Architecture follows a pendulous swing between the arts and sciences and moments of revolution exist at the apices. Must the aesthetics of architecture evolve? — No, it is the will of its practitioners hoping to demarcate their point in history and unify others through the establishment of a new aesthetic. And this inventive demarcation is often found in the rejection of established normative values.
So, where of late has architecture endured and how might the current generation seek reformation? In the post digital age, we find ourselves emerging from a period which, based on Deleuzian theories and the tools of computation, sought the integration of all building elements, furniture and landscape into singular articulated surfaces. With the advent of parametric design, these surfaces were imbricated with systems of paneling. The totalizing notions of an all-encompassing surface and systemic unitization are founded in the spectrum of scientistic architecture and offer only verisimilitude — a puristic myth of control which is never truly obtainable. At present, these covenants have placated to a flatline in which the bleep of a heartbeat is needed for a resurrective exploration of a new aesthetic.
Riding the pendulum back to the domain of the arts, we find the emerging topic of the glitch. A glitch is a rejection of the myth of control and offers an aesthetic repudiation of the totalizing values presented in the single articulated surface. While the etymology of the word ‘glitch’ is uncertain, one likely source is a derivation from the Yiddish word glitsh which translates to error, slide or slip. It is within the rebound of the pendulum, towards an artistic expression of this theme, where architectural discourse may find new fertility. However, absent of the term glitch, we must understand that investigations into the theme of breakage is not new in the reformative processes of the arts.
This text will explore the current glitch art movement and past utilizations of glitch-like devices through the practices of the 16th century Mannerists and the early 20th century Russian literary Formalists. Additionally, the essay will seek to cull out common processual devices of glitch which may be utilized as design methods resulting in glitched spatial perceptions.
Contemporary Glitch Art Overview
Before delving into a historic view of glitch-like devices, let’s first get a brief overview of the current glitch art movement which is, by and large, concerned with digital artifacts. Rosa Menkman, a leading figure in this movement, has provided the most thorough insight into its supporting theories in her Glitch Studies Manifesto. Here, she situates us within an ‘upgrade culture’ that embraces the ‘myth of progression towards a holy grail of perfection.’ Menkman further suggests the progressional flow of technological evolution can only be understood through studying breaks within its lineage. A break, she states, “generates a void which is not only a lack of meaning. It also forces the audience to move away from the traditional discourse around a particular technology and to ask questions about its meaning...The perfect glitch shows how destruction can change into the creation of something original.” One additional distinction made by Menkman, which will be essential to a historic assessment, is her partitioning of production and reception, these classifications are affiliated with the artist/process and the viewer respectively. As we will see, the Mannerist movement was primarily concerned with the productional aspects while the formalist addressed reception.
Mannerism - The Fragmentation and Glitching of Vitruvian Norms
In the waning tides of the High Renaissance, when artists had accomplished all that had been sought in representing the natural world, there was nowhere for the burgeoning generation to turn but towards the development of a new aesthetic — here emerged Mannerism. Derived from Italian word maniera, meaning style or manner, Mannerism represented a stark divergence from the overbearing (and totalizing) logics of classicism established throughout the renaissance. This divergence first appears in the later works of the oft-controversial Michelangelo which was, at the time, criticized for experimenting with the purity of the classical language by fragmenting and disordering (glitching) its components in a blasphemous rebuke of Vitruvian norms. As the Mannerist movement continued to coalesce in the arts, it was typified by its imbalanced compositions, ambiguity of context (seeking otherworldly representation), sophisticated departures from expected conventions, traditional content represented in a unique manner, distorted forms, unusual complexities and blatant evidence of its contrived nature of production.
In the realm of architecture, the Mannerist movement is best exemplified by Vitruvian-schismatic Giulio Romano in his masterpiece Palazzo del Té. Here, Romano reappropriated classical elements and employed them in an unconventional fashion with the definitive goal of revealing the contrived disposition of classical architecture. This anachronistic mashup expressed a farcical pastiche of Bramante’s classical style thus proclaiming the prowess of the architect and the artifice of the palazzo design. In application of concept, Palazzo del Té is fraught with figurative structural shortcomings, stylistic contradictions and absurd scale-shifts — the attenuated architrave is supported by oversized columns and appears to snap midway; pilasters are out of place and ignore modular rhythm; fictitious masonry blocks (actually stucco applied over brick) are a mixture of smooth and rusticated finishes; and oversized keystones appear to be slipping (note aforementioned glitsh definition) from arches. It is important to recognize that Romano was designing for a highly sophisticated enclave who had a thorough understanding of classical architecture. While his witty absurdity did not go unrecognized, Romano’s focus remained on the produced object rather than the reader’s relation.
In summation, the Mannerists understood their erroneous actions as a new aesthetic, one which rejected the overly contrived nature of classicism. This aesthetic was realized through physically imparting devices of breakage upon artistic representations and architectural objects.
Formalism - The Glitching of Literary Depictions to Subvert the Automatism of Perception
With similar rescissionary interests as the Mannerists, the early 20th century saw the literary emergence of the Russian Formalists, with Viktor Shklovsky serving as chief theoretician. The Formalists’ scope was more intently aimed at the reader than the ideology of any prior movement, although it was founded on criticism of Potebnyaism and represented an aesthetic break from the practice thereof. The Formalists railed against byt, a russian word which has no direct translation in english but can be crudely understood to mean the dreariness of quotidian life. “Byt is defined by being opposed to bytie, spiritual existence: in this context, the translation of byt would come close to ‘earthly existence.’” Thus, the Formalists were trying to counter the repetitious portrayal of earthly existence which is taken for granted in everyday perception. In this sense the Formalists’ fight against byt closely resembles the Mannerist desire to capture an otherworldly context.
Shklovsky, in his essay Art as Technique, argued that perception becomes habitual and automatic, and that “...art exists that one may recover the sensation of life… The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception… the author’s purpose is to create the vision which results from that deautomatized perception. A work is created ‘artistically’ so that its perception is impeded and the greatest possible effect is produced through the slowness of the perception.” Shklovsky’s device for combating ‘the economy of perceptive effort’ was defamiliarization — presenting familiar subjects in an unfamiliar manner, thus glitching their perception and forcing the prolonged contemplation of the reader. The aesthetic methodology is almost identical to Romanos use (or misuse) of classical orders in Palazzo del Té. The formalists, like the mannerists, endeavored to create a new literary aesthetic which was founded on the breakage of the norms of perception.
The Next Aesthetic of Breakage
In concluding, we return to the present interest of the glitch. It must now be clear that this recurrent exploration is founded on the establishment of a new aesthetic of breakage. In furthering the investigation, we can utilize the devices of the Mannerists and Formalists to affect the production and reception of architecture. As the Mannerists were primarily concerned with the production of breakage, we see they used imbalanced, decontextualized and distorted forms in contradictory and arrhythmic organizations to physically alter objects and representations. Similarly, the Formalists, focusing on receptive qualities, sought to prolong and break habitual perception by making forms difficult to read and estranging them from their context. In both examples we see a rejection of the totalizing and puristic myth of control instead revealing the absurd artifice of their creation. A glitched architecture could utilize these devices to respond both critically and viscerally to the current moment. In doing so we must not lose sight of the fact that there are differing aesthetics of production and reception and both are ripe for glitching. Finally, we may breach the confines of the single surface movement and unify via a glitched aesthetic of breakage.