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Vuk Ćosić: ASCII History of Moving Images

December 1, 2010 - February 28, 2011

Vuk Ćosić: stills from ASCII History of Moving Images, 1998; Internet art; courtesy of the artist.

The year is 1998. The Web was unveiled to the public five years ago, Google will be incorporated this year, and YouTube will not launch for seven more years. In the art world, the first Whitney Biennial to feature Internet art is still two years away, the same year that Internet art will grace the covers of Time and Newsweek. But for now, a pioneering Yugoslavian artist, Vuk Ćosić, has just coined the term “net.art” and is struggling to find a language for the fledgling new art form.

Ćosić’s 1998 Internet artwork, ASCII History of Moving Images, grapples with multiple layers of language: formal and cultural, natural and artificial. Ćosić’s work presents seven short clips from well-known sources that recall points when film, television, and video were finding their voices as the new media of their day. The clips include film footage from the Lumière brothers, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, King Kong, Star Trek, Blow Up, Psycho, and Deep Throat. These clips offer a menu of possible scripts for net.art, from Marxist parable to spectacle society to Modernist utopia. The clips are rendered online in the visual lingo of early computers, a black screen with green letters and numbers (ASCII characters) that provide the light values and that function to interweave layers of formal and natural languages. This text also manifests the phenomenon of “media convergence” where text, music, image, and moving image become increasingly digitized and collapsed together. Will new representational strategies emerge from this convergence, or will it result in a flattening and diminishing of expressive languages?

Now that Internet art has become part of the language of mainstream contemporary art, it seems opportune to look back to innovative and vivid experiments like ASCII History of Moving Images from an era so near yet so far away.

Online only: netart.bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Richard Rinehart
Digital Media Director and Adjunct Curator