20 goto 10, a gallery in San Francisco, just ran two exhibitions with ASCII and ANSI art. It’s about text-art – ASCII is a set of characters and doesn’t use colours, whereas ANSI has more characters and uses 16 colours. There are also other standards, such as Commodore’s PETSCII which is also 16 colours. I will just shortly introduce these two exhibitions, and then write about text-art more in general.
“Welcome to #BUTTES” shows ASCII-art by the BUTTES collective. There is also a limited edition book released called “The Horrible Boner Tragedy” which might still be available at Needles & Pens. Some photos by Nullsleep here. The ANSI exhibition focused on ANSI-art by ACiD which have been a big name in the ANSI-scene since the start around 1990. Geek Entertainment TV did a piece about it which you watch here.
Text as Art
According to SixteenColours.net there have been a number of gallery appearances with BBS-related ASCII and ANSI before, mainly in Russia and Belgium 1999-2005. If you want to look at BBS-related ASCII/ANSI I can recommend BBS Ads Collection (ASCII-ads for BBS) and Sixteen Colours (ANSI-artpacks). But there is a lot of non BBS-related text art around aswell, tracing back to the 1960s – Ken Knowlton and Leon Harmon: Studies in Perception I (1966). Here’s some teletext-graphics in an art-context:
- Page 444 (2007) by MOMS, teletext broadcasted on Icelandic TV.
- Teletext by Jodi, everybody’s favourite data trash duo.
- Teletext is Dead (2007) by Dan Farrimond – animated teletext glitches.
- Microtel (2006) was a teletext exhibiton organized by Emma Davidsson (Lektrogirl) and Paul B. Davis (8 Bit Construction Set) that ran on Dutch public television.
Probably the most famous ASCII-artist in the art world is the net.art pioneer Vuk Cosic and his team ASCII Art Ensemble. They made projects such as History of Art for the Blind, History of Moving Images and Deep ASCII. Definitely worth checking out although his concepts might be overshadowed by the billions of AVI/JPG->TXT converters around these days.
Non Purist Text Art
All the above mentioned constructs text-art within the bitmap grids that we usually see on old computerscreens and in books (where the font is not proportional – the character ‘i’ is as wide as the character ‘w’). This “digital” technique was probably used even before the birth of digital computers – in Teletype maybe as early as 1923. In the early computer days ASCII was not a standard, but 5-bit Baudot was common. There was a Baudot-based program called EDITH (IBM 1401 and Univac 1004) in the early 1960s that made print-outs of a naked woman. You could set switches on the front-panel to decide the level of nudity – B being soft and E being completely nude. (source 1 2)
We could also go back to creative ways of using typography, such as in Alice in Wonderland (1865). We could even, through the 50s movement of concrete poetry, look at the 17th century when people used letter arrangements to enhance meaning. But that’s maybe going a bit far back. Going a bit further on in time, we can see text-art from 1898 by Flora Stacey here. However, this was made by turning the paper around so it is not locked into the traditional digital typography bitmaps. (A very extreme example of this technique is the American artist Paul Smith.)
- Delaware is a Japanese collective that made some very nice art/design using pixels and bitmap graphics. They also tend to write really nice texts about their art and music philosophy.
- Gelbart – Please Don’t Use Drugs – Music video in ASCII-characters, but animated outside of ASCII-grids.
The BBS-culture and the demo/cracking scene of the 80s/90s were using ASCII/ANSI/ATASCII/PETSCII as fundamental parts of their distribution. However, there were also demos made in these text-modes. Here’s a small (rather strange) selection:
- Hack n’ Trade – Goa Brudbilder (2007) – C64-demo quickly switching between 4 PETSCII-images to create a higher resolution (with heavy flickering). (howtorun)
- AA group – BB (1997) Very typical demo, but it’s all in ASCII. This youtube-clip is a bit trashy, but you can download and run it in MS-DOS, Linux, etc.
- Pentagram – Chistoria Pewnego – Atari 800 demo, really nice minimalist trashy style.
- Impact – In a World of ASCII (1994) Amiga demo in true Amiga demo style
Vuk Cosic and ASCII Net.Art – Youtube-video
The History of ASCII (Text) Art
Ancient Alphabetic Art @ Jefferson Computer Museum