Instagram Meets Telidon

The Telidon Art Collection at Inter/Access

Marin Balabanov

Chapter 1. Introduction: Pictures Spun from the Raw Data Stream

"Information is not knowledge."
― Albert Einstein

This is a cautionary tale about the ephemeral nature of digital arts and the lucky is is a cautionary tale about the ephemeral nature of digital arts and the lucky circumstances that saved computer art created on the Canadian Telidon system.

The Technological Footnote in the Development of the Web

Simply put, Telidon was the world wide web before the World Wide Web. It was invented in the 1970s as part of a public-private joint venture lead by the Canadian federal government. At its core, Telidon was a protocol for delivering computer graphics from central servers to users' terminals, which were essentially TVs connected by a modem or converter to the phone lines. Telidon's purpose was very similar to the web today. It was a system for entertainment, shopping, banking, and news information.

As part of the government program, artists explored the graphics and animation capabilities Telidon had to offer to create surreal, hypnotic computer art.

The system went through trial runs and test distribution, but funding was cut and Telidon was shut down in 1985.

While the hardware was turned off and most of the software was lost, Telidon's image transmission protocol was developed further to become the North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax (NAPLPS). Early bulletin board systems (BBSs) used the NAPLPS graphics standard well into the 1990s until the web and the browser took over the desktop PC and then the world.

Painting by Typing Numbers

During its trial run, the artists working with Telidon not only created images and animations but also fully interactive art installations in software and even a futuristic electronic magazine. Artists like Bill Perry, Adele D'Arcy, Paul Petro, Robert Flack, Dennis Day, Douglas Porter, Pierre Rovere, Nell Tenhaaf, Johanne Daoust, and Nina Beveridge created innovative pieces of art — some were political, some were controversial, and some were simply fun.

Telidon was interactive until it became inactive in 1985 when the Canadian government ended the Telidon program. It was simply no longer commercially viable.

Unearthing the lost legacy of Telidon art required the independent efforts of Inter/Access, Artexte, VTape, and the University of Victoria Libraries.

On Instagram, a medium of self-promoters and influencers, Inter/Access saved the Telidon art and made it available to a larger audience than ever before. They became old-school influencers.

This is a cautionary tale of a dying technology that provided inspiration and the chance rediscovery of its most interesting works decades later. It's a tale of how these works were turned into a curated collection on the most unlikely yet obvious medium and the valiant efforts to reconstruct and conserve the first purely digital art ever created by transforming it.