Prior to the Internet existed ANSI, the barely known world of the hacker art scene. This escaped the attention of the art world, with much of the artwork permanently lost to the arrival of the web. Now, a short film, The Art of Warez, will tell the story of this underground phenomenon.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, computer users would communicate through telephone lines by leaving messages for one another on Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs). This would become a very early form of file-sharing as hackers and pirates would use BBSs to illegally distribute cracked software, known as warez, and many other sorts of illegal material.
The graphical display of BBSs was called an ANSI. ANSI art, simple images made up of coloured blocks, was the visual component to the BBS scene and the subculture of hackers, software pirates and computer game crackers. Before long ANSI art took on a life of its own and an underground art movement was born. During this time, there was an explosion of output as artists formed crews and competed to release the best ANSIs. The arrival of the Internet and the computer software it introduced overrode BBSs, killing the scene, with the majority of the artworks lost in the process.
The Art of Warez is a collaboration between acclaimed artist-filmmaker Oliver Payne and one-time ANSI artist Kevin Bouton-Scott, and tells the story of this pre-Internet hacker art, copyright theft, stolen long-distance phone calls, and pictures of fantasy warriors, comic book monsters, naked ladies and graffiti B-Boys. The film will be available to watch online at Safe Crackers on 31 July.