Glitch artist Visakh Menon and the aesthetics of failure

An Indian artist currently based in New York, Visakh Menon discusses his craft and its exploration that revolves around error.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Jun 08, 2021

Glitch art is a creative genre that clubs together a vast variety of techniques used to distort, damage or otherwise manipulate data in order to produce results that are largely subversive and transformative. Its practitioners often apply multiple techniques, both software and hardware related, in their explorations, and have manifested a rich history of doing so in order to materialise various socio-political ideals through their craft. The same may not be said for Kochi-born Visakh Menon, who also utilises software and hardware, often combining them through an abstract drawing and painting practice. However, seen from a predominantly exploratory perspective, his work may very will sit near the front of glitch art practices as they are currently being pursued. Menon spent most of his youth in India, where he committed himself to both, an undergraduate and graduate degree in graphic design.

He tells STIR, “I started out in advertising as a designer, and continue to work as an art director, designer, and design educator”. However, this does little to shed light on his captivating glitch arts practice, which seems to have really picked up post-2007, when he moved to New York, and found himself within a welcoming community of artists along with acquiring access to his own studio. Discussing his work since then, Menon says, “I also started showing my work, something I had never done before while I lived and worked back home in India. My current series of abstract drawings and paintings focus on the visual language of digital artefacts and the aesthetics of glitch, error and noise”.

01 min watch Menon on the job | Visakh Menon | STIRworld
Visakh Menon on the job Video: Visakh Menon

To deviate slightly from a discussion centring around Menon’s practice, it is very telling that he did not encounter the infrastructure necessary to manifest his creative vision in India. Perhaps it is an uncomfortable prospect, but no doubt one worth considering: do older and richer creative cultures beget a greater degree of resistance to transformation? Regardless, this has not stopped Menon from drawing inspiration from Indian artists, as he mentions among his foremost inspirations Nasreen Mohamedi. It is easy to draw parallels between Menon and the Karachi-born abstract artist who achieved great renown during the pre-independence period of Indian history. Mohamedi’s line work captured, rather impeccably, the spirit of various forms and structures of both historical and progressive importance, and while this is not necessarily the same principal ethos Menon’s work is grounded within, he too seems to pursue the same level of precision and detail within his drawings, transforming entities to datasets and representing them visually.

A piece from Menon’s interference series | Visakh Menon | STIRworld
A piece from Menon’s interference series Image: Visakh Menon

Menon articulates his approach to glitch as such, “I am interested in the collapse of expectation; what happens when the expected process starts to dysfunction, specifically within human machine interaction. Hardware errors in graphic cards, ROM corruption in games, broken LCD displays, JPG artefacts etc. often lead to unexpected visuals that cannot be planned or controlled; this is the space I like to frame my work within conceptually”. To sum up his practice, he evokes the idea of “aesthetics of failure”; certainly, a preoccupation of many artists such as him. Glitch art can function not merely as a manifestation, but also as a veneration of the broken or damaged, and in this way, generates a very different aesthetic discourse than that which has generally centred around art for time immemorial. Currently, Menon is working on what he has dubbed his “interference” series, which sees him begin by generating digital images.

He says, “I focus on processes of glitching and exploiting data errors using custom programs, and brute force methods of destroying and manipulating image data. This iterative act is driven by chance as I have very little control on the output, and the various methods and programs yield surprising results”. However, this point, being where many glitch artists call it a day, is merely the beginning for Menon, after which he moves on to sketching these glitch constructs, but also modifying them as he works. This aspect of his practice is precisely what echoes a piece of Mohamedi in it, and yields some fascinating end results. He says, “Compositionally these works are inspired by geometric abstraction and colour field paintings, and are driven by the notion of repetitive mark making as an act of meditation. The algorithmic aesthetics of these works pushes into focus both the functional (generative) and dysfunctional (glitch) nature of code as a tool for expression”.

Untitled | Visakh Menon | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Visakh Menon

Discussing the future of the glitch medium, Menon is unsure of the direction it will take. He explains, “I am not sure in the larger sense as glitch art has been around for a long time now”. He goes on to add some criticism of the current glitch scene, which parties such as he often feels is being steadily co-opted by pro-establishment agencies, or has become so aesthetically oversaturated, that its value as a subversive tool is being diluted. However, he does not attempt to disentangle these narratives, instead choosing to focus on what feels like the emerging simulacrum of glitch techniques. He says, “There is a lot of glitch art online right now that is basically driven by apps and programs creating a simulation of glitch as filters; this I think will change over time. Few artists I have seen are exploring the native hardware errors and manipulation / corruption of visual data, which I think is way more interesting. As new mediums like VR/AR/MR become more commonplace we might start to see new glitch art situated within those technologies”.

Untitled | Visakh Menon | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Visakh Menon

As the digital medium continues to develop, both logistically and philosophically, it will be crucial to look out for artists such as Menon who traverse its outer extents without wholly separating it from more traditional processes. It is perhaps here that the salient value in each of these two halves will at once shine, as well as merge and become a new whole. At the same time, glitch itself remains a fascinating medium for fledgling practitioners as well as hobbyists to dip their toes in, however it is critical that it continues to offer a subversive vision of visual language, and not instead become consumed by dominant aesthetic sensibilities.

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