Creating art from Ceefax at the International Teletext Art Festival

We check out what's on show in Berlin and find out how you can create your own Teletext art.

In the days before the Internet went mainstream, two text-based services provided an innovative mix of interactive media to millions of people across Britain through their televisions. Despite BBC's Ceefax and ITV and Channel 4 Teletext being outmoded by the Web and then switched off as TV went digital, they still live on in a nostalgic part of people's hearts – a place (re)visited by a group of artists exhibiting at the second International Teletext Art Festival in Berlin.

Despite offering a resolution lower than most smartphones that breaks down into 80 x 72 grid of characters (letters, numbers and a few icons), teletext services offered a wealth of services. Designers at the service used very-basic-indeed tools to make pictures, tables and diagrams – allowing them to create comparatively complex presentations of news stories, weather reports, games (including the much-loved Bamboozle, recently recreated as a popular iPhone app), horse racing data for bettors and even sell holidays.

Use the slideshow controls above and right to see more of the artworks on show, learn more about the form and read our interview with FixC's Juha van Ingen. Right: artwork by Kathrin Gunter.

User controls were limited to directly choosing between the 1,000 pages that made up the service by typing in three numbers – so between 000 and 999, though 666 was reserved for subtitles for whatever TV programme was on.

There were also four coloured buttons on your TV remote control for quick access to other pages based on the page you were currently on – such as the next news story or specific flight information (through some artful programming they could also reveal something hidden within a page, such as a quiz question). These were the original hyperlinks, if you will, and the four coloured buttons live on as shortcut controls on the remote controls of many set-top-box services including Sky and Virgin Media..

Right: artwork by Dan Farrimond.

Teletext may not seem to offer much in the way of creative possibilities, but as with GIFs and pixel art, it's the inherent restrictions of the form that make it appealing to some artists. It's not just confined to the UK either, as teletext services were popular across Europe through broadcasters including ARD in Germany – the world's second largest public broadcaster, after the BBC.

The International Teletext Festival has been created by the Finnish art co-operative FixC. It's currently running at the Pflüger68 gallery in Berlin until September 16 and to wider audience in Germany on page 770 of the still-running ARDText service.

Right: artwork by Dragan Espenschied.

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We caught up with FixC's Juha van Ingen to learn more about the festival, the artists and how to start creating Teletext art.

NB: Why Teletext art?

JvI: "It all started two years ago whan we had a meeting amongst our co-op artists in Helsinki. We were ere talking about of some new ways to present our art to public. Somebody brought up the idea of showing works in Teletext. After first having a good laugh, we started to think 'why not?'.

"We aproached the Finnish broadcast corporation YLE and they gave us a chanse to try out how it works. We fell in love with Teletext immediately. The first ITAF in Finland got a lot of publicity and when ARD got to know of it they gave us a chance to use their Teletext too. This year, ORF Text in Austria and Swiss Text joined in too."

Right: artwork by Max Capacity.

NB: Teletext was a important part of the way people accessed media in the pre-Internet days in the UK – and people get very nostalgic about it. Was the same true in part of continental Europe too?

JvI: "Yes, there is nostalgia too, but as we found out – much to our surprise – Teletext is still a very popular way to access news, sports results or weathercasts. It still has millions of users daily."

Right: artwork by Cordula Ditz.

NB: Why are lo-fi forms such as Teletext and GIFs finding increased popularity now?

JvI: "The low resolution image has slowly gained  a status of being more authentic and credible than HD. Maybe this is true for GIFs too, they can be seen somewhat more 'honest' than a eloborate Flash animation.

"However, I think the retro factor is actualy one of the main reasons lo-fi forms in art [have found favour], especially for younger artists. The lo-fi aesthetics are everywhere: fashion, streetware, magazines and webgraphcics , so why not art too?"

Right: artwork by Jarkko Räsänen.

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NB: What are the technical restrictions of the form?

JvI: "To make Teletext pages a specific file format and editor are needed. A teletext page can be perceived as a grid of 24 rows and 40 columns. The editor has six colours, plus black and white.

"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."

Right: artwork by Raquel Meyers.

NB: How does the restrictions of the form help stimulate an artist's creativity?

JvI: "I think the best thing about Teletext is that you can't just transform your old artworks in to Teletext. You have to stop and start from beginning – pixel by pixel."

Right: artwork by Ubermorgen.

DA: What advice would you give to artists looking to experiment with the form. What tools do they need?

JvI: "I myself am very new to Teletext art and have only started to use it as we started to work on the ITAF festival. My advice is to treate  it like any other medium used for artistic creation: see what you can do with it, experiment and use your imagination. There are some basic Teletext editors available which you can find from the internet and use free.

"The main problem with making art in Teletext is that it is very seldom you can show it on TV., which is the natural way to show it.  One way to get around this is to make a GIF animation of your Teletext-files and present your work on the Internet."

Right: artwork by LIA.

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Right: Finnish architecture in small scale by Seppo Renvall.