Text(ile) Messages: Cozy Up To Glitch Art

Phillip Stearns weaves gorgeous blankets and tapestries from the unlikely media of fried cameras and digital error.

For multimedia artist Phillip Stearns, 2012 was the Year of the Glitch. Every day for a year, he posted a piece of his “glitch art” to the project’s Tumblr page, as a way of, as he put it, “unlocking…other worlds latent in the technologies with which we surround ourselves.” He created each image, video, or sound file by rewiring the circuitry of digital cameras, thereby undoing their programming and ability to accurately render scenes from real life. The results were appropriately glitchy, characterized by scratchy bars of color and seismic waves of visual noise.


With “Glitch Textiles,” Stearns expands on “Year of the Glitch” by bringing, or more specifically, weaving, glitch into the physical world. “I wasn’t satisfied with the way the images read on the screen,” he tells Co.Design of the limitations of Tumblr as exhibition space. To achieve a certain “visceral” effect, he began turning moments of digital error into woven works of art.

Stearns stumbled onto textiles as a way to advance his glitch projects when he met future friend and colleague Jeff Donaldson. At the time, Donaldson was knitting NES glitches into scarves and collaborating with another artist, Melissa Barron, who was doing the same with Apple II screen captures. Stearns took note and began experimenting with adapting his images to modern weaving techniques.

He was able to prototype the series relatively easily in a series of blankets, thanks to on-demand customizable print services like Photothrow and Photoweavers. This initial batch of blankets featured patterns extracted from Stearns’ camera hacks, while subsequent iterations incorporated designs generated by custom-made data visualization software, which translates raw binary data into images. A successful Kickstarter campaign launched and concluded last summer allowed the artist to work hands-on with computerized weaving machines at a Dutch textile lab, where he completed three woven 5′ X 7′ tapestries.

The new textiles deliver on his intention of making glitches “both present and prescient.” Their designs are surprisingly warm, rendering potentially cold, abstract glitch patterns into inviting tactile artifacts. At the same time, the patterns warp traditional notions of authorship and flip the absurd, but increasingly ubiquitous, idea of industrial-artisanal design on its head.

By combining the artistry of erstwhile fabric technologies with contemporary digital processes, Stearns has turned textiles into an unlikely, if not paradoxical, “storage medium for digital data.”

About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.