by Carlos Antonio Piñón
June 24, 2019
My very first year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) was one of the hardest for me, seconded only by my final year. The first semester consisted of two all-day studios, a writing workshop, an art history lecture, and a humanities class in addition to a short course that taught how to use computers for art making. The next semester was no better as it consisted of three all-day studios, another writing workshop class, a humanities class, and an art history lecture that I dropped. On top of that, I was also working at the school. So, if you still think art school is easy, well, I'd like to see you try. Speaking from experience, jumping into the deep end of the art world before learning how to float will drown you.
I went to art school for writing, which isn't much of a problem in writing workshops, but in studio classes, it was like learning another language. You had to build a lexicon for critique to both give and understand, you had to obtain a skill set for knowing how to make things, and then you had to actually have things to build and talk about them. The idea part of art making was so hard for me in the beginning that I remember sitting in the studio just looking at my materials. I thought, What am I supposed to do with these things? If I knew what to do, I could just do it. Do I even have what it takes? Well, it turns out for most things, when you just say "Fuck it!" and do your own thing, you absolutely have what it takes.
At the time, my first-year Core class was working on collage. After several divisive projects preceding this, I had a moment of realization that the projects I were making did NOT have to be as difficult as I made it to be. After all, I have a whole bunch of interests that for some reason I was keeping out of my practice. It was then that I understood that writing and art didn't have to be exclusive. It was like remembering something that you know all along, like still knowing all the lyrics to a song you haven't listened to in ages. All I had to work with was a stack of paper with old writing and a slab of leftover wood from an earlier project.
"Read Me" disturbs writing in a lot of different ways. First and foremost, it uses literal scraps of writing and collages them into a different writing. On the left side of the slab, I reconstructed the form of a sheet of paper and pasted paper with text cut into various shapes. When possible, I combined parts of letters to form a completely different character. Other times, my paste job didn't line up at all—I mean, I was a freshman. Every now and then as I layered these sheets of paper, I added chunks of white with no text to continue to disturb the composition. On the right side of the slab, I pasted cutouts that spelled "READ ME" in large letters.
A refined hand was not my forte, both in constructing meaning and in the literal construction. To this day, it bothers me that I never trimmed the right side (which previously had an angled cut as this was leftover wood.) My other biggest misstep is that I could have gone without literally telling a prospective audience member to read the piece. That's one of the most repeated tips in writing—show, don't tell. Not only did I tell, but I told so loudly, it took up more than half the piece, taking away from the most important part of the work. The real magic of the piece shines when you actually read. The deconstruction of writing, at times subtle, and other times, overt and dramatic is the true hero of the piece. This truly was my first piece of glitch art by taking this material and using it in a way different from intended. And then I went back and glitched it on my computer.
Having photographed the collage for documentation, I took the image, opened it in a text editor, and absolutely butchered the file. I cut huge chunks of code and pasted them elsewhere. I replaced some letters with others. I might've even deleted entire lines and improvised new ones. Some people call this type of glitch the "WordPad effect," but since you can also use Notepad or any other rich text editor, I prefer to call it "Rich Text Manipulation." Much like databending sonification—which involves using a digital audio workstation to edit images—rich text manipulation necessitates a lot of trial and error, perhaps even more than databending sonification. If you overedit, you could corrupt the file so that it doesn't open. However, sometimes a small edit in the wrong spot could ruin it, too. The technique is so janky, and updates over the years to Wordpad on Windows and Notepad on Mac have made this become more difficult to achieve. It's a wonder how I managed to glitch this image not just once, but twice as I rotated it to see if I could manipulate images vertically and horizontally. If you could even keep your file uncorrupted using this technique, you've already done more than I could expect from myself, let alone making an interesting image as a result.
This manipulated image alone is one of my favorites I have ever created. It went beyond my original concept and has become its own beautiful thing. It set the precedent for every piece of art I would create the rest of my time at SAIC, perhaps even the rest of my life. It was with this piece that I understood that I belonged at SAIC, that I belonged to the art community. If only I would have listened to my own words sooner. "He doesn't write to please anyone, he does so to express himself in an honest way."