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Teletext is alive

Swedish artist Raquel Meyers works with lo-res text to render the world anew in C64 glory

Remember Teletext? Despite the signal switching off last year, the analogue transmission never died for some Ceefax enthusiasts. Scandinavian artist Raquel Meyers works with low-res graphics and text modes visuals like teletext, ASCII and PETSCII – all old school ways of rendering pictures through computer text – alongside photography, incorporating them into her arcane VJ performances and installations. Meyers is currently experimenting with storytelling and visuals with the musician Goto80 (you can view their collaborations here). Dazed talked to Raquel about her 'drawing-by-typing' aesthetic and her recent forays into teletext art.

Dazed Digital: What fascinates you about teletext? 

Raquel Meyers: Teletext is a like a ghost hidden in the television. You can see it – it’s definitely there – but you can’t really save it unless you have special hardware. It is outside of the visual area of the screen, outside of “media culture”. And yet, up here in Scandinavia it remains one of the most popular media. It’s one of the best examples of how lo-fi technologies are not “dead” or “obsolete” even if some people insist on saying that. Teletext remains a very vital alternative to the spam freedom of the WWW.

DD: How accessible is it as a moving image format? 

Raquel Meyers: Teletext was never really part of any DIY-movement or open source culture. It’s totally a broadcast medium, very difficult & expensive to produce for non-professionals. I was very happy when I found Peter Kwan and his vbit. Now I can impose teletext graphics on any video signal. It means that I don’t need a video mixer to mix two sources together. Because teletext is not video. It’s more like data, TV-data.

Dazed Digital: Why have you of late moved into PETSCII as a medium?

Raquel Meyers: I got bored of pixels and needed a change. But it had to be something blockish, two-dimensional and brutal. So I started to use text characters instead of pixels. After I tried ASCII and ANSI, I realized that PETSCII was the one for me. And the Commodore 64 keyboard shows all the symbols that you can use on the actual keyboard, so it's sort of designed to make graphics with, unlike most other keyboards. I call this way of drawing by typing “keyboard slöjd”. It’s a mix between traditional techniques like embroidery and typewriter secretary mode.

DD: How do you VJ with “drawing-by-typing”?

Raquel Meyers: I work with PETSCII in two ways: frame-by-frame (as in traditional animation) and character-by-character. Typing character by character, is a whole new experience: it’s extremely hardcore! Basically, you have to type everything in one go and then save it. There is no copy paste, no undo. If you make a mistake, you have to go with it. For me this is a complete method of storytelling craft. It’s the joy of text-mode.

DD: Is there any resonance between that artifically constrained mode of NaNoWriMo writing and the way you compose stories?

Raquel Meyers: Yes, sort of. I often type the same story several times. It's never exactly the same, of course, since there is always a bit of improvisation in there. But there is often a tight deadline that I need to work with, especially with demoscene productions. These are more like "hobby" works made together with people who work full time with something else, so they often turn into a last moment thing at demoscene parties. Full of noise and drunk nerds, where I need to type super fast to get everything together with the code and music. Stressful conditions, but super fun!

DD: Is your text-driven work related to glitch aesthetics?

Raquel Meyers: I’m not really interested in the glitch aesthetic: that’s why I started the text-mode.tumblr with Goto80. With glitch I kind of feel that everything looks the same after a while, it becomes a very predictable way of trying to look “rebellious” with technology.

DD: How do your live performances compare with 'traditional' VJing?

Raquel Meyers: For me the most important thing in a live performance is the content, rather than what technique you use. I don’t like wallpaper decoration visuals and there are a lot of VJs who do that. I got bored of the same loop over and over again. The way I do live performance is using two Commodore 64s and a Teletext signal. It’s less automatic, more fun and open to improvisation. I can’t just lazily click through a hard drive archive, you know. I spend a lot of time making visuals, so I always have something new every time. I keep it fresh!

DD: Who are your top 3 favourite artists also engaged in 'text-mode' alike digital art practice?

Raquel Meyers: I really like Poison, one of the true masters of PETSCII (RIP). He was one of the reasons I start to make it. Another favourite is Otromatic and his semi-PETSCII graphics. I really like Shift-JIS (Japanese-language ACSII) and I've been obsessively collecting them on Text-Mode, including multiple anonymous contributions from the 2Channel community and Channel4's CTRL+C & CTRL+V.

Raquel Myer's Animal Romantics is currently exhibited at The Wrong New Digital Art Biennale until December 31st. She also exhibits at Piksel Festival from 21 to 24 November.