Emily Hermant’s recent body of workmade using telecommunication wires that are stripped and then glued together to form a surface—could be said to re-weave technical glitches into experimental derivations. Consider Reflections on Perseid (No. 3). Having become refuse, the wires found here no longer carry electrical currents or data across a digital universe; rather, they are now the substrate through which a picture of this system is revealed. The night sky of crossed signals has become legible as a concatenation of physical waves and data packets, broken up and repackaged. Similarly, with Echo (Sabin), in a form that is both visual and tactile, wires are repurposed to connect different planes, and so lines seem to speak across a channel, but they do so only to a point. In the end, the wires are exposed as fringe at the edges. For both works, glitches begin to appear in the system—breaking up a smooth planar field into frayed edges.

Depending on which source you consult, the slang term “glitch” came into English sometime before 1941, 1959, or 1962. The earliest date suggests it emerged in the world of radio broadcasting. Likely derived from a Yiddish word, glitschen, “meaning ‘slip,’ and by extension, ‘error,’” it was used to refer to any on-the-air mistake—a moment in which the sonic stream was interrupted by noise, or the wrong commercial was aired.[1] When it entered the realm of television, circa 1959, it gained a specifically visual dimension: a glitch was then defined as a “low frequency interference which appears as a narrow horizontal bar moving vertically through the picture.”[2] The Oxford English Dictionary, sticking to the latest date, however, provides an etymological origin in the world of aeronautic engineering, where astronaut John Glenn defined it somewhat technically as “a spike or change in voltage in an electrical circuit,” or more casually as “a hitch or snag; a malfunction.”[3] Variations in the origin and application aside, a certain element has remained consistent: glitches involve a migration of lines (or waves), whether sonic or visual, from a central axis. As a “snag” or annoying disturbance, the glitch maintains a connotative dimension that is as affective as it is technical, as material as it is abstract.

Turn now to Hermant’s Dash/Dot, X, or Signal II, or any other sample from her series of Fragments from a Larger Whole. By reorganizing the coloured marks that otherwise designate functional connections between currents, Hermant helps us grasp how such glitches might emerge within the system. Winding across the surface, the patterns of Xs, diagonals, and waves coalesce and then occasionally slip into noise. Through these textile-like samples, we understand that any snag is not an accident but an integral, or original, feature of the system; it has been designed as such.[4] The structure’s inner workings are brought to the surface, revealed as patterns, capable of manipulation and error messages, but somehow always-already there.

Importantly, then, these Fragments also remind the viewer of another, perhaps the original, pattern-as-glitch: the twill weave. A structure that has been in use since at least the fourteenth century, any twill pattern is not imprinted on the surface (like the coloured ink marks found on the collected wires) but is rather a consequence of a certain method of crossing threads. Unlike the grid of a plain weave, which is formed by alternately passing weft under and over warp threads in a 1-1 arrangement, or regular succession, the twill follows a slightly disjointed rhythm—producing ribbed diagonals that snake, glitschen-like, across (or rather through) the surface. Starting with a specific method of threading the loom and shuttling the weft, the weaver generates the pattern “by passing the weft thread over one or more warp threads then under two or more warp threads and so on, with a ‘step,’ or offset, between rows.”[5] Twill, in other words, is a tactile-structural feature, a kind of glitch, or slide, that is embedded into the “offset” connection of the binary threads.

The textile pattern of Hermant’s wires-cum-lines-cum-threads-cum surfaces, similarly, are a record of a process having slid out of joint. If the current e-waste system is out of whack (to use another slang phrase), its formal traces are bound to be glitchy. Hence, in her Fragments series, we find this woven prototype referenced twice: first as Twill, and then as Broken Twill.

This exhibition statement, written by T’ai Smith, is titled The Original Glitch.

Above work is ‘Signal I’, Collected and stripped telecommunications cables on canvas. 2019Photo credit: Scott Massey

With thanks to the BC Arts Council, T’ai Smith, and Natalie Schmidt and Malina Sintnicolaas for their assistance. 

[1] Tony Randall (1982), cited in Ben Zimmer, “The Hidden History of ‘Glitch,’” The Visual Thesaurus. November 4, 2013. https://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/wordroutes/the-hidden-history-of-glitch/ (accessed May 28, 2019).

[2] Bell Telephone ad (1959), cited in Zimmer.

[3] “glitch, n.”. OED Online. March 2019. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/view/Entry/78999?rskey=Z9BdRb&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed May 28, 2019).

[4] For this understanding of accidents as designed, or original, features of technological systems, I am borrowing from Paul Virilio’s argument in The Original Accident, trans. Julie Rose (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007).

[5] Wikipedia contributors, “Twill,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Twill&oldid=888415888 (accessed May 29, 2019).

till your voice catches the thread

Emily Hermant

Exhibit Dates

June 14 to July 27, 2019

Opening Reception

June 14, 7-11PM

Artist Talk

July 13, 2PM

Location

BAF Gallery
2-258 East 1st Ave
Vancouver, BC

Type

Mixed Media

Sponsor