by Ebony Harrison

AustraliaQueensland College of Art, Griffith University
Published online
June 11, 2014

This assignment asks students to choose one or more texts of a total of no more than 100 words, and without altering the text, create a convincing typographic argument in any medium, guided by the principles of classical rhetoric. Tutor: Jason Grant.

By datamoshing Bounce, a popular music video by white Australian rapper, Iggy Azelia, Ebony aims to critique the increasingly common racist appropriation of minority cultures in Western popular culture and fashion, arguing that “cultures are not casual costumes, people are not accessories and that appropriation of Otherised cultures is disrespectful… cultural signifiers such as the bindi on Indian women are symbols of Otherness, and the same signifiers on Westerners are received as fashion statements.”

Ebony’s interest in glitching developed attempting to understand her Anglo-Indian identity. With glitching she explores cultural appropriation, and more complex ideas like decolonisation theory and the rejection of assimilation by Other Cultures. Seeing herself as a metaphoric glitch in the colonial system, she interprets bi-racial children as the unexpected outcomes of a system of forced assimilation. An awareness of the grammar of coloniality enables resistance, “and my datamoshing is about formulating a visual language for this rejection.”

Datamoshing is the process of breaking files or creating mistakes in digital systems that force unexpected outcomes. Ebony writes: “I am asserting my awareness of the digital/political system by being disobedient inside it. I am inserting the human into the code and creating errors, that the digital system doesn’t know how to compute. By doing this, I am in some way acting out decoloniality in a digital framework.”

Glitch artist and educator Nick Briz describes glitching as hacking, as an act of creative destruction: “Glitching is a kind of tactful exploitation of systems, digital and technological systems… it can establish a kind of critical relationship between users and computers, that isn’t normally there by default. And it’s that kind of critical relationship I’m hoping to create for others by presenting this process, though systematic, as all about destroying systems or instigating a kind of self destruction of systems.

This hack always exists in the present and never in the past, because every use of the glitch codec necessitates a new destruction of the codec file at a code level: creation by destruction. Destruction, in this case, is used to refer to this demonstration of the systems appeared self dismantilisation. And the reason I say ‘appeared’ self dismantilisation is because computers don’t really make mistakes. Users input stuff, and machines output stuff, a glitch is really just an unexpected output, which by catching us off guard, makes us aware of the medium, its structure, and its politics, which are really there the whole time. But the error is actually a human one.”

#iggymosh was created by forcefully breaking the original clip’s video and sound files. Intentionally interfering with the video’s compression artefacts (the systems that computers use to force files to lose quality so that they can be stored or uploaded easily) allows the media to be endlessly manipulated.

For example, Bounce’s original audio file was split from the video track and opened as a RAW image file in an image editing program. Quotes from Dodai Stewart’s article On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture and Accessorizing With Black People, Rohin Guha’s article Iggy Azalea Bounces Backwards With Disappointing Clichés and Jaya Bedi’s article Beyond Bindis: Why Cultural Appropriation Matters were then overlaid as white text. The file extension was converted back to .mp3 and manipulated in an audio program to affect speed and tempo so that the track fitted the glitched video.




  1. Guest comment
    by Douglas Rushkoff

    What I like most about this is that the disintegration of the image isn’t something stored in the video file, but a real-time response of the computer to the code. This makes it more of a living hack than a simple image modification, and it ends up feeling more hopeful than a plain old critique. In other words, there is still room for disruption, negotiation, and change.

    Without the explanation of what this is and how it works, though, the video itself may not communicate all you’re hoping for. I grew up with lots of conceptual art such as text over paintings and photographs, and while it can be effective it can also be a bit tiresome or at least fatiguing – particularly when the text is jumbled up as much as the imagery behind it. Also, calling out the racial inequities in media like this might have been stronger with more than one example (unless that was – in which case that could have been made more clear). I’m just saying your point would have been driven home if, for example, you used Madonna voguing other cultures, Gwen Stefani… there’s other examples that would have given the thing more oomph.

    But nice work and your emotional honesty shows through.

  1. Comment
    by Ebony Harrison
    June 30, 2014

    Hey Douglas! Firstly, I just want to thank you for your comment. It means a lot to receive feedback from those that I admire, and makes me feel as though my current trajectory has some kind of agency – for it to be made available here, and to be seen by the likes of yourself, feels pretty amazing! So thank you, truly!

    I am really glad you mentioned that the hack is something interpreted by the computer, as this is the crux of my process – the hacking process is the most important one, because it is the acting out of decoloniality in this sense, and in a broader one, that my work is all about. I often feel though that this part of the process is lost because glitching is a highly aestheticised practice, and so my future glitch projects will probably aim to give my essay work (that describes the relationship between glitching and decoloniality) a visual language that is as contentious and subversive as the ideas that are presented.

    I do agree that the video could have been more powerful in conjunction with other artists and their appropriation, and this was something that I did investigate early in the process. I decided to challenge one artist though only because Iggy Azalea is at the height of contemporary popular culture, and for an emerging generation of young people, references to musicians pre-2000's might not have been as pervasive or obvious. Earlier examples such as Gwen Stefani and Madonna, are the ones that I came into contact with as a young person, but I suppose Azalea references the more contemporary pop cultural borrowing happening right now, and is an image fresh in the minds of those who borrow cultures by following her lead. Azalea herself is also an interesting artist because of her white Australian identity, her appropriation of hip-hop music (that has some degree of legitimacy), and her lack of self-reference in her music. Perhaps this video would work in conjunction with more videos, or (de)re-constructed videos of those other artists. The project is sort of never ending, so can continue on many pathways.

    Thank you again for your feedback! Have no doubt that I'll be making/breaking more and more, and hopefully as my glitch work reaches some sort of critical mass, it will all make sense in the end.

Join the discussion