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Illustration: Chiladen

The Technological Glitch: Slipping, Subverting, Reimagining

  • Article
  • PHI Foundation
By  Kim Jonhson  &  Marie-Hélène Lemaire

Theme: glitch

The exhibition Terms of Use illustrates the ways that technologies impact our individual and collective identities. In this essay, we propose a reflection on the exhibition through the concept of the “glitch” (bug or technological failure). The word has its roots in Yiddish and German. It means “to slip” and designates an unexpected movement resulting in a mistake. In the world of technology, errors are often viewed negatively. The artists in this exhibition however, do not share this view. The experimental nature of these glitches and failures allows us to find options that are alternative to the status quo. One example of this is becoming a glitch ourselves. By sliding into power structures, we can resist the ways in which they suppress our identities and our very existence.

For this essay, we are highlighting two artists from the show, VahMirè (Ludmila Steckelberg) and Chun Hua Catherine Dong, who exemplify this concept in how they use the glitch to push back against the powers that seek to fix and limit their identities. This becomes an opportunity to instead reimagine their identities.

ZA6
VahMirè (Ludmila Steckelberg), Un[wilding] (production still), 2019-2023. Courtesy of the artist

VahMirè is a Brazilian artist based in Montréal. In her installation UnWilding, she explores her affective relationship to specific environments in the city of Montréal, including Angrignon park, her hair salon, and the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). She does this through textile sculptures, virtual reality and video projection.

Her relationship to the theme of the glitch is located in her experimentation with photogrammetry and manual scanning, which allows her to capture her presence in different places across Montréal. Experimenting with these technologies results in several failed attempts making their way into the final result, which the artist welcomes, as it allows her to create a work that represents her complicated relationship with these spaces. Indeed, as an immigrant woman in Montréal, this relationship is ambivalent: she feels at home and welcomed, but also feels excluded; she feels grounded, but also like she’s floating. The video work and the virtual reality piece present immersive spaces of encapsulated beauty, where the figure of the artist settles with gentleness and peace. At the same time, however, this figure comes up against the aggressive spikes of these environments, spikes created by the failures of photogrammetry.

Meet Me Halfway 02
Chun Hua Catherine Dong, Meet Me Half Way (production still), 2021. Courtesy of the artist

For her part, Chun Hua Catherine Dong, a Montréal-based artist of Chinese origin, conveys her story through virtual reality, sculpture, photography, and video installation.

For example, with her piece Mulan, she proposes a feminist reinterpretation of the Chinese folklore figure of Mulan. When war breaks out, Mulan flees her village, disguising her identity as a young woman and becoming a warrior to take her elderly father’s place in the army. Chun Hua transforms this character and her traditional environment by bringing her into the virtual world of an ocean ecosystem, where space is inherently fluid and shifting. Glitch comes to mind here, as this oceanic space allows Mulan to slip outside conventional constructs of gender identity that repress her ability to act.

This idea is continued in the piece Meet Me Half Way, where the artist transports us into a virtual universe with her. By allowing us to slip into her moving body, we are plunged into a dizzying space, with no predetermined paths. We travel through the infinite imagination of the artist where all things coexist in a dynamic and fertile way.

In this space, as in many of Chun Hua’s works, we are free to be who we want to be and to reveal different aspects of our personality, however many there are and however contrasting they may be.

Several other artworks in Terms of Use apply the technological glitch as an artistic strategy for resistance and subversion. We invite you to choose two of them and analyse how the glitch is manifested in them.

The book Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto* by curator Legacy Russell greatly influenced this exhibition. We invite you to learn more about the book and describe how it uniquely informs your interpretation of the exhibition.

Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto* is available for sale at the PHI Foundation.

Movements

Movements: Terms of Use is a tool designed by the PHI Foundation’s Department of Education to encourage visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition Terms of Use.

Authors

Kim Johnson
Kim Johnson is an educator and project manager at the PHI Foundation. She completed a BA in Art Education at Concordia University in 2016. Kim is involved in the democratization of visual art through her educational and artistic projects in various community centres and cultural institutions in Montréal, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as a cultural mediator. As a visual artist, she draws her inspiration from human connections, the feminine and nature. Kim is particularly fond of painting and linocut.

Marie-Hélène Lemaire
Marie-Hélène Lemaire is Head of Education at the PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art. She has over twenty years of experience as a museum educator for contemporary art in various galleries and museums, such as the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery. She holds an M.A. in Museum Studies at UQÀM (Université du Québec à Montréal), as well as a Ph.D. in Communications Studies at Concordia University that focuses on developing a movement-based pedagogy for guided group visits in contemporary art exhibitions. Using a feminist pedagogy of embodiment, new materialist and poetic inquiry approaches, she aims to privilege and validate sensorial, sensuous and affective engagements with contemporary art. She has published in The Journal of Museum Education (2021), the Canadian Review of Art Education (2021), and Muséologies (2018). She also nurtures a poetic writing practice for developing, facilitating, and interpreting curricula for guided visits, as well as to express her own personal aesthetic engagements. She is committed to epistemic justice in the arts.

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