The Death of Natural Language

The Death of Natural Language | 2007 | ASCII Animation | 2:54


An ascii animation of a plane crashing. The abstracted image mediated by ASCII text parallels communication; meaning is often lost or misinterpreted by the process. The music is Miko by the beans.

Critical Discourse

“A laconic film, spare in its representation, where ghost like forms evoke hints of the familiar. An ingenuity of abstraction utilizing the graphic representation of type-written text to produce the iconic images associated with airplane travel. Augmented with the melancholic phrasing of solo guitar that culminates in a quiet discourse on the nature of ambiguity.” – Tony Massett, Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film (2008).

“Clint Enns’ The Death of Natural Language (2007) embarks on a subtractive trajectory. The most minimalist of the videos in the program, Death of Natural Language, uses ASCII animation in order to depict the crash of a plane crash. The ASCII code – seemingly asyntactical numbers, letters and punctuation marks – both reveal and conceal the images which hover in an interstitial zone between legibility and obscurity. In fact, the question of syntax is central here: natural language and the language of ASCII code. What is natural language? Syntax defined in terms of communication. ASCII code is language in which this communicative aspect is bracketed; it is possible to define ascii code as a rudimentary form of the software code whose ubiquity makes it fundamental to the functioning of the contemporary world.1 Communication is replaced with functioning, or, as the crash suggests, malfunctioning. Here, the coded nature of the digital image is foregrounded in contrast to the image itself, an act which exposes the minimal conditions of image production, even as the image is erased in order to make present its constituitive elements. Production subtracts itself as an ontological statement, one held together by the minimally narrative structure – the crash of the space shuttle. Indeed, it is this light narrative that offers the primary structuring element for this video, given that the ascii code that we see is not the same as that used for the construction of the program that composes the image itself. In this sense, The Death of Natural Language is an ontological feint; a further layer of subtraction is required.” – Tom Kohat, “Sensational Mathemes: The Ontology of the Digital Image,” 30 Years of Video Pool (2013).

the death of natural language is animation of a plane crashing using just ASCII code. For the non-computer literate — and I had to look this up myself — ASCII is an acronym for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, a computer coding standard based on the ordering of the English alphabet. In Enns’ video, the vague shape of the aircraft flying and some images from within the cockpit and cabin can be seen soaring through a field of ASCII characters, giving the feel of a plane flying through a thick fog. The abstracted crash blast is more difficult to make out, miming the chaos an actual event of this type would incur.

The accompanying music on the soundtrack, the song Miko by the band the beans, is appropriately slow and haunting, which emphases the slow-motion of the animated crash. Again, an actual crash would happen in the blink of an eye, but Enns stretches it out. The almost-three-minute film feels much longer, expanding the agony and sadness. What’s especially intriguing is that while seeming very simple — it’s just some code made out of letters — the animation process must have been terribly complex to build it frame by frame out of that code. Both the technical and the emotional aspects of the film is exceptionally complex.” – Mike Everleth, “The Art of Disaster,” Underground Film Journal (March 9, 2009)


June 11, 2013. Sensational Mathemes: The Ontology of the Digital Image, 30 Years of Video Pool, Winnipeg Cinematheque, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Curated Tom Kohut.

June 1, 2012. VideoPool Meets McLuhan and Flusser, Winnipeg Cinematheque, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Curated by Jennifer Smith.

March 31, 2012. Moving Autographs, Holland Animation Festival, Holland, The Netherlands. Curated by Edwin Carels.

February 11 – April 15, 2012. Visions Fugitives, Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing, France.

October 14 – December 8, 2011. As the Sidewalk Bleeds, Dunlop Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan (curated by J.J. Kegan McFadden)

March 29, 2011. Vidéographies 21, Liège, Belgium.

October 22 & 24, 2010. Winnipeg DIY Animation: Improvised Art Explosions or Cheapskates, Ottawa International Animation Festival, Ottawa, Ontario. Curated by Mike Maryniuk.

October 7, 2010. Perspectives #1: Cinéma, Art Numérique. Collectif Jeune Cinema, La Clef, Paris, France.

July 23 – August 28, 2010. Refresh, Axiom Centre for New and Experimental Media, Boston, Massachusetts. Curated by Yuri Stone.

January 29, 2010. New Animation Showcase, Chicago Filmmakers Cooperative, Chicago, Illinois Festival.

January 30, 2010. Les Inattendus, Lyon, France.

October 8, 2009 – January 27, 2010. CHOAS, G.A.S – station, Berlin, Germany. Curated by Thomas Stuck.

August 26, 2009.Abstracta: International Exhibition of Abstract Cinema, Rome, Italy.

June 25, 2009. TAIS Animation Showcase, NFB, Toronto, Ontario.

June 25 – 30, 2009. crosstalk video art festival, Gödör Club, Budapest, Hungary.

May 23, 2009. Hard Light Video, Obey Convention III, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Curated by Stacey Ho.

May 16, 2009. Barberini Screening Night, Associazione Artistico Culturale Nuvolepiatte, Senigallia, Italy.

May 10, 2009. 6th Naoussa International Short Film and Video Festival, Naoussa, Greece.

April 24 – June 20, 2009. Fire in the Sky, Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Ireland. Curated by Ruth McCullough.

March 23, 2009. Cameraless Films, Akron Film Festival, Akron, Ohio.

March 23, 2009. International Festival of Films on Art, The Goethe-Institut, Montréal, Québec.

February 22, 2009. Looking, Florida Experimental Film/Video Festival, Gainesville, Florida.

October 10, 2008. New Prairie Cinema, WNDX Underground Film Festival, Winnipeg, Manitoba

September 26. 2008. Praxis, Antimatter Underground Film Festival, Victoria, British Columbia 

August 13, 2008. Square Pegs: Video Art in the Square, Modern Fuel Artist Run Centre, Kingston, Ontario.

August 1, 2008.  People’s Choice: A Juried Selection of Short Films, Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film, Durham, Ontario.

April 26, 2008. Transcended, Moves08, Manchester, UK.

April 4, 2008. The End, Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta.

February 13, 2008. Camera Free Film and Video, Video Pool Media Arts Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

December 3, 2007. Centred Screening, Island Media Arts Co-op, Charlottetown, PEI.

  1. “While various systems of modern society speak in different languages and have different goals, they all share the syntaxes of software: control statements “if then” and “while do,” operators and data types (such as characters and floating point numbers), data structures such as lists, and interface conventions encompassing menus and dialog boxes.” Lev Manovich, Software Takes Command (New York, London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 8, []