Phillip Stearn.

“Genius is the error in the system.” Paul Klee

The first glitch was the origin of something from nothing, the glitch in the void. Merriam Webster defines a glitch as a “usually minor malfunction” or a “false or spurious electronic signal.” We experience the mundane glitch as a refusal on the part of the mobile phone to do what one has requested via the touch of the screen or button, the slow load or the broken internet connection, the javascript gone haywire, the digital camera that adds “filters” of its own to your photographs. The glitch is the tracking error in the VCR, the skip in the CD, that moment of frozen pixels in the video, the dropped call.

Carl Diehl’s “Glitch Studies,” a group exhibition at galleryHOMELAND, addresses the productivity of the contemporary glitch, the hiccup or malfunction in the machine. This notion of the glitch as productive rather than obstructive (or simply annoying) goes back a couple of thousand years before the digital as the analog clinamen, the minimal swerve of the descending atom, identified by Lucretius in Book Two of his De rerum natura.

When atoms move straight down through the void by their own weight, they deflect a bit in space at a quite uncertain time and in uncertain places, just enough that you could say that their motion has changed. But if they were not in the habit of swerving, they would all fall straight down through the depths of the void, like drops of rain, and no collision would occur, nor would any blow be produced among the atoms. In that case, nature would never have produced anything.

It is the generative error…where we might also locate the font of creativity. My young son asked me last night how one could have first conceived of a complex card game he plays in which all the players have completely different decks, or who could have thought of internet on your telephone? At the time I was reading Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery on Lucretius and the clinamen in Imagining Language. Synchronicity. Every brainstorm, every brilliant idea, everything avant the garde originated in the mental clinamen.

This indeterminacy, this habit of swerving at unpredictable times (with possible resultant collisions with other atoms) according to Lucretius, provides the, “free will which living things throughout the world have.”

But if atoms make up objects both living and inanimate, could it not be said of the inanimate that it too might exhibit free will? What if the glitch is evidence of machine subjectivity, machine will shimmering through the veneer of the well-tempered, well-functioning machine (which is to say the kind of machine we don’t notice at all but fully take for granted)? It is only, is it not, when we have to give the television a good whack on the top to settle it down, or turn off the mobile phone or the printer and turn it back on again to rein it in, that we notice the possibly errant and not just erring machine.

The works in “Glitch Studies” that are the most compelling are those that attempt to get at or permit the subjective will of the machine. Of course, this is my own conceit. I don’t pretend that the machine has been permitted to do as it would; I’m aware that there is still a human artist here manipulating the machine. But why not assume the best of intentions on the part of the artists, imagining that they see themselves as facilitators, conduits, or mediums for the machine will/voice.

So when Phillip Stearn delves into the innards of his Kodak DC camera, providing non-optical inputs to the mechanism that is accustomed to translating the analog (light) into the digital (photo), he may be suggesting that without all that light flooding into its innards, the camera might have some other images in mind to produce. Of course, he may be playing it like a violin — substituting math for light — but the results are beautiful: lush abstract images where vibrant color swoops and dips across the frame. It is what I imagine a camera might want to say, given the chance.

Missy Canez’ Moon Walker embraces the failures of the monitor to display the picture, with dark vertical bands, bright static, and unintentional interventions of color obscuring the image while creating the Image, a sci-fi abstraction of…is it the Man on the Moon?

LoVid’s works in the show are small digital collages that are then cut, stitched, patched together, as if to point to the intersection between the digitally made and the handmade. In the context of the show I take them as a point of struggle between the human operator and the digital will, although I’m reading in, I know.

Finally, what if the machine is perfect all by itself? What if the human interacting with it causes the glitch? (Garbage in, garbage out, right?) Stephanie Simek and Robby Kraft incorporate the human as glitch into Laser Trip, a web of lasers criss-croassing the gallery’s main space. Each of the lasers, when broken, triggers the striking (and sounding) of a glass marimba key. And who is doing the breaking? You and I, of course, as we move through the space, making you and me and everyone we know the glitch.

One could look at work like Stearn’s or Cannez’ as a séance of sorts, channeling the ghost in the machine. And I think this is what Diehl’s getting at, only a little tongue-in-cheekily with the neologism he coined on another occasion, paramedia, of which phenomena the glitch might be a subset.

Glitch Studies, curated by Carl Diehl, is part of BODY OF KNOWLEDGE, a series of three exhibitions presented by Research Club at galleryHOMELAND.