In his excellent article of last year, Miles Klee reviewed the varied history and influences of the glitch art movement.
Perhaps beginning with the absurdist Dada art movement of the early 20th century, glitch has always been about subversion and deconstruction – essentially anarchy. The word itself, Klee believes, comes from the Yiddish words for slippage.
With the onset of the digital age, the new breed of artists have adapted this ideology with glee, taking pleasure in playing with the pixelated slurs and mistakes (in much the same way guitarists used the warm fuzz sound created by the old valve amplifiers).
Sao Paulo-born photographer Sabato Visconti is an excellent example of a modern day artist who embraces this ethos. He describes his work as seeking “to deconstruct mainstream notions of beauty and nostalgia while pushing the limits of what defines photography in our day and age”. This is evident from his stunning pieces in which traditional portraits appear to collide with sharp geometric shapes and pixel drop-outs.
There is something captivating about the contrast. It plays with our engagement with imagery, like tearing down a painting to reveal the bare frame behind it.
Sabato's work has been featured in publications like WIRED and PetaPixel, and shown internationally in galleries including the Tate Britain and LACDA. So we were thrilled when he accepted our interview request and also agreed to submit a Gif for our digital showcase YouTube channel.
How would you describe glitch art and what stirred your interest in it?
Glitch art describes a set of materialist approaches to creating art using digital media. Glitch art practices aren’t always glitchy in the sense that they rely on software or hardware error, but they do all operate on the material properties of digital media: byte orders, pixels, compression, vertex coordinates, algorithms, software bugs, memory caches, neural networks, and so forth.
My interest in glitch was sparked in 2011 by a friend’s CF memory card that would randomly write zeroes on JPEG files. It inspired me to learn how mess with an image file’s source code and once I saw the results, I was immediately hooked. At the time, I was working a lot of commercial photography gigs, so glitch art became a kind of artistic antidote to the digital workflow expected in commercial productions.
What are the main themes running through your work?
On a basic level, you can see my work as a series of process studies examining particular techniques, such as glitching bitmap images with an audio editor, or running a series of pixel sorting scripts, or turning photographs into 3D objects.
But on another level, since I mostly work from my own photo and video sources, my work explores broader themes like the fragility of memory, the loss of innocence, the inevitability of death and heartbreak. My work also seeks to deconstruct mainstream notions of beauty and nostalgia while pushing the limits of what defines photography in our day and age.
What programs or tools do you work with?
There are many tools one can use, a lot of which are free. You can pretty much databend (manipulate the source code) of any digital media file with either a hexadecimal code editor (like Frhed or 010 Editor), a waveform audio editor like Audacity, and a good text editor like Notepad++. Then there are tools like Ffmpeg and XnView which allow you to encode and decode a huge variety of obscure file formats.
In terms of pixel sorting scripts, I like using Dmitriy Krotevich’s Pixel Drifter and Kim Asendorf’s ASDF Pixel Sort. For 3D modeling applications, I use Blender and Cinema4D. The Processing software sketchbook is very useful for creative coding applications. I use Adobe Photoshop 6.0, the really old version, for cachemashing glitches. This may seem like a long list, but I’m probably skipping something here.
How do you approach creating short looping visuals (as in the Gif format)?
I feel that Gifs often don't get the respect they deserve. Making an animated Gif requires a specific kind of artistry because you're working within a very short periods of time, so you approach the rhythm and pacing differently than you would if you were editing a video. You start thinking on a smaller scale, more like an animator. Working from video sources becomes trickier because video frames are much harder to control to the point that they loop around perfectly. My approach with making Gifs out of glitched videos is to look for subtle movements and gestures, then to see if those moments work in a looping animation. There’s a lot of trial and error.
Do you think people are still coming to terms with digital art? Or is it now well established in art circles?
Although digital art continues to grow in prominence, there is still a good deal of resistance within traditional art circles, which have a long history of being conservative. From my personal experience, I’ve had more success when I present my glitch photography as “digital art” rather than as “photography.” It sounds strange, considering how digital workflows have been the standard for working photographers for quite some time now.
With digital art does the art gallery itself have to adapt?
Absolutely. Digital art is surprisingly hard to commodify compared to a Picasso painting or a Banksy piece. Part of the reason is because digital art is easy to distribute and free to access. There isn’t that mystical aura of walking along marble corridors to encounter a physical canvas painted in the late 19th century. What does it mean to own an animated Gif the way one owns a Klimt? Is that even possible? Galleries are going to have to adapt to a landscape where physical iterations of digital art becomes secondary.
What do you think are the future possibilities for digital art?
I’m more excited for the unexpected developments in digital art. I think virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing are some new frontiers that are just now being explored and will continue to develop in the coming years.
In what direction do you plan to take your own work?
It’s hard to say for certain, because I’m always learning new techniques and approaches. But in general, I’ve been working more with video and 3D animation. I see it all as a building process towards being able to realize larger and more ambitious work that can resonate socially and politically.