The online editorial and curatorial project for systems, non-objective and reductive artists working in the UK

Website: Chestnuts Design

Interview with Antonio Roberts by Laura Davidson

May 2015

©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock  All rights reserved.

LD   Antonio, as someone who engages with computational algorithms in your practice, how would you define the generative?

AR    I define generative as something e.g. a script, which has variables which change when user-defined conditions are met. In creative coding this usually means that a piece of art grows over time, but this isn’t always so. For example, glitch art is a destructive process in which something is gradually broken down.

For my generative art I try to create systems where the art can potentially have infinite iterations, with each iteration having some noticeably different and aesthetically pleasing output.

LD    What would be an example of an infinite iteration in your practice? Additionally, within the context of creative coding, can iterations be picked up by others e.g. the sharing of code / open source?

AR    An older example of mine that would fit this would definitely be the: I Am Sitting in a Room piece from 2010. The video itself documents what happens when a font file is glitched repeatedly. The decision to make the video only one minute long was based on the fact that most of the frames in the video after that point would just be completely black and uninteresting.

VOID (2014) was a similar situation. The script which made it could produce these glitches indefinitely, but after a time it would become nothing but noise, and be too far removed from its original image.

Open sourcing of my code is an important way for me to ensure that iterations can grow. Most commonly I see people porting my code to other languages. For example, the program I made to make jpgs in Pure Data was ported by others to SuperCollider and Processing, and David Schaffer built on it even further in Pure Data.

Interpretations of Reality (2010)

jpg Compression Pattern Generator

LD    Do you always know the cause of the glitch / noise? Are there particular properties of an initial file you wish to manipulate?

AR    The cause of the apparent glitch in digital images lies in the relationship between the file itself and the program opening it. Although a glitch image (e.g. a glitched jpg) will look broken to us, the program is just rendering it in the way that it thinks it should. How it renders it will depend on the program. For example, programs like Irfanview and GIMP are popular because they at least attempt to render ‘broken’ images. Some are stricter, and expect cleaner files.

When I glitch a file I'm generally wanting to add noise to the image. What this noise is will change depending on the input. So, for text I might want to jumble the words or add random ascii characters in different places; for audio files I might want to reduce the quality or do something akin to making a vinyl record skip, and for images I'll want to find a way to introduce the digital equivalent of light leaks or film scratches. I still always want the essence of the original input to be present in the glitched output.

LD    So what is usually the inspiration for your starting image?

AR    There’s actually only been a few projects where I’ve used an input image. For What is your glitch? 1bitgifavibmpbmpcmykbmprgbjpgmpgpcxpixpngppmsgisvgtgawebp (2011) I just loved the clip from the 1994 movie, Reality Bites. Ben Stiller uses ‘glitch’ to mean ‘problem’; a classic example of how people perceive glitches. I wanted to reinterpret it as: “what is your favourite style/aesthetic of glitch?” hence re-using it, but with different file format glitches.

Interpretations of Reality (2010) was made in my early days of glitch art. I wanted to do as much as I could with just a black pixel on a white background. In a similar way to Nick Briz’s Black Compressed (2009), glitching this simple image reveals that it’s made up of lots of colours, shapes and data.

For other projects, especially research projects, I try to use very simple images. I like using pictures of landscapes, such as the Windows XP background, as they have few shapes and lots of contrasting colours that usually glitch in different ways.   

Unstable Mediums (2015)

LD    You’ve made a shift from glitch art to developing work investigating remix culture (also see above work) - how did that progression happen? And does this relate to the algorithmic / generative?

AR: This has always been present in my work, although not the main focus. Ever since I was introduced to open source software back in the early 2000s I was interested in this free culture movement. I liked how it challenges almost everything that was drilled into me in school.

For example, whether explicitly or not, we’re taught that only originality is important. However, everything is a remix. With so many images and sounds being presented to us on the streets, on our screens, in our schools and on the radio, how are we to avoid some of these things being naturally morphed and reworked into a new art work? It’s absurd to think that anyone or anything can be truly original, or that an artwork should be blocked or restricted because it is not original or because it bears resemblance to another art work.

Although not directly related to generative and algorithmic art, one way to approach the idea of originality is by creating scripts that take a variety of sources - music, images, text - and create unique artwork from those. I want to argue that given the same tools and sources, a person or computer will create wildly different things.  Letting people be influenced by your artwork should be allowed, not prohibited. There is little danger of plagiarism.

The way I challenge this status quo is by being an example of what can be achieved using open source software, and showing that being a professional doesn't mean using proprietary software and methods. For example, the much-used databending in Audacity tutorial that I wrote in 2009 came about because the only other documented method of databending was to rely on Adobe Audition.

By writing this tutorial in databending using Audacity I’ve helped open the door to many people to explore glitch art. People have since rewritten, reinterpreted and remixed this tutorial, which I actively encourage. Going further down the line, I felt that educating people about art, culture and the way it is changing was more important to me than focusing just on the tangible, finished artistic output.

LD   Who are the practitioners that influence you?

AR   Nick Briz is definitely an influence. I like the way he questions every system and protocol that affects him and puts his words into action. For example, despite being a Mac user he always questions Mac practices, as shown in the Apple Computers video. He even quite publicly went mostly off the social media grid by deleting his Facebook account in style. Few people I know are able to speak so eloquently about important issues.

LD   Finally, what are you currently working on?

AR   My main focus for now is to finish off my residency at the University of Birmingham in September and prepare for my solo show at Birmingham Open Media in October. Both are focusing on remix culture, copyright and digital art.

To view more of Antonio Robert’s work: / / / @hellocatfood

The direction of this interview moves the editorial from painting to the screen. Networked practices, in this context meaning practices that are native to the internet, are eternally embedded within systems. In particular, computer programming and ‘the digital’ afford the possibility to work within set parameters and variables using vast amounts of data (material). Within networked practices glitch is described as “an unexpected occurrence, unintended result, or break or disruption in a system” (Menkman, 2011). Despite the anarchic description,glitch comes into being on the screen through the use of software and creative programming, often generated within the parameters of found digital image or sound files,. The resultant aesthetic in glitch shows ‘disruption in a system’ often as choreographed geometries, and thus here is where relationships with the visual cultures of geometric painting are formed. In the age of the machine, glitch reveals the system as how painting had always known it to be. For further reading about glitch practices see:

Rosa Menkman’s ‘The Glitch Moment(um)’ (2011)