Teletext lives on
Dan Farrimond, The Teletext Engine
The third International Teletext Art Festival takes place in Berlin next month, showcasing a range of work inspired by the analogue text service...
When the BBC switched off its Ceefax service in 2012, thousands took to Twitter to pay their respects. Long before iPhones and WiFi and news apps, it offered a 24-hour rolling feed at the click of a remote (complete with a cheesy synth soundtrack). For 38 years, TV viewers could use teletext to browse the news, sports scores and even holidays.
Ceefax was the last remaining analogue teletext service in the UK but in other European countries, it remains popular. For the past three years, Finnish art collective FixC has been staging an annual showcase of Teletext-inspired visual art in Berlin.
Kim Asendorf, Spectrum Balls
The festival is supported by teletext providers Swiss Text, ARTE Teletext and ARD Text. Last year, FixC also launched a Museum of Teletext Art with Finnish broadcaster Yleisradio, which broadcasts work on page 805, and founded the Teletext Art Prize. The inaugural winner was Kathrin Gûnter for her image series, Lindsay Lohan's Mugshot Cabinet:
ITAF isn't the only project that aims to promote and showcase Teletext art – Dan Farrimond has curated around 500 exmaples on his blog, teletextart.co.uk, the Teletext Museum is devoted to documenting the service’s history and in 2006, Lektrolab launched an interactive art project, Microtel, using Teletext programming - but it is the first international art festival devoted entirely to the medium.
On the ITAF website, FixC says Teletext has long been an under appreciated art form, but notes a growing interest among today's creatives. One of the main reasons for this, of course, is nostalgia. A reaction to super sleek, Apple-inspired design, retro art inspired by the analogue age is everywhere, from two-colour RGB websites to nineties-inspired GIFs (check out Dent De Cuir's musical GIF series here) and illustration that pays homage to The Memphis Group (a trend Gavin Lucas points out in CR's July issue). In fashion, photography and fine art too, creatives are drawing heavily on the pre-Wifi, Teletext era of the eighties and nineties.
Anne Horel, Internet Acronyms
"Considering that teletext has been used by millions of people daily during its 40 years of existence, it has so far remained a relatively unexplored territory for artistic creation...Now that High Definition has become established as a standard and the race towards crisp images has slowed down, a growing number of artists have returned to the basic structures of electronic art," says FixC.
In Scandinavia, however, it's not so much a revival as a trend that never died: in Sweden, an estimated two million people continue to use the service every day, both on their TVs and through smartphone and tablet apps and online, websites like Teletext the World allow users to convert photos into Teletext imagery.
Part of its appeal for artists also lies in the medium's creative restrictions: single Teletext pages consist of a 24x40 block grid, and each block can host a single letter of symbol. Adding a new feature such as a colour change takes up a block, meaning that space must be left blank, a restriction that must be considered when designing.
Despite the limitations, it can produce some brilliant results – last year’s ITAF featured some great pieces including Dragan Espenschieds' Lucky Cat GIF (below) and monochrome optical illusions from LIA. Eighteen artists have been invited to take part this year, including Farrimond, Raquel Meyers, Kim Asendorf and Paul B Davis and works will be exhibited at the city's Fernsehzentrum television centre from August 14 to September 14. For event details, and to see galleries from last year's festival, visit teletextart.com
Raquel Meyers, Thread of Fate
Dragan Espenschieds, Lucky Cat
The Icelandic National Broadcast Company (RÚV) still has a teletext service: http://www.textavarp.is
I grew up reading Telext from 1993 onward. A particular favourite of mine was Digitiser, which was a video game section on Channel 4. It was the first one which could update daily, and Paul Rose the writer took it as a chance to use incredibly surreal, hilarious humour. I still miss it all, but Digitiser has plenty of fan pages online so it makes for a good nostalgic read.
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