parasol b & QR Codes

For the last few years I’ve been exploring the idea of making pop art using QR codes (a type of 2D graphical bar code that is used in a variety of industries); perhaps because their graphic-ness reminded me of Johns, Warhol and Mondrian. But there is more to QR codes than their visual appeal. I began to make leaps that I could combine traditional and new media into something interesting. I could make paint interactive and experiential.

I have wanted to try to push beyond what has already been done with them in both graphic and fine art. It’s very easy to use a barcode in a work simply for marketing purposes or use the tech as a gimmick without a purpose. It’s also easy to mass-produce barcode imagery but I think it is far more interesting to render them completely by hand and in very large formats, to remove them from their normal context in industry.

There are a few ideas that especially interest me about using QR codes in fine art:

Materialism

While the most obvious, commentary on materialism and consumerism is interesting to me. But not as interesting as:

Barriers/Exclusivity

I’m interested in the idea that access to art has a history of having barriers, of being exclusionary. As examples, being only for people like patron families or buyers who can afford it; being made inaccessible, like a lot of ancient cave paintings that are being protected; being only seen, not experienced via other senses; not being allowed to photograph the works in museums.

My work also presents barriers for entry but also encourage the user to defy some of the traditional barriers. The barriers in my work relate to these questions: do the viewers know what they are looking at? do they know what to do with it? do they have the equipment in their pocket to follow through and scan the bar code? If so, they become part of an exclusive group who now has access. Will they share what they find with the excluded viewers around them?

And by participating they have just violated societal mores regarding use of mobile phones in public, especially in “quiet” spaces like traditional art museums where photography is not allowed. If they want to experience the work they are required to not only photograph the work but let their phone make noise.

Technical Boundaries

An interesting technical aspect of QR codes is that you can choose varying levels of error correction in the code itself. What this means is you can manipulate the image to a certain degree before it becomes unreadable/unscannable. Companies offering products are using this capability to have graphic designers make custom barcodes for their products. But I’m using it to poke at the boundaries of what is possible. I want to experiment to see how much I can transform it and make it still readable, or how much I have to transform it to make it more visually appealing. And see how far I can push its use beyond what it was originally intended for.

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