Corina Lipavsky and the expresiveness of the error

This is an article/review about researcher and artist Corina Lipavsky’s found footage work. The Spanish version has been published in my column at the ONG Blog 🙂. I interviewed Corina after stumbling across her work online, and it was very satisfying to find some coincidences in our lines of research and interests. She holds a Masters degree in Digital Studies and develops a teaching practice as well.

Corina Lipavksy is a Venezuelan multimedia artist and image researcher based in Bogotá. Her practice involves digital art, animation, performance, installation, and sound art. Through each of these media she develops investigations on the notion of “poor image,” defined by Hito Steyerl in her essay “In Defense of the Poor Image” (2009). According to Steyerl, the poor image is a “copy in movement,” a highly “shareable” and malleable digital file that loses quality as it circulates through networks and is downloaded and uploaded, even remixed or modified. These poor images, for instance, constitute the global system of digital piracy, but also function as expressive and democratizing vehicles of visual culture. However, beyond their social or economic value, Lipavsky is interested in their aesthetics –the visible traces of their degradation.

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from Cor-rupt © Corina Lipavsky

Lipavsky also explores what she calls “the aesthetics of the error,” which is not necessarily the same as the aesthetics of the poor image. While the poor image is degraded a result of the “organic” process of corruption that occurs over cycles of decoding, the “error” lies precisely in the encoding/decoding of the file –for instance, a reading error might cause an operation to be interrupted. In visual terms, the “error” is usually associated with the glitch: aberrant lines, characters that stack up, corrupted colors, frozen motion, misshapen textures, and any other element that distorts an image to some degree. Glitch art, on the other hand, is the practice of employing these aesthetics of graphic error (the “domesticated glitch” in the words of Rosa Menkman) as a means of expression, through the intentional corruption of a code or manipulation of a device.

 

Few digital processes are perfect and we often encounter disruptions in our use of electronic devices, but we do not perceive those “everyday” errors as symbolic or critical elements. However, glitch art inscribes the technical error within the scope of the work of art: an intentional mistake that is intended to generate a reflection, either on the materiality of the digital image or on a more abstract notion to which reference is made through error. One might say, then, that the “problem” of glitch art arises when distinguishing between a technical failure and an error with semiotic charge.

By employing the glitch in her artistic practice, Lipavsky refers to and reflects on the specific processes of digital media. This discourse is enhanced by her interest in the use of archival and found footage, which she claims to work with since 2005. Her current practice involves illustrations and photographs found through Google searches, as well as stills extracted from classical films that she intervenes and deteriorates.

The Nostalgia series (2014), for example, is a selection of images from iconic films that takes its title from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia. The result of Lipavsky’s interventions are repetitive patterns, horizontal lines, and color blocks. The original palette of each frame shifts completely after this aesthetic reconfiguration, while recognizable figures are duplicated and cut. The image, which in its original state might be evocative and romantic, becomes a violent and corrupt memory.

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from Nostalgia © Corina Lipavsky
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from Cor-rupt © Corina Lipavsky

In the Cor-rupt (2015) series, the conventional notion of glitch art is problematised. Lipavsky glitches and then prints covers of books that, in her opinion, have been historically interpreted corruptly, including the Bible, the Communist Manifesto, On the Origin of Species and Mao’s Red Book. On the one hand, these “printed glitches” are an interesting rethinking of what is usually considered as confined to electronic device practices, especially if we take into account that these are images of aged books (they are, to put it that way, “analog”). On the other hand, these pieces demonstrate the use of decay as an aesthetic strategy which, in turn, has a semiotic charge that does not necessarily refer to the error itself: the intentional corruption of the image as a metaphor for ideological error.

 

Lipavsky continues to print her glitches in Noise (2015 -), an ongoing series that explores the implications of corruption with the notion of identity. The extremely distorted images are the result of digital interventions on the artist’s passport.

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from Noise © Corina Lipavsky

The glitch in itself is a critical element that reveals the potential vulnerabilities that emerge in electronic media. When printing her glitched images, Lipavsky abstracts the notion of error and displaces its initial materiality towards a new one. She freezes and nullifies the “organic ” process of the glitch to refer to corruptions/interruptions that transcend media. Therefore, a technical error might represent an intellectual, ethical or conceptual error, revealing the inherent imperfections and opacities of consensus and culture. Lipavsky uses the medium self-reflexively, and challenges the conventions associated with glitch art. This, in turn, is one of the points emphasized the In-Between Manifesto, with which she identifies: the medium should always be used in a way that evokes tension between formats and breaks with traditional strategies of making meaning.

Lipavsky’s most recent found footage/ glitch art project is an ongoing series of “topographic glitches.” Through corrupted sequences of found (indistinguishable) images, the artist is able to generate patterns that recall terrain. In her own words, she “reconstructs maps from error”: a column of indeterminate lines becomes an aerial view of a mountain range.

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Glitch topográfico © Corina Lipavsky

Glitch art comes from and happens in the field of the digital, and what is more characteristic of this than the constant appropriation/transformation of images found on the web? At the same time, Lipavsky’s work refers to the deliberate modifications of celluloid that have traditionally defined found footage film practices: the reaffirmation of appropriation through physical alteration. In that sense, and although she only intervenes film footage in the Nostalgia series, her work suggests a close relationship between glitch art and experimental cinema.

In her essay “Story Without End? Found Footage in the Digital Era,” the visual media historian Tilly Walnes argues that tools for digital video editing have “standardized” practices associated with found footage cinema. For instance, Walnes explains that “many found footage filmmakers have conceptualized their work as a sculptural craft, its specificity lying in the notion of a filmstrip not as a homogeneous, finished text to be respected but as the raw material with which to play around and create a new work.” The NLE software operates in the same way: one does not work with a filmstrip but with a database or library of clips, so that the notion of a “homogeneous text” is not present. On the other hand, Walnes suggests that digital editing is not subversive in the same way as analog editing, in the sense that modifications are always reversible and infinite versions of the same file can be created. The gesture of altering and cutting a strip of found celluloid is not replicable in the digital field.

Considering Walnes’ observations, one might argue that glitch art and found footage cinema are part of the same tradition of modifying the medium. Certainly, there is closer relationship between the notion of error and the digital image than between error and the found image; this highlights the specificity of glitch art. However, Lipavksy’s prints of modified images –her printed glitches– might be an intermediate point between those two relations, also referring to the subversiveness of the analog process. Still, the intentional creation of a glitch is a subversive gesture to the extent that it forces the viewer to face a “inconvenient” truth: transparency , fluidity and perfection in electronic media are merely illusions.

References
All images obtained from https://corinalipavsky.wordpress.com
Research blog: https://depixelesybits.wordpress.com
Betancourt, Michael. “Critical Glitches and Glitch Art”. Hz No.19 (July 2014). Online at http://www.hz-journal.org/n19/betancourt.html
Faber, Lievnath, Menkman, Rosa, and van der Heijden, Tim. “The In-Between Manifesto”. Masters of Media. Online at http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2008/05/30/in-between-manifesto/
Steyerl, Hito. “In Defense of the Poor Image”. e-flux No. 10 (November 2009). Online at http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/
Walnes, Tilly. “Story Without End? Found Footage in the Digital Era”. Movement Journal 1.1. Online at http://www.movementjournal.com/issue_1.1_futures_of_cinema/01_story_without_end_walnes.html
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