To create glitch art is to stumble upon it. The spontaneous nature of the glitch gives little leeway to creation, leading artists towards methods to induce them in their work. This process is called “databending”. The very term reflects the user’s knowledge of digital technology, which glitch artist Benjamin Berg (a.k.a. stAllio!) utilizes to a surprising level of sophistication. Exploring the mechanisms of “The Wordpad Effect” influenced his resulting body of work.
“The Wordpad Effect” is a method of corrupting an image file by simply opening the file in Microsoft Wordpad and saving it out. Wordpad is a word processor that will convert the image into text. Re-opening the file as an image produces an image not unlike a glitch. It seemed simple enough, though to Berg there was more to the process than meets the eye. The last part of his three-part blog entry on the effect reveals the coding involved. Essentially, every dark pixel is replaced with an added byte.
“[Wordpad] just replaces an almost-totally-black pixel with a slightly-less-black pixel, but every time Wordpad replaces a 0A, 0B, or 0D with 0D 0A, it adds one byte to the file.” (his emphasis)1
This explains how the effect functions, specifically why color shifts to the right of the image and why darker images exaggerates this effect. Menkman, a theorist and a glitch artist, researched the existing file formats and documented her results in “A Vernacular of File Formats”. She achieved similar results using stAllio’s method of the Wordpad Effect, adding that the altered RAW image “shows by abrupt discolorations and general image shifts”.2 More importantly, stAllio! found that uncompressed RAW and BMP image files withstands the process better than the compressed JPEGs.3 Non-interweaved images sets the color layers apart and splays out according to the amount of dark pixels are present in the original image.
Knowing the mechanics that creates the Wordpad Effect gave stAllio! some control over the glitched image. The gallery below displays the tight control he gains over the image data, from experimental works to making specific statements in later ones. Utilizing a hex editor and applied math to locate part of a photo allows the artist to channel the effect in a specific area. stAllio!’s head is the only piece of an otherwise ordinary picture that is affected, narrowing the interpretation of the piece from the fragility of digital technology to one of identity. Manipulating the data in such a way allows an artist to make certain statements, rather than leaving the entire picture distorted and the piece speak of the general dissaray of data.
“The Wordpad Effect” is not only used for recreational purposes. It can also be a tool to explore image files properties via reverse engineering. Manipulating data embedded in image files allows the artist to peek into the computer’s internal structure. The artist can strip the image like a demolitionist strips down the walls of a house and the foundations of the structure peek through. What stAllio! and other artists will make of such knowledge has yet to be seen.
|Girlputer Bent Raw. stAllio!|
|Getting ahead of myself. stAllio!.|
|My mind is blown. stAllio!|
1. stAllio! “stAllio!’s Way: Advanced Wordpad Editing Explained.” stAlio’s Way, October 8,
2. Menkman, Rosa. “|| | Bitsbits Bits____________________ ///////////////ЯOSΛ MEИKMΛN~~~@~~~DIRDIRDIR A:??blogspot? ____________________________________| ||.” || | Bitsbits Bits____________________ ///////////////ЯOSΛ MEИKMΛN~~~@~~~DIRDIRDIR A, August 8, 2010. http://rosa-menkman.blogspot.com/2010/08/vernacular-of-file-formats-2-workshop.html.
3. stAllio! “stAllio!’s Way: Databending and Glitch Art Primer, Part 1: The Wordpad Effect.” stAlio’s Way, August 7, 2008. http://blog.animalswithinanimals.com/2008/08/databending-and-glitch-art-primer-part.html