No More Retro: This is Implanted Nostalgia

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The cult renaissance in 1990s style visuals / fashion has less to do with ironic retro references and much more to do with the hyper-stimulated tumblr generation and the endlessly scrolling web page. This fresh generation of creative curators are finding inspiration in a decade that saw the end of a human paced era and the beginning of a digitally leaping one.

Justin Solitrin

Retro culture as we knew it is over. Our western cultural past is no longer mainly served with retro irony by those too late or too young to join the party, nor by pompous posturing by those that were there first time around.
“Technology has been moving forward faster than we are able to digest, figure out, interpret and make use of. We are perpetually trying to catch up. I think the 90’s mark the start of this or, at least, the end of what was before”

Baz &Chaz, Peckham Hotel

So says Justin Solitrin before continuing… 
“Maybe it’s a grasping nostalgia trying to refer to a slightly slower time – the tombstones for a human-paced world,” he adds. “As far as I’m concerned it is not about retro at all, but more about creating something quite radical – and simple at the same time.”

In the UK, curators Baz And Chaz lead the pack with exhibitions that are ‘inspired by low-culture and the throwaway aspects of modern life’.  The duo bring together international artists and illustrators within an as yet unnamed movement. 
In the USA, Joel Evey, print director of Urban Outfitters is bringing the tumblr generation’s thinking to retail, whilst in Canada tumblr bloggers and artists/fashion curators like Common Chant and Yard666Sale set the pace.
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Common Chant, is run by a curator and artist by the name of Julie Eckert. She sees no distinction between her own personal memory and a virtual cultural memory she can tap into every day on the web. It’s an outlook that is echoed throughout her generation.
The Common Chant

“Being born in 1987, the visual aspects of the 90’s and my ideas of art and design are interwoven. Often, I experience feigned/implanted nostalgia, which is definitely informed by the amount of imagery I absorb online daily. 
It seems to be a common strand throughout the net-art community. I don’t find my self deliberately trying to    draw from the decade.” Julia explains. 

Jeff & Paul

New York based Jeff & Paul  work with clients including The Art Directors Club and Google. They explain the seepage of these 90s references into the mainstream: “Nineties design, (mis)use of interface elements and references to the early web feel like very deliberate choices to evoke nostalgia for that era. The web was weird and mysterious in the beginning – playing with the visual language of the early web brings back that feeling.”

Department International

The self-styled ‘transatlantic design studio’ Department International, run by the duo ‘Brian & Bobby’, works in print and identity design and has developed an aesthetic that is rooted in  Brian says: “There is definitely a naïveté to the 90’s that is very appealing to me – the idea of actively treading new ground without care if something is good or not… rejecting taste and doing something unconventional”.


Baz&Chaz

Baz And Chaz uphold the role of aesthetics. As Baz explains; “I grew up in the 90’s. Early-internet aesthetics are important to me. I like the primitivism of it. I think there’s too much [poor quality] digital design nowadays. So to look back at early digital aesthetics – the really lo-fi, primitive stuff – is a way of highlighting that.”

Urban Outfitters, Joel Evey


Joel Evey, Print Art Director for US retail chain Urban Outfitters coined the phrase ‘the tumblr generation’ when trying to talk at internal level about the company’s target market. 
He believes that it is crucial for mainstream creative companies like his to look to avant-garde visual culture and graphics.  he states Other retailers might not think this smaller segment of the market is worth going after, but I contend that it is, because they are the ones that are starting to influence taste.”                                                                                                                                                          
New York-based Body by Body are the prolific artists Melissa Sachs and Cameron Sorenwho have been producing T-shirts and artwork for a couple of years.
Their Lookbook created back in 2010  still seems fresh, incandescent, gleefully making use of seemingly disparate corporate logos like PayPal.

Body by Body

“There is definitely a lot of [pre- and early Internet] aesthetics prevalent on sites like tumblr, but there are also those who play with those aesthetics outside of the Internet realm or with aesthetics from two weeks ago, which is why we don’t necessarily segregate them from each other” explains Sachs, “In a way it is more about the infinite sharing of imagery that has an overwhelming influence on our aesthetic output.”
Body by Body recently held an exhibition in March 2012 with longterm collaborators   Deke2 and (Parker Ito)grandly entitled  Anime Bettie Page Fucked By A Steampunk Warrior, which included a collection of video pieces that push the boundaries still further…

GreekNew Media Shit
Sterling Crispin

Sterling Crispin  is another agitator, currently studying for an MFA in Digital Media at The University of California. 
Crispin is Well known for his excellent comical stab at noting a movement underway back in April 2011, Crispin set up the site Greek New Media Shit to uncover the seemingly generic plastering of digital self referencial works. He’s also a committed artist and when asked about how he sees the world, Crispin responds…“I think its much more radical to be in the world today with sincerity and optimism, rather than irony, sarcasm and cynicism. We all share the same Internet, which levels the playing field of distribution, allowing for ancient masterpieces to be viewed along side smiley-faced alien gifs, in a constant stream of tumblr posts and status updates.” 

Where is it all going? Common Chant sums it up… “The Internet is a giant echo chamber.   I feel in many ways Internet culture is moving away from the stringency of trends and towards a great omnium-gatherum of ideas.” 

Radical and simple at the same time, this is digital born of digital. 


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The Distorted Truth In Glitch

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Random, Chaotic, Unexpected and Unpredictable –  Not Just ‘®adical’

Glitch is honest. It’s raw. It’s the visual shorthand for the digital underground. Menacing, uncomfortable and oddly macho-geek, It’s also beautifully inconsistent and a perfect foil for streamlined digital media culture. Fashion re-appropriates, design manipulates and art creates. This is all part of the constant remixing of culture, perfect for the feedback loop of glitch. Is glitch the last true art form or is it just a ghost in the machine? Perhaps our future depends on the kind of thinking being applied to the recycling of digital material and perhaps those working with the idea of disruption will balance an increasingly owned digital landscape. It’s happening in reality…


‘Forms of graphic ‘distortion’ are now common to the internet, perhaps complementary to the almost bathroom-like sterility of web standards, or to demonstrate the infinite shaping and reshaping of memes and visuals as part of an evolutionary process authored by everyone and no one.’ Metahaven


The Dirty New Media

“There are those who would say that glitch art is a form of resistance, not just a representation,”  explains Jon Cates, New Media professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago is a centre of glitch momentum in the US, if not the world and Cates is at the vanguard of it’s discovery. “Jason Scott, historian and archivist for Archive.org, has called our Chicago-based community the ‘birthplace of dirty new media’ and Rosa Menkmanhas written that we foreground glitch art in a way which has become a ‘pivotal axis’ of the international glitch scene” explains Cates.
YouGlitch Logo
One way on engaging a global audience has been the recent birth of Uglitch an upload site based on the YouTube model. Site founder Benjamin Gaulon aka Recyclism explains the site’s reference to YouTube and its users by saying  “We are building a database of glitch GIFs that can then be used for new work by us and others, we are starting to see similar types of uploads [to YouTube] with  short edited film clips and the like to create glitches”.

YouGlitch Logo
‘Having networks that facilitate the sharing and creation of images (Tumblr, dump.fm, and Google+) allow communities to form and build memetic value in a hyper-connected fashion. Information splicing with information.’ Travis Stearns 

The GIF file format has been around since the birth of the internet and is a natural means for carrying visual glitches. Designer Travis Stearns explains the attraction: “their aesthetic is something digital natives are quite familiar with, but as an accessible art and communication medium they haven’t been given much attention until this current point where democratisation of the tools for creating animations are universal and available to everyone. Having networks that facilitate the sharing and creation of images (Tumblr, dump.fm, and Google+) allow communities to form and build memetic value in a hyper-connected fashion. Information splicing with information.”

Style V Substance
‘Many artists do see glitch as a tool for critiquing popular culture, but many see it simply as a nostalgic–8bit generation–aesthetic, others as digital psychedelia, others as a lens through which to dissect language + linguistics, and others yet, as a purely structuralist/materialist practice.’ Nick Briz

“Over the past couple of years the visual glitch has become commodified. It’s now just another filter in the designer’s arsenal, at least as far as the gliche (glitch cliche) is concerned.” notes Ant Scott one of the first glitch VJ’s now staunch artist under the name Beflix. The Glitch community is as fractured and distorted as the work it produces. GLI.TC/H the annual global new media festival that brings everything together. Nick Briz co-founder and co-organiser of the festival explains the diversity of the scene and the balance between commercial and ‘punk ethos as“[It’s] evident from all the debates that glitch.errz partake in glitch art for very different reasons. We had plenty of ‘punks’ present but we also had designers who work at ad agencies.”

Beflix GL:QU



So what of the commercialisation of the genre? According to Briz this can be split up into two different concepts. One is the commodification of genre, the other is it’s commercialisation. 

“Many glitch artists believe that glitch art can not become a genre, it defies codification in it’s form” explains Briz, “That to combine the two words (glitch + art) and to imply that it’s a genre or category is to undermine glitch’s potential. They believe glitch is at it’s best when it is random, chaotic, unexpected and unpredictable. While I appreciate this position and support the sentiment I do think it’s a bit problematic and ultimately not true… of course glitch art is a genre, still it’s important to address that such a debate is being had. 

‘ I got pretty upset when Kanye West released his video “Welcome To Heartbreak” almost exactly three years ago. I thought it was the end of glitch art’ Nick Briz

Next is it’s commercialisation. I’m not a big fan of this word, it simplifies a complicated process with inescapably negative connotations.  Rather, I think popularisation is a better term, it’s a slightly more complex perspective. I got pretty upset when Kanye West released his video “Welcome To Heartbreak” almost exactly three years ago. I thought it was the end of glitch art. I had been making this kind of work for a few years, it was a complicated process and one I felt could only be executed with careful consideration of the material. I thought his video would be the end of such a process and the beginning of a commercialized gimmick. And in some ways it was, datamoshing (the technique he “popularized” but by no means invented) got really “hot”, and hundreds of shit videos got uploaded to youtube in its wake. At the same time it transformed a community of maybe a few dozen artists (that I knew of at least) into a few hundred artists.”


It’s not just Kayne West that’s tipping the scale, more recently CK One wanted to shock and sniffed out glitch to add some credibility to their campaign…

Music and entertainment need not be pimped and perfumed. Andrew Benson teaches at the Design and Technology department at San Francisco Art Institute and works for a number of musicians including the masterfully awkward Aphex Twin.
  
Following a more mainstream alternative, a well travelled field of light artists working with musicians, Benson explains the glitch scene in San Francisco as “The bay area has a really rich history of experimental non-narrative cinema. I  hate to say it but I also think the popularity of dubstep has been really good for introducing kids to weird sounds, glitchy artefacts and getting them engaged.”  Benson is at the top of his field, innovating live performance whilst handling engagement with a wider audience, manipulating and creating aesthetic.
Melvin Galapon



The graphic design community manipulates the aesthetics of glitch, harking back to halcyon days Melvin Galapon is a UK-based designer who works on both commercial and artistic projects using glitch and dot matrix as an aesthetic basis for his work. He suggests “there is a kind of movement where using glitches and dot matrix is retro-cool as the generation of people currently creating work come from an era where this was part and parcel of the technology we are all a part of”


We’re comfortable looking at screens and connecting to networks that show nothing but beauty and an obsession with perfectionism. To this end, distortion is closer to the reality of our fractured, temporal information society.’ Travis Stearns



Travis Stearn
Explaining the relationship that designers have with glitch Travis Stearns explains “I relate distortion in the current context of the internet to punk communication art, particularly xerox flyers and zines. HD screens are hanging everywhere now. The new objects of desire, our smart phones and iPads, favor minimalism and vast white space. We’re comfortable looking at screens and connecting to networks that show nothing but beauty and an obsession with perfectionism. To this end, distortion is closer to the reality of our fractured, temporal information society.”

The Accidental Anarchists
The design team at Bloomberg Businessweek have shown a passion for observing the glitch, error and disruption of graphics by recently publishing their printer errors, entitled Printer Tragedies as a batch of artwork on Flickr. This light hearted look at digital errors reveals a deeper attraction for ‘wrong’ graphics.
Splash_11519
Printer Tragedies from the  Bloomberg Businessweek printer
Jennifer Daniel, designer for BBW explains “I guess what I’m attracted to is how these visual interruptions create spatial correlations that have always existed but no one else saw. Being able to find something that no one else has articulated is what so many creative consciously try to do. And it turns out you don’t even need to have a conscious to do it.”

Transparency
Eco and media conscious advertising campaigns have also adapted the ‘warts and all’ transparency of glitch. AnitaFontaine, digital artist and Art Director of Champagne Valentine explains her work for fashion brand Edun: “We were inspired by the raw textures from the collection and we wanted to make a digital experience that felt more organic than digital. We love the effect of being able to scratch away the truth behind the lies, or vice versa, and literally being able to do that as means of moving through the experience.”


Speaking of the relevance to glitch and branding, Fontaine suggests “glitch and disturbance makes a work or experience seem imperfect and therefore more real. It’s important that we mix the real and the virtual, blurring the boundaries – it’s what people are used to now in these new hybrid realities we immerse ourselves in everyday.”

WikiLeaks scarf
Design by Metahaven; Photo by Meinke Klein
WikiLeaks scarf
Design by Metahaven; Photo by Meinke Klein

Transparency also has a political connotation and the self appointed bastion for this is the notorious Wikileaks organisation. Dutch design company Metahaven took on the job of fund raising for the organisation and produced a number of products including a scarf, complete with distorted Louis Vuitton graphics as well as mugs and T-Shirts. The work was recently featured in an exhibition at the Museum of The Image (formerly The Graphic Design Museum) in Breda, Netherlands.


Metahaven explain the link between graphic distortion and the Internet are linked by saying “forms of graphic ‘distortion’ are now common to the Internet, perhaps complementary to the almost bathroom-like sterility of web standards. or to simply demonstrate the infinite shaping and reshaping of memes and visuals as part of an evolutionary process authored by everyone and no one.”
‘…A whole new approach that combines today’s possibilities in technology, (neo)craft, social media and advertising to create a new world image’ Dennis Elbers.
Dennis Elbers, curator at the Museum Of The Image explains the relevance of this “Designers have the ability to make this world transparent. This is what we need opposed to hierarchy. And I’m not just talking about ‘green annual reports’ but a whole new approach that combines today’s possibilities in technology, (neo)craft, social media and advertising to create a new world image.”
As for far reaching impact of glitch beyond graphics, Benjamin Gaulon aka Recyclism, has this to say: “current technological design strategies, based on the notion of disposable devices and planned obsolescence, need to be challenged in order to find more sustainable models. By exploring other routes such as hardware hacking and recycling strategies of obsolete technology I believe we can to develop new sustainable models.” 


Glitch is not disposable, it is the error of our digital ways if we think it is. 

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