Escape Code to the Past


In a small gallery in San Francisco, founded by programmer Christopher Abad, a fun slice of computer art history is being served in the form of an ANSI Art Show. Back in the late-1980s, artists using computers running pre-Windows MS-DOS began making images in standardized codes called ANSI. Through this work, the artists embraced what we would now call limitations, but what were then new opportunities for visual expression. ANSI images were composed of a small group of symbols that could be generated through a combination of keyboard strokes, and a limited palette consisting of sixteen foreground colors and eight background colors. Only thirty lines of text could be seen at any one time, on a monitor, so viewing larger images meant scrolling or using a special ANSI viewer. A unique culture grew among the ranks of ANSI enthusiasts who would continue posting their work to BBSes and distributing them in periodic art packs, into the early-1990s. Talented crews emerged from this scene, and foremost among them was ACiD (Art Creators in Demand). "The ANSI Art Show" on view at 20 goto 10 Gallery, through February 3rd, features classic works by ACiD members Chris Lewis (a.k.a. Lord Jazz) and Jeff Lindsey (a.k.a. Somms), and is co-organized by Abad and Kevin Olson (a.k.a. acidjazz). Lord Jazz's ANSIs flex his muscles as one of the artists able to excel at both picture- and font-creation, while Somms's are compelling for their singularly emotive style. The pieces convey the influence of early computer games and anime comics, but are given a new shape after being printed as large-format transparencies to be shown on lightboxes--thus evoking the computer monitor while minimizing the need to scroll. While it may be true that ANSI culture withered a bit with the general demise of BBSes, the internet continues to connect ANSI fans worldwide. A quick glance through one online ANSI archive, Sixteen Colors , reminds us of the need to look back on this important era and genre. - Marisa Olson