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Dan Farrimond

The block party returns. Remembering the 2012 Teletext Arts Festival

The block party returns.
Remembering the 2012
Teletext Art Festival
Dan Farrimond
Danfarrimond.co.uk

Thank goodness for the internet, eh? It may
be a meme-infested pit of recycled jokes,
but there is a lofty balcony reserved for
retired technology. Think of it as dead
media heaven. Archive-halla, the great
second hand shop in the sky.

Palabras clave: Teletext, Art, Festival, Digital.

There it sat in my inbox, an open call for
submissions to the inaugural International
Teletext Art Festival.
“Wow, I remember teletext graphics from
the days when British analogue services
didn’t view teletext as simply text on
television, a time when the medium was an
artform in its own right. A time when teletext
caricaturists could freely transmit crude
pixel representations of film and pop stars
without fear of recrimination. It was truly the
Wild West of Teletext.”
Here in the UK, there used to be a
‘drawings’ section of Channel 4 Teletext, an
analogue art gallery of user-submitted
doodles cleverly converted to the teletext
format. I always found it amazing that they
were able to achieve something like ‘Frame
It’, because my impression was that all
teletext had to be procedurally generated
by the artless Newsbot 5000, or whatever
they were using to type out stories in 80
words or less. Surely, only a robot could be
so succinct?
But visual sections of teletext had become
a rare treat. Commercial services were
bound by unwritten regulations that stated
there must never be too many graphics on
any one teletext service. Teletext art was
seen as ‘frivolous’ and ‘childish’ to a
‘serious medium’ for ‘serious news’, and
this attitude only became more prevalent as
UK teletext approached its pixellated, glitchridden grave.

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Submissions for Lektrolab’s VBI Microtel project, 2006. Up:
Howdy by Bulldozerman. Down: Circus by Lektrogirl.

I remember becoming fascinated by
Lektrolab’s VBI Microtel teletext exhibition
for the 2006 Rotterdam Film Festival, albeit
some time after it ended. Under the guise of
‘fine art’, it managed to smuggle past the
‘censors’ so many images and sentiments
never before broadcast on public teletext
services. Teletext art, it seemed, was
exploring new ground, and in the process
evolving into a sub-genre of its own.
But the 2012 International Teletext Art
Festival is a perfect transitional point in this
timeline. Just as Ceefax, the world’s first
‘proper’ teletext service, was slowly being
phased out, Europe hosted its largest ever
Grafismo | Diseño + Cultura Visual | 2014
ISSN 2386-6950

Dan Farrimond

The block party returns. Remembering the 2012 Teletext Arts Festival

celebration of the medium, broadcasting the
work of 16 international artists to over a
million televisions in Germany, Finland and
Austria. Nope, teletext wasn’t about throw
itself at the mercy of the information
superhighway’s gas guzzlin’ mememobile
just yet.
You see, ownership of teletext had
changed. Once the embodiment of
establishment, it had assumed new
meaning in the hands of artists, and as
foolish as it may sound for such a ‘limited’
medium, teletext was now free of
restriction. Artists could gleefully rip apart
the yellowing textbook originally written for
an age when individual teletext pages
would cost around £50 to broadcast. 40
years on, they were finally free to
experiment, to push the boundaries.
You might now see why I felt compelled to
enter the 2012 International Teletext Art
Festival. I knew how to code teletext pages
because I’d been playing around with the
editors for about five years, without any real
purpose. But now was the time to dig out
the virtual felt tips once more - ‘Frame It’
had returned, and on a larger scale than
12-year old me could ever have dreamed!
Except now, it was proper ‘art’, given
renewed status as a gallery within your
living room. Genius! It would have been
unthinkable during the ‘dark ages’ of the
Noughties, when we were all far too
interested in mundane headlines to even
consider such a thing, but teletext was
being reclaimed by the creative community
on our very television screens.

Some of my submissions for the 2012 International Teletext
Art Festival. Left: Switchover Troll. Right: Rob Hubbard.

Okay, so maybe we were only recycling the
corporations’ rubbish, re-purposing dead
media for more exciting pursuits. But isn’t
that a definition of creativity, to explore
areas teletext never dreamed of covering, I
mean? When I pixellated ‘Trollface’ for
ITAF12, I only did so because it would be
the first time said internet meme had been
seen on teletext. And, er, because I knew it
would be shared endlessly on the internet.
Likewise, I thought it would be a compelling
juxtaposition to represent video game
musician Rob Hubbard in a medium
characterised by its almost total lack of
sound – only the clack of a remote control
button being depressed interrupts the low
hum of a cathode ray tube. I wonder what
sort of music Mr Hubbard would have
created had he been let loose on The
Soundtrack to Teletext?
This inaugural staging of the Teletext Art
Festival was significant in so many ways,
not least because it brought together a
variety of international artists working with
all forms of media - illustrators, graphic
designers and musicians - from countries
that never fully embraced teletext, and
those in which it was still prominent.
Most of all, this proved that teletext was
flexible enough to accommodate specific art
styles. There was the glitchy comic book
and VHS cover art inspired pop art of Max
Capacity, the distinctly demoscene style of

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Grafismo | Diseño + Cultura Visual | 2014
ISSN 2386-6950

Dan Farrimond

The block party returns. Remembering the 2012 Teletext Arts Festival

Janne Suni and geometric minimalism of
Juha van Ingen, to name but a few.

recording), it would be forever lost to the
passage of time, like a bad chalkboard
doodle hastily wiped from existence. If you
missed it, tough turkeys.

The diversity of ITAF12. Up: Apezilla by Max Capacity. Down:
Mr T by Janne Suni.

Then there was Raquel Meyers’ storywithout-words ‘Do You Go Where I Go’, a
moving image cartoon strip that followed
two rabbits on their trip to the pixellated
funfair. Perhaps most notably (at least for
the historians), it featured a llama,
presumably another breakthrough for the
ordinarily unexotic teletext.
And here’s the confession. I’m not ashamed
to admit I have blatantly aped (or should
that be ‘Apezilla-d’?) elements of all these
pieces since 2012.
As a teletext artist, you are naturally forced
to look outside of the medium for influences
and inspiration, since archived teletext art is
very limited indeed. Teletext was, by its
nature, a transient form of communication –
pages would be replaced in hours, maybe
even minutes. Unless someone was
resourceful enough to snap a Polaroid of
the screen (or indeed grab an off air VHS
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Pages from ‘Do You Go Where I Go’ by Raquel Meyers.

But the International Teletext Art Festival
began a new internet-based record of
archive-worthy (not to mention exhibitionworthy) pixel art. Though subsequent 2013
and 2014 editions built upon this ethos,
2012 laid the foundations, thrusting teletext
into galleries across a dozen countries and
introducing the continent to a whole new
genre of multimedia graphics. As the
hipsters might say, yeah, teletext art is a
‘thing’, and you have ITAF to thank/blame
for it.
Oh, and that ‘Wild West of Teletext’? Well,
we may be closer to such a thing than we
have ever been, since the medium is now
everyone’s plaything, a ‘freeware’ virtual
Lego kit to build seven-colour analogue
worlds pixel by text mode pixel. Ladies and

Grafismo | Diseño + Cultura Visual | 2014
ISSN 2386-6950

Dan Farrimond

The block party returns. Remembering the 2012 Teletext Arts Festival

gentlemen, the Minecraft of the 1980s has
arrived in 2015!

Bibliography
VBI Microtel: http://projects.lektrolab.com/microtel/
International Teletext Art Festival website:
http://teletextart.com
Teletext Unplugged: ITAF12, Wired Magazine, June
2012:
http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2012/07/play
/teletext-unplugged
An Interview With a Teletext Artist, Computer Arts,
August 2013:
http://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/news/interactivedesign/interview-with-teletext-artist/
Teletext Festival Breathes Life Into Old Tech, BBC
News, July 2014:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28193738

The 2015 International Teletext Art Festival
will run from 13 August to 13 September on
ARD Text, ORF Text, Swiss Text and Arte
Text. Dan Farrimond and Raquel Meyers
will be part of a jury to decide the prize
winner.

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Grafismo | Diseño + Cultura Visual | 2014
ISSN 2386-6950