The Voluptuous Blinking Art of Teletext

With its blocky, low-res graphics and clunky interaction, the television-based information retrieval system known as teletext seems out of place in today's world of touchscreens and flatscreen TVs. But in an excellent blog post on the history of teletext art posted Friday, Goto80 (aka Anders Carlsson) pointed out that the medium is still very much in use in several European countries. In fact, the iPhone and iPad app for Swedish teletext was one of the most popular iTunes downloads in that country 2011. And as Carlson writes, among the latter-day fans of the medium are numerous artists, from JODI to the participants in the 2006 Microtel project that inspired the title of this article to the second annual International Teletext Art Festival, on now through September 15.

The inherent limitations of teletext may be a part of what makes it appealing to artists. These constraints are described by festival organizers as follows:

A teletext page can be perceived as a grid of 24 rows and 40 columns. To change the colours of the graphics, text and background or to add a blink effect, a control character needs to be inserted. Each time a control character is placed it uses up one space in the grid, which then appears black. 

With the seemingly limitless creative software available today, it can be difficult to understand how complex technological tools shape one's creative output. With teletext, the constraints imposed by the tool are entirely out in the open, making the relationship between the artist and the technology that much more transparent. In the case of this year's festival, the artists have used this limited tool to widely varying ends. Some of the works are displayed here as gif images, but as the festival organizers note, "the true forum for teletext art is of course teletext itself."

For The Journey of the Sun, Raquel Meyers used the multiple-page function of teletext to create a five-panel narrative sequence:

In one of three works, Lucky Cat, Dragan Espenschied explores the potential of the medium for the display of images of cats, using teletext's support for blinking graphics to suggest movement:

 Juha van Ingen's The Tale of Tomorrow drew inspiration from J.M.W. Turner's Sunset (c. 1830-1835):


Lia reflects on the formal qualities of teletext, stripping the image down to its basic elements:

While Marc Lee riffs on the medium's status as a public source of information:

The International Teletext Art Festival is on now through 15 September. See the full selection of works on the festival website, or via ARD Text (Germany) from page 850, ORF TELETEXT (Austria) from page 470, and SWISS TELETEXT pages 750-764. (We downloaded the Swiss Teletext app for Android, but the blinking function does not seem to work for us). It is also on view in Berlin at the ARD Hauptstadtstudio exhibition space and will be in the program of the 2013 Ars Electronica Festival.