Who plays with Facebook? 0

Laimonas Zakas behind the Glitchr

Juste Kostikovaite

At the beginning of this month, the Jonas Mekas visual arts center in Vilnius presented the project Glitchr, by Laimonas Zakas. It is the first exhibition by the young artist, who uses creative programming techniques for creating unique web-based aesthetics, or, as the artist himself puts it - painting by using social networks as a canvas. The show is still on view until September 9.

In the summer of 2011, Zakas conceived an online project, taking advantage of bugs in the Unicode system, accordingly allowing to add an unlimited number of diacritical marks to one character. “Thus it was possible to create a “text”, which extends the ordinary web-page limits (including Facebook, Google, Twitter etc.). It was possible to create abstract graphic bodies, which were adding distortion layers upon the usual interfaces of the internet sites and social network platforms.”

However, for me it is always a little bit complicated to try to speak about this kind of show as “the first solo exhibition in Lithuania”. What do these terms even mean for Zakas’ video recordings of the web-page movements and the prints from the screen-shots? All his content has already been exhibited worldwide via the World Wide Web. Moreover, Glitchr has thousands of fans, that is, a constant exhibition goes on for the viewers on Facebook, even including Facebook employees.

My first impression while visiting the exhibition is quite pessimistic. I feel that the show has distorted the project completely, not adding to it any additional meaning but, on the contrary, reducing it to cheap internet graphics. That's because Glitchr activates its meaning only on the web, as it is tied both ideologically and aesthetically to the very same platforms whose interfaces it distorts – Facebook, Twitter, Google and so on. 

What was actually new, or, let’s say, fresh, is precisely the impossibility to exhibit the project in the context of a gallery. Whereas in the 90’s it was important to use existing codes, to use and share them for free, and to create alternative structures, in Glitchr the main thing is its accessibility and connections or ties: that the potential viewer is the internet user who is based in the “canvas” of the artist – which is, of course, Google, Facebook and Twitter pages. To go and to experience Glitchr art is more than easy – the user is already just a click away from the links in Glitchr’s posts; and they will do anything – from bringing up random Unicode characters to loading a Facebook navigation bar multiple times.

And what makes certain screen-shots of Glitchr interesting as isolated material is their temporariness, caused by their main creative component – the using of system failure for painting. For example, many Glitchr-interventions that Zakas created on Facebook already do not exist because Facebook detected these paintings as system bugs and fixed them. This has already become history, turned into anecdotal stories told by Zakas about how many graphic layers disappeared. In addition, Glitchr’s fan page was disabled in December because of problems with the Unicode characters in its name, but it was eventually re-instated after Zakas contacted the page’s internal fans.

Once, Zakas thought that his creations would remain forever on the internet, but when he saw that some of them had disappeared, Zakas began scrupulously documenting his paintings through the screen-shots. Oh yes, internet – here comes the power of documentation and photography, just like in the good-old 60’s performance art documentations! Here, the “photography”allows one to track how the project evolved, and to see what kind of movements the graphic interventions made online – “on the net” –which will probably never be visible online. 

Now you can just like (“Like”) a Glitchr project because of its temporal character, or maybe because of its approach in exploiting the biggest social-network’s errands to paint and to critique it, or maybe for its not-so-metaphorical concept of free-artworks for the free-canvas.

As one techno-geek blogger said:  “you can also like Glitchr because it looks cool, and because you don’t quite understand how Zakas is doing it. I still kind of don’t.”

Jonas Mekas visual arts center. Gynėjų g. 14, Vilnius