches — i.e. buzzing lines on interlaced video, video lag, digital blocks, particles, and pixelation  — as a detriment to video aesthetics. Rosa, however, embraces these glitch-bits, and contrives them in her work, which is multivalent, and may be described as subversive fidelity, technicolor, synthetic yet organic, and at times, raucous.

Rosa has shown her work at Blip (Europe and US), Haip (Ljubljana 08), Cimatics (Brussels 08/09), Video Vortex (Amsterdam ’08 + Brussels ’09), Pasofest (Ankara 08), and collaborated on art projects together with Alexander Galloway, little-scale, Govcom.org, Goto80, and the internet art collective Jodi.org.

Rosa has written many words on glitch, including manifesto on glitch, which you can download in .pdf format here. In 2009, Rosa completed her master thesis on digital glitch under the supervision of Geert Lovink.


Dear mister Compression from Rosa Menkman on Vimeo.

1) Please tell us about the glitch genre. What is glitch video and why should someone watch a glitched video?

Glitches are the uncanny, brutal structures that come to the surface during a break of the flow within a technology; they are the primal data-screams of the machine. In the digital these utterances often take form following the “vernacular of file formats” (the encoded organizations of data). A file format signifies what protocols (formal descriptions and semantic rules) are used to structure or encode the information. Many different file formats exist, for different forms of information and every one of these formats possesses its own encoding structures, which can be understood as a grammar or idiom. When this idiom is broken, for instance by a glitch or a wrong encoding, the data in its basic/primal structures of encoding comes to the surface. Visually glitches show themselves through organizational structures like rasters, grids, blocks, points, interlacing vectors and frames and therefore often look complex, repetitive, discolored, fragmented and flickering.

Glitch art is a practice that studies and researches the vernacular of file formats in exploitative manners to deconstruct and create new, brutalist (audio)visual works. However, glitch artists often go beyond this formal approach; they realize that the glitch does not exists without human perception and therefore have a more inclusive approach to digital material.
The materiality of glitch art is constantly mutating; it exists as an unstable assemblage that relies on the one hand the construction, operation and content of the apparatus (the medium) and on the other hand the work, the writer/artist, and the interpretation by the reader and/or user (the meaning). Thus, the materiality of the glitch art is not (just) the digital material that follows the vernacular of file formats, nor the machine it appears upon, but a constantly changing construct that depends on the interactions between text, social, esthetical, political and economic dynamics and the point of view from which the different actors make meaning.
Digital artists exploit their digital materials thus also metaphorically or critically (showing the medium in a critical state or criticizing the medium and its inherent norms) and not just formally.

I think it is an interesting choice of you to use the words “glitch genre” – more and more people are indeed referring to glitch art as a genre. But I also think it is kind of a problematic choice of words. In the coming month there will be a conference about “noise art”. Jon Cates (a teacher at SAIC [The School of the Art Institute of Chicago], Chicago and opinionated contender within the glitch scene) asked me what I thought about this just last weekend, and now when you ask me this similar question I could give you almost the same answer. This kind of genre-fication (Gentrification?) is in my opinion a contradiction interminis: noise and glitches are (often) about breaking or pushing boundaries and relaying the membranes of what is socially accepted as categories or genre. Noise and glitch “categories” are thus in a constant state of flux and pinpointing them down as a genre feels like an act that defies their inherent nature.
However, as more and more people are starting to use the term “glitch genre”, I think it has become apparent that the question of what constitutes a genre, and how a genre should be studied needs to be included in Glitch Studies. Also, in the case of a “glitch genre”, I think there is a need to research the process of stylization of glitch – the point where the formal creation of glitches are not unknown, new utterances but are becoming stabilized, new commodities and even filters.
This kind of study involves more then just a vernacular of file formats or a research into technology but also includes culture, individuals, politics and the history of the technology.

But I still wonder if there is really anything consistent within the glitch art “genre”. If so, then I think it is the critical use of error, perceived or non perceived, real or designed. And I think when I watch a glitched video, or any other glitch work, this is what I find most interesting to look for: what critical elements play a role in the work – does the work criticize something, or does it show the technology in a critical state?

staircase to nowhere

2) Your inspiration: who, what, where, when, and why.

One important moment in my personal glitch-history is when I visited the exhibition “World Wide Wrong” by the art collective Jodi (Amsterdam, NIMK, 2005). This is where I had my “paradigm-shifting” encounter with glitch art – although I did not realize it at the time. The exhibition touched me, even though I didn’t understand it at all – I went home sort of shattered and confused.
What I learned when I came home and took some space to think, was that the digital world of the moving, audiovisual imagery did not just exist out of images striving for perfection, but that there is also a space for unknown, unaccepted or plainly wrong possibilities – which was a revelation to me – (I knew about the videoart from the 70s, but never thought about a digital counterpart). I used to perceive breaks within digital transmissions as annoying, or even scary, but now I suddenly saw that the glitch can also be understood as a special event. This discovery created a lot of questions, like “what is a glitch?” and “what is glitch art?”, which inspired me to write my master thesis about Jodi, a research that that I later also continued in formally driven, practical work.

While I used to be a commercial photographer, focussing on how to make the best framing and technically perfect photo, now I didn’t need to be perfect anymore. A catharsis of broken, creative energy challenged me to map and explore new possibilities. In my first explorations of the broken image I just saw ruins of lost meaning. After a while I found more than just damage, ravage and chaos; I saw a not yet existing aesthetics and beauty. Lately I am moving away from just formal experimenting and am trying to tell stories about beauty through collapse, tipping points and the tragedy of lost, ‘just not good enough’ signals of obsolete technologies.

I realize now that the constant search for complete transparency, or perfect transmissions brings ‘newer’, ‘better’ media. Yet, still every one of these new and improved techniques have their own fingerprints of imperfection. While most people experience these fingerprints as negative (and sometimes even as accidents), I can emphasize their positive consequences, by showing the new opportunities they facilitate.
These breaking points in development intrigue me; the tipping points of failure give space and perspectives for changes that go further then just the creation of new forms. Renovations and new forms have a deeper potential in which artistic opportunities, technical knowledge, social norms and academic research can come together. This is what I call Glitch Studies; a study into other forms and other possibilities that are not yet accepted.

Broken Heart

3) Your videos are leavened by the process of video compression. Describe your process of glitching and how you wish to refine your process (and please tell how you use the animated .gif in your work).

Video compression is a very important part of the vernacular of file formats. Every compression follows another encoding; a different syntax, dialect or language. Even developers cannot learn all these different ‘slangs’ by heart – they can only understand or recognize certain parts or tropes.
This is why different glitch-works have a very different material feel. For instance, when I use the animated gif in Radio Dada, the transcoding from one compression to another (.avi to .mov to .avi to .mov to .gif) resulted into some very specific ‘slang’ traces, like interlacing and dropped avi-pixels. I also often exploit the .gif interlacing when I databend this image format, because I really like the aesthetics of the file formats interlacing that come to the surface.

My process of glitching is not always the same, however I do sometimes give in to the relaxation of habits – I have to admit glitching has also become some kind of relaxing/catharsis-activity to me. For instance, the playing with different file formats and encoding and decoding can be done via some very standard trial and error scheme.
The question of refinement is interesting too, indeed I do not want to get stuck in an only formal investigation of the vernacular of file formats. This is why I am happy I also contextualize what I make through my Glitch Studies and lately moved into telling “stories” or embedding some kind of “narrative” within my audiovisual work.

Rosa Menkman

3) How does glitch video tell a story?

It really depends on the kind of video. A new work of mine, “The Collapse of PAL” is an example of how I try to tell a story through the use of glitches.
I developed The Collapse of PAL on request by SOUND & TELEVISION (in Copenhagen, Denmark). SOUND & TELEVISION is a transmission art project that explores the performativity of television in light of the challenges brought about by a converging mediascape. Signal, noise, liveness and flow along with standardized production formats are all aspects of the television medium which are reshaped in digital, networked media. Rather than a stream-lined sound-image of digital convergence, SOUND & TELEVISION strives to act as a springboard for an aesthetic “media-clash” reflecting on the political-aesthetic of old and new media forms.

SOUND & TELEVISION invited me to work with the materiality of audiovisual flows to realize a performance exploring the performativity of television. In this performance, the “transmission” itself became part of the artwork. The performance reflects on different significant aspects of the changing conditions of broadcasting. In the new DVB-T (digital terrestrial television) environment, the very transmission format of TV has changed, from symmetric analog to asymmetric data flows, encoded in the MPEG format and decoded through software implemented in everything from flat-screen TV’s, set-top-boxes and PC’s. “The cracking of LCD screens” …all is not smooth in this world of digitally compressed TV.

In “The Collapse of PAL” (Eulogy, Obsequies and Requiem for the planes of blue phosphor), the Angel of History (as described by Walter Benjamin) reflects on the PAL signal and its termination. She concludes that in the end, the signal still exists as a trace left upon the newer “better” technologies. PAL can, even though the technology is terminated, be found in these newer encodings, as a historical form that newer technologies inherited and appropriated. Finally, the Angel also realizes that the new DVB signal, that has been chosen over PAL, is differently, yet also flawed.

The Collapse of PAL (1. Eulogy, 2. Obsequies and 3. Requiem for the blue plains of phosphor), as performed at TV-TV on the 25th of May 2010, Copenhagen, is based on analogue PAL video, compressions, glitches and feedback artifacts and is complimented with (obsolete) soundscapes that come from both analogue and digital media.
For the video-part I used a NES, some image bending, a broken photo camera (CCD chip is loose), digital compression artifacts and video bending artifacts (DV, interlacing, datamoshing and black bursts) and feedback. For the sound I used a cracklebox, feedback, a telephone eurosignal, morsecode an old Casio keyboard, feedback filters and a couple of DV-compressed video soundbends.

glitch studies manifesto Live ft Goto80

4) What are your thoughts on film festivals, the film festival circuit, and how does glitch video fit into the aforementioned? What art scenes, festivals, communities and suchlike, are most receptive to the glitch genre?

I have not had an art education, but instead studied in the University (in Netherlands there is still a strict difference between practical and theoretical schooling). I used to think this could be a good thing, because it allowed me to develop my own artistic norms, styles and working methods, but lately I have been experiencing the drawback of this very heavily. Many art based-institutions and funding opportunities don’t accept my work, solely for the formal reason of having an art school education.
Right now I am doing an unpaid practical PHD at the KHM in Cologne, Germany, but the place of my practical work is still very insecure; it will not be challenged or judged in my final PHD work and as such still does not really count, or has a defined place.

Because my work is interwoven between theory and practice, I can show it in academic conferences, symposia, festivals or in the disco – and when this works out well, the different forms of appreciation are very interesting. What is most interesting however, is that within the academic world (at conferences and symposia), I am the one who has to pay to take part, publish and attend, whereas in art-festivals, where I sometimes give payed workshops, gigs or lectures, – it is such a different reflection from the formal criteria by which the funding institutions judge me.
This definitely proves the fact that Glitch Studies and glitch art are still not incorporated in any of the institutionalized paradigms, but still operates between the cracks of different institutions and circuits. I realize that I am lucky that I get some opportunities, but working in this rigid academic and art climate is a struggle.

5) Seemingly a glitch artist has to spend many hours in front of the computer to be creatively productive and to carry a fecund spell. How much time do you spend with the computer; how does the computer help and hurt creativity?

My computer sleeps when I sleep, we have a very committed relationship.
Although my computer is my medium of choice, I don’t feel stuck in this medium. I also use many other, analogue media. But even when I make my work completely analogous, I still often digitize (photograph or scan) it, so I can also show on the internet (through for instance flickr).
As a material the computer of course has its limitations, like any other kind other canvas or material. I think that glitch art plays with the concept of limitations and tries to push them forward, so I don’t feel like these limitations hurt my creativity; I feel like they help me and make me more aware of my material and its potentials.

6) Internet video exhibition and distribution: viewers are under no obligation to watch an entire piece, beginning to end. Right now, everyone reading this holds the power of the mouse — and unlike the theatre, we can click away at any time. For the filmmaker/visualist, does uploading an entire piece weaken its eminence, or make it any less noteworthy?

I never really bother to see if anybody watches my videos from beginning to end. My videos are only a particular part of my personal, larger work, my Glitch Studies, in which my theory and practice come together. The videos can stand on their own, but also function as an illustration of a possibility, or concept within Glitch Studies.
The Collapse of PAL was an audiovisual performance, of which I made a render for the web. To me, there is a big difference in doing the piece live and then rendering it for the web, I am still searching to find a way to translate one to the other better (this is why I did not upload the ‘final’ render yet. However, I don’t feel like the two undermine each other.
I think that when an online or live work captures the interest of an audience at first, than I would like to offer them the possibility to take a step back and see the context of the work, which is my Glitch Studies. Glitch Studies is however complex and still growing larger, so I think it is only natural for people to click away at some point.

7) When you hear the word “DINCA”, what is the first animal you think of?
Lastly, what is your favorite beverage?

10 minutes ago a “Eurasian Jay” flew into the window. I will dedicate this one to the poor bird, may god rest his soul.
My favorite beverage is a cocktail: 2 sips of nirvana, a pinch of emotional memories and a gallon of self deception topped of some self-serving bias.

More:

Rosa Menkman Website

Rosa Menkman on Vimeo

Rosa Menkman on Flickr

The Glitch Studies Manifesto

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