Art in the age of ones and zeros: Datamoshing
Art has always been fundamentally intertwined with technology. New techniques and materials have constantly allowed artists to innovate and create new types of works. Our new series, Art in the age of ones and zeros, examines the impact of digital technologies on art and looks at how artists are creating entirely new forms of artwork using these modern electronic tools.
Our first article looks at datamoshing, an evocative glitch art technique inspired by errors found in digital video files.
Datamoshing is a technique that arose in the early 2000s inspired by the glitches seen in early digital video codecs such as DivX. Early experiments in creating intentional flaws in jpeg files led to artists exploring ways of controlling the glitches in digital video. Innovative digital artists began harnessing these compression artifacts and hacking the code of digital video files by implanting intentional flaws to create impressionistic swirls of mashed up imagery.
The technique rapidly progressed from something accidentally interesting to a thoroughly valid new artistic device that was infiltrating not only art galleries, but other forms of popular culture, from a Kayne West music video to a Hollywood movie trailer.
The earliest serious artistic deployment of datamoshing can be found in a 2003 video by artists Owi Mahn and Laura Baginski entitled Pastell Kompressor. The artists stumbled upon the technique after they discovered errors in video footage they had shot.
It was American contemporary artist Takeshi Murata's work in 2005 and 2006 that really catapulted datamoshing into the art world. Monster Movie, a short film now in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian, is an aggressive blast of visual noise (see video below). Combining footage from an obscure 1981 horror film with a thrashy improvisational funk soundtrack, Murata created a hypnotic and hallucinogenic piece of work. This was new art at the most experimental and innovative fringe of the spectrum.
Over the next few years we saw some fascinating deployments of the technique from the nightmarish fugue in Nicolas Provost's Long Live The New Flesh to the hyperactive strobing in Paper Rad's defiantly colorful work.
Of course what the underground nurtures, the mainstream appropriates.
By 2009 datamoshing was already deemed passe by several artists, particularly after Kanye West decided to make a music video using the technique. Apparently West saw Takeshi Murata's Monster Movie in a gallery and the rest is history. As with most mainstream appropriations of alternative culture, West's version was less assaultive and less interesting than the best datamoshing out there.
Since then the technique has been sparingly utilized by many artists as yet another digital paintbrush in the modern palette.
Filmmaker Leos Carax dropped a datamoshed transition into his magnificent 2012 film Holy Motors (see video below). It was Carax's first film shot digitally and the technique functioned as a coy bit of snark at his forced transition from old-fashioned celluloid.
Other artists such as Matt Caron use the technique as a form of digital graffiti, shoving mainstream popular culture through a datamosh grinder to create a kind of psychedelic visual confetti.
One of the more extraordinary uses of the technique (and many other glitch art devices) came from animator David O'Reilly in his episode of the Cartoon Network series, Adventure Time. The episode, framed around an idea where a computer virus is causing the world to glitch out, turned into a madly surreal deconstruction of every animation technique ever developed. It was a stunning peak to the datamoshing phenomenon and a glorious trippy treat for the eyes.
Love it or hate it, this is truly a form of modern art that could not have existed without the advent of 21st century digital technology.
Take a look through our datamoshing gallery to see some more examples.