Designer Questions - Glitch Art Glory with Allison Tanenhaus

We talk to our expert Glitch Art community member Allison Tanenhaus about what inspires her techno infused digital abstracts and a little bit of retro gaming and movies and finally, what to do in the robot apocalypse.

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Now then! We are obsessed with your designs and find each one intriguing, bombastic, and sometimes terrifying! I think glitch art such as yours can cause all sorts of emotions by combining techno-infused imagery with bold bright colours. What's your thought process when producing your work?

Thank you so much! I'm particularly psyched that you included "terrifying." I suppose because my images are all my babies (so to speak), I don't find any of them menacing, but back in my very early days of glitch (when I wasn't sure if it was something I'd even pursue), one of my best friends told me that a certain series reminded her of recurring nightmares she had as a child. In person, I am quite approachable (strangers always ask me for directions or assistance, for example), so to be responsible for something that prompted fear was extremely appealing and was genuinely a key motivator to dive into glitch for real!

In any case, back to your question. I'm a writer by trade and for several years was totally gung-ho on writing jokes, which I posted on Twitter and turned into typographic street art. I stumbled into glitch accidentally, when I was trying out apps to add filters to photos of my street art, which I assumed was always going to be "my brand." I took to it more intuitively than I anticipated and was thrilled that I'd found a way to visually express myself, without needing manual art skills (like drawing, painting, silk screening, lithography) that at one time or another I've attempted to master, with...varying results (to be generous about it). 

I'm self-taught, so my thought process is actually mercifully blank when I am making my art; glitching is a true reprieve from the busy consciousness of my mind, and—since I make everything with apps on my phone—I'll often make my best work right as I'm falling asleep and am the least self-conscious (or hardly conscious, period!).

Going into a project, sometimes I'll have an inkling of what kind of image I want to create or distort, but very rarely do I produce exactly that—or if I do, I discover that a totally different approach yields far more interesting results. So, in contrast to the writing side of my brain, I can clear my head and just flow with visual experimentation. Plus, fun fact: All of my glitch images start either with my original photos or with previous glitch work, so I embrace distortions, errors, and imperfections as they come since transformation is the goal. I appreciate the resulting organic, off-kilter details, which feel more engaging and unique than if I were to construct intentional work entirely from scratch.

In terms of the technical process, I simply follow my instincts; when I land on something that I find arresting, surprising, or appealing, I figure someone else might like it, too. I'll try out tons of different techniques on the same image, and something just clicks when I hit upon a winner. When I can't help but say to myself, "Hell yeah!" I know I've struck gold.

What would be your perfect career path considering your art as the main focus?

I've worked at record labels, toured with bands, was a college radio DJ, have dabbled in electronic music, and at one point was seriously considering music journalism, so there's a part of that realm that still runs deep. And, of course, I'd like writing to remain a foundational part of my life. 

But at this point, I'm really feeling digital abstraction wholeheartedly, so I'm keen to apply it to as many cool projects and surfaces as possible, while weaving in some writing and music elements: hotel art, environmental art that people can live with every day (wallpaper, prints, wrapping paper, carpets, and other textiles for homes and offices); museum products, light projections (especially for on-stage performances), album and Soundcloud art, concert flyers, branding, book covers and packaging..ideally mixed in with some mentoring and volunteer work. 

Which artists inspire you most and do you have a favourite classic?

I love so many artists across many genres, so I'll do my best to narrow down. At first thought, the ones who share a playful take on color and geometry (which is my current jam) are the most intriguing at the moment: Bridget Riley, Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely, Mark Dagley, Frank Stella, Sol LeWitt, Michael Kidner, and Ellsworth Kelly. When it comes to technology (and really clever concepts and messaging), Nam June PaikUSCO, and Jenny Holzer are favorites.

Within my own circle, I'm a huge fan of Alex Kittle, Allison Bamcat, Sarah Gay O'Neill, TJ Kelley III, Lukas Therien, David Bojay, Pat Falco, Tim McCool, dad, Edward Tanenhaus! They all have distinct lines, thoughtful points of view, striking colour work, and really different (but hilarious) senses of humour, even when they're tackling heavy themes. As soon as I see work by any of them, I immediately know who made it and am bound to love it! 

When it comes to my all-time fave (aside from my father, of course) would have to be Dick Bruna. I was exposed to books and games featuring his illustrations when I was very small, and the limited colour palette, clean lines, and simple shapes drew me in and never let me go. There's a timeless solemnity amongst the playfulness (in contrast to typically pandering, garish art for little kids), and so much life and dimension, despite the flat perspective. One of my most fulfilling travel experiences was visiting the Miffy Museum in Utrecht. The fact that he was beloved and celebrated for much of his good long life makes me so happy; he wasn't toiling in obscurity and darkness, but revered as a Dutch treasure. So there's a joyful context surrounding his work, which is a refreshing (and deserved) twist on tragic artist lore.

We can clearly see elements of technology in your work. What retro/lo-fi media elements, if any, inspire your work? 

I would say that tech elements more enable my work than inspire it, though both are to some degree true. For example, some of my favourite recent imagery was made possible by applying watercolour and etching effects to my glitch pieces, which gave them all new textures and vibes. More on this in the next answer, though.  :)

We have to ask, what's your favourite movie or game and why?

For games, it's a little tricky—I was a very anxious child, so I never wanted to play video games. The idea that you could DIE in an activity that was supposedly fun and recreational simply did not compute. I liked to watch my brother and his friends play, but taking the controls, and literally being responsible for a character's life or death, was way more than I could handle. 

One summer, I was able to play a few rounds of "Wheel of Fortune" on my friend's Game Boy, but that had limited appeal. I do remember a couple computer games (before we had video game consoles in our house) that I enjoyed: "Winter Games," where you could participate in 8-bit Olympics (MIDI soundtrack and all), and another game (I can't remember the name, unfortunately) where you could create comics by adding characters, scenery, and speech bubbles. I always put in too much dialogue, though, so when you'd actually hit play and watch it, the words flew by, so you couldn't follow the story! But appreciation for that old-school computer aesthetic stuck with me on some level, especially with my GIF work ( (It's also part of why I loved "The Problem Solverz." RIP.)

As for movies, that's another tricky one! I guess a lot of my influences come from my childhood, and I didn't watch that many movies when I was little. And while I watch more films now, I'm not inclined to conduct repeat watchings. However, one film I will never grow tired of, and in some way has woven its way into my artistic practice is..."Teen Witch." 

I first saw it in kindergarten and was absolutely transfixed: it has elements of traditional girl-centric coming-of-age stories, but is also totally f'ed up in so many ways. The main message—use magic to deceive people into liking you and ditch your one true friend in the process—is totally ass-backwards (despite an ending that has traces of sincerity...kinda). The musical numbers are totally cheese-tastic (yet endlessly singable). And there are so many bizarro characters (an inappropriate teacher, a demented brother, a wacky dance date).

Taken as a whole, it should be a mess, but instead, it feels quaintly nostalgic, humorous (I still quote two particularly clever lines of dialogue uttered by the mom), and highly entertaining. It's pure '80s, and since I didn't watch that many movies in the '80s (despite being an '80s baby), genuinely loving it then *and* now feels very satisfying, since I can appreciate it on an authentic level, not just as a retro nostalgia kick. I'm certain that Louise's tulle-based outfit (when she first transforms from frumpy to fabulous)—combined with my early fandom for "Jem and the Holograms"—cemented my adoration of the Patrick Nagel-esque aesthetic you can find in my most recent mini-project, which is glitching out the '80s ladies I've found on various nail-salon window decals.  Top That!

And finally, when the robots and AIs take over the world, what's your plan?

Gear up to make some sick collabs!

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