How do you ‘glitch’ the canon of art history?

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In order to create some breathing space for artists during this pandemic, Museum M and the Cera Collection purchased 37 works of art by 19 emerging artists who live and work in Belgium. Four experts took the pulse of the Belgian contemporary art scene, and the result of their search is on view in the exhibition The Constant Glitch.

As a child of the 90s, I was fascinated by the 'white noise' on the television screen. Hundreds of white and black dots chase each other like a neverending Jackson Pollock painting. In Germany, people refer to this as Ameisenfussball or 'footballing ants'. Today, these technical malfunctions are more subtle. We call them ‘glitches’: technical errors or mistakes. Think of the smaller disruptions during our Zoom meetings, or the printer showing a different colour pattern than we’d anticipated. 


In the manifesto Glitch Feminism, author Legacy Russell argues that we'd better learn how to make use of these glitches. After all, they offer escape routes from a binary system that corporations like Facebook or Google rely on.  ‘To glitch is to embrace malfunction,’ writes Russell. As such, we can see a glitch as ‘a fantastic failure’ that recognises how every system is irrevocably flawed. Today, it is Covid-19 that continues to reveal those flaws. The lack of a strong healthcare system, the impotence of many politicians, and the limits of technology: all are exposed. 

We can see a glitch as ‘a fantastic failure’ that recognises how every system is irrevocably flawed

Drawing inspiration from the sculpture of the same name by Christiane Blattmann, The Constant Glitch hints at this ceaseless disruption of our current lives. At the same time, the exhibition offers a small point of refuge for this group of emerging artists. I find it intriguing that these four experts, including Hicham Khalidi, Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte, Valerie Verhack and Eva Wittocx, selected works of art that potentially ‘glitch’ the collection of M itself. These new acquisitions provide a necessary pebble in the shoe. 



How do you ‘glitch’ the canon of art history? With a blue artist jacket hanging on a coat rack, for instance. In the pocket of this artwork, entitled Old Masters (Rogier van der Weyden) (2020), Oriol Vilanova smuggled into Museum M a stack of postcards. Invisible to the viewer, we have to trust the visit guide telling us it contains reproductions of paintings by Goya, Matisse or Rousseau. Any collection of images is arbitrary, including one that is dictated by art historiography that could be outdated tomorrow.

The new acquisitions of M Leuven provide a necessary pebble in the shoe 

We have to keep asking critical questions, especially as a curator. In his video Studio Visit (2016), Hamza Halloubi makes you wonderfully aware of this. In one long shot, we visit an abandoned, shabby studio of a famous Moroccan artist, while listening to the thoughts of a faceless curator: ‘I expected to see a room, neat, painted an immaculate white, with neon lights and tables, with a desk and a computer. On the walls, I expected to see objects that look like art or that do not look like art but that are presented as art.’


Although the slick ‘white cube’ has been under discussion, it is proving difficult to break through this model. Yet, the dioramas by Olivia Hernaïz manage to transcend the walls of Museum M. As a visitor, you almost have to stand with your nose - or mask - against these magically realistic miniature scenes. Let’s take a closer look at The Tales. The Cosmonauts, the Cavern and the Angel (2019). We hear through the audio guide a conversation between two cosmonauts on time travel: ‘Of course... hum... this is such a strange mission. I fear our signs won't mean anything to them. Maybe we went back too far ahead in time? ... I mean, how will they read these drawings? Do you think they will understand anything?’ It’s impossible to envision how future art historians will read this selection of artworks. Yet, Hernaïz cleverly anticipates the expiry date of her own oeuvre by catapulting it into a distant future. 

These numbers do everything except what they are supposed to do: tell us the time

Maybe Gintauté Skvernyté reverses this strategy. You can read her 16mm film as a ‘glitch’, bringing an analogue medium into the digital age. The roaring projector shows beautiful close-up images of eyes. Each eyelid is decorated with a colourful petal, also known as Corolla (which is also the title of the work dating from 2019). For a second, I feel like I’m having a déjà-vu, but then I realise the work reminds me of Jacques Lennep’s video Une poussière dans l’oeil from 1975. In it, a speck of dust adorns the camera lens: like an ancestral ‘glitch’ reminding the viewer of the possible failure that lurks around the corner in both art and technology.



Many of the artworks in The Constant Glitch cleverly wink at our way of dealing with time. None of them does it so well as Katja Mater in the series Time is an Arrow, Error. (2020) In these C-Prints on aluminium, the number of hours of a clock crawl over each other, play leapfrog, and betray the other side. They do everything except what they are supposed to do: tell us the time. Mater so perfectly mirrors our distorted sense of time nowadays. Is it really 2021? We blink our eyes, then move on.


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