Vuk Cosic

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ASCII History of Moving Images, 1999

Technologies: Asciimator, TTYVideo

Keywords: ASCII, cinema,

"My works and experiments with moving ASCII... are carefully directed at their full uselessness from the viewpoint of everyday high tech and all its consequences," Cosi says. "I try to look into the past and continue the upgrading of some marginalized or forgotten technology."

A seminal figure in the history of New Media art, Slovenian artist Vuk Cosic is widely acknowledged as having coined the term "" in 1995. As New Media artist Alexei Shulgin points out, Cosic's phrase is a Duchampian readymade: Cosic saw the words "net" and "art" conjoined by a dot in a jumbled e-mail message, and started using the term to describe Internet-based art. Although the period, or "dot," was eventually dropped, the term quickly caught on.

The title of one of Cosic's best-known projects, ASCII History of Moving Images, indicates the artist's interest in the process by which art is historicized. In this work, Cosic converts scenes from classic films and television shows -- such as Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," the pornographic movie "Deep Throat," and the sci-fi series "Star Trek" -- into short animations. Cosic uses software to transform each frame of the original into an image in which ASCII characters play the role of pixels or Benday dots to constitute figures, shadows, and objects on the screen. Cosic then plays these frames in quick succession, effectively re-animating the original work. First used in 1963, ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Exchange) is a set of numerical equivalents for typed letters and symbols that allows computer users to exchange text between different computer systems.

Cosic was by no means the first to use ASCII characters to make images. When computers lacked graphical capabilities, early computer users produced on-screen drawings by forming lines and shapes out of ASCII letters, numbers and symbols. In the 1990s, it was common for Internet enthusiasts to decorate the ends of their email messages with such ASCII drawings, made either manually or using software that converts images into ASCII art. By using ASCII to re-create films and television programs, Cosic extends this rudimentary method of producing images to an absurd limit. In doing so, he creates animations with a retro-futuristic aesthetic.

Cosic was trained as an archaeologist, and his ASCII Cinema exemplifies a media-archaeological approach to art making that is common among New Media artists. Yet Cosic's interest in antiquated technologies is far from academic. His resurrection of ASCII is both a critique of the utilitarian logic that underlies new media development and a celebration of the purposeless.

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