by Manu SharmaSep 17, 2021
The wider glitch art movement has emerged out of two broad desires: the first is to interrogate, test and stretch unto breaking point of the hardware and software capabilities of modern systems, and, through this process, to create artistic artefacts that subvert many notions of ‘good’ or ‘high’ art. The second aim is more philosophical in nature, perhaps, even epistemological, and involves how we regard the concept of an error. Does an error need to be random in its incidence? Does its incidence, in turn, necessarily relegate a process after the fact? Such topics of discussion find various voices and opinions within the community of artists and commentators who commit themselves to disentangling the minutiae of this movement, and one among them is Thomas Collet, who combines such lines of inquiry through his vivid, tapestry-like glitch arts practice.
Born in Brest, France, in 1995, Collet just finished his Masters in Contemporary Art Drawing in September of last year at La Cambre, Brussels, but has been exploring digital art in a broader sense since he was 20. He tells STIR, “I have always been really curious about the way things work, whether they are physical or digital. Therefore, as soon as I began studying video work, I also studied video compression for months to understand what was happening behind the screen. I wanted to know how it was possible to encode any kind of movement by using only zeros and ones.” Collet uses various digital techniques to pursue his artistry, and happily admits he is still quite taken aback by their capabilities. Currently he uses Python scripts to alter the manner in which videos are encoded; a method that gives him unparalleled control over his craft. Referencing the aforementioned questions that underline glitch practice, Collet adds further, “This way of using glitch brings me to a real contradiction that I am currently dealing with: how is it that an error can be so precise and intentional? In other words, do I still make errors or have I become the craftsman of a new technique?” In a sense, he is questioning the validity of the very term “glitch”, as it is used to describe the kind of art we are dealing with. Collet asks us if systems as precise as the ones we use, when used to generate errors with a degree of precision that we control, are really creating errors at all?
Interestingly, the artist does not entirely buy into the notion that present technological instruments are infallible. In fact, there is a certain sensitivity to his approach, which centres around the manner in which he treats digital processes as an extension of hardware that we know to be capable of wear and tear, and prone to manifesting the evocative errors that time causes. Collet tells STIR, “We all have a particular sensitivity for technological artefacts, whether it be nostalgia for old vinyls, hearing their crackling noise while playing, the dust parasitizing an old film reel or even the damaged colours of a VHS.” He continues, highlighting that many people tend to believe that technology today is flawless and flat, and wholly dispossessed of its own tastes in terms of materiality. This notion is only strengthened by the fact that we can even use digital techniques to correct the flaws in older pieces of media that were created using software or hardware that is viewed as defunct or obsolete. However, as Collet believes, it is the glitch practitioner’s knack for revealing hidden artefacts and celebrating the fragilities of these technologies that may show us differently. Considering his perspective, it would be very valuable to explore Collet’s use of hardware, however the work he creates digitally is still quite distinct and enjoyable. His artistry brims with a life that seems to transcend what we believe to be the spirit bestowed upon imagery and videos created on modern systems. The artist’s work is often a swirling, entropic mass of colour and barely recognisable forms; so far removed from their original contexts, one may only engage with them as they have been rendered: abstract and alive.
Continuing with the notion of entropy, Collet, whose father is a physicist, understands it as the second law of thermodynamics, to mean that “…we live in a chaotic world where continuity is an illusion.” The artist regards his creative raison d’etre as being a focus on finding a balance between creation and destruction. He says, “In a way my duty as an artist is to show the fragility of the medium, I use in every creation I make. By that, I mean exhibiting what's behind interfaces and revealing their most intimate versions, by showing these precious artefacts. Glitch artists can create a new aesthetic by deconstructing formats and questioning these ever-growing technologies. This hole on the screen is actually a way to partially close the gap between users and the numerous layers that computer science added on its own.” Eloquently, the artist describes the overarching goal of the glitch movement as being to “break through the screen”.
It is always a fascinating proposition to read an artist describe his creative goals, yet Collet goes further than most glitch practitioners in this regard, carefully and eloquently outlining his raison d’etre for us. This is undoubtedly a symptom of a larger, more structured approach to what is ironically seen as a chaotic, unstructured arts practice. It will be interesting to engage with many such voices from the glitch arts movement, but for now, we have the views of a handful of practitioners such as Collet to stir our imaginations. The artist himself seems to look back wistfully at collaborative opportunities, telling STIR, “My work has been exhibited around the world, but mainly in Europe, sometimes in festivals or in contemporary art spaces. I would really enjoy a huge exhibition with other glitch artists again, but it hasn’t happened since 2018 at Bluex//80 in Paris.” Through our engagement with Collet’s work, let us ponder what individual and group perspectives will emerge within the glitch arts movement in the coming years, and whether the broader goals of the wider collective will shift, mutate or perhaps even remain static. Let us think of the voices and minds that will lead and innovate relevant techniques, and of course, let us always think of the wonderful art they will produce.