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The VICE Channels

    Emojis Are Art in This Twitter Bot ASCII Gallery

    Written by

    Robert Barry

    Too busy to catch a bus to the cool part of town to see the latest private view? No problem. Just sign into your Twitter account and follow @thetinygallery, an automated account programmed to produce a nonstop rolling display of miniature emoji artworks in a white cube made of ASCII lines and dashes, all in under 140 characters.

    Tiny Gallery is the brainchild of artist Emma Winston who is currently writing her PhD about intersectionality among ukulele subcultures at Goldsmiths College in London. “I like the idea of messing around with people’s idea of what art and creativity are,” she told me. “Of making things fun and making things accessible.”

    Recent “exhibitions” have included cartoon pictures of a crane and a snow-capped mountain (being enjoyed by two tiny emoji people in red and purple dresses), a shooting star and a clouded cityscape (less popular this one—no emoji gallery visitors), and the head of the Statue of Liberty side by side with a summery mountainous vista (before which one mini gallery visitor seems to be attempting to recreate the scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à Part in which the three heroes try to run through the Louvre in the shortest time possible).

    Every Tiny Gallery exhibition is housed on the same three-by-five-line wall in the same little grey and white virtual gallery. The art on display consists entirely of emojis. “Lots of the iOS emojis are perfect squares in little tiny frames,” Winston explains, “and I’d not seen anyone really do anything with them despite the fact that there’s lots of really cute emoji Twitter bots.”

    The whole thing was put together on game designer George Buckenham’s Cheap Bots, Done Quick platform using Tracery, an authoring tool designed to help novices create generative grammars—i.e. sets of rules for putting together particular combinations of words—to create self-generating stories. Tracery, Winston says, “was originally meant for story-making, but you can use it for anything without needing to be very good at coding at all. So what I did was come up with the basic structure of the ASCII gallery as the framework, and then inserted the artworks and the little people into different, variable places.” The whole thing, she says, took just under an hour to make. It’s been going for less than a fortnight and has several hundred followers.

    “I wish I went to more art galleries!” Winston gasps when I ask her about her offline cultural life, but with the PhD plus teaching and all her other projects, it’s not always easy to find the time. That’s one reason why she’s drawn to “small, well-defined projects” with “harsh temporal limitations.” In the past she’s made bots that produce regular emoji meals-for-two, draw avant-garde graphic scores or virtual cityscapes, or simply tweet Owen Pallett lyrics. She also built a text adventure game inviting players to inhabit “a cat who has to wreak as much havoc in your owner’s house as possible before they get home.”

    Tiny Gallery may be cute and fun and a little throwaway, but it does point playfully to the way the web offers a home to a growing proliferation of alternative art spaces which, as Winston suggests, “seem to be open to people who are comparatively excluded from conventional means of cultural production.” She points in particular to Twine artists like Porpentine and Anna Anthropy or platforms like Variant Space, an online space promoting female Muslim artists.

    Meanwhile, the Tiny Gallery is open to all, and the next exhibition opens in less than six hours.