December 9, 2013
As we know, barcodes are a useful in tracking inventory and monitoring our everyday retail products. Without them, errors in business would be frequent and many companies would blindly run at a loss each month. As useful and practical as these symbologies may be, creative figures have found ways to turn the mundane and practical into abstract and artistic. And you’d be surprise by the level of ingenuity involved.
American artist Scott Blake was renowned for his artwork collection which involved the reworking of, you guessed it, barcodes. Everyday pictures were recreated using thousands of tiny barcodes to reflect the image. Blake created over 30 portraits of pop culture icons using his barcode recreation methods – each in a way that was symbolic to their fame. Madonna’s image, for example, was made from thousands of tiny images of her CD covers which, blended together in the perfect alignment of contrast and colour, created her face.
Alternatively, Oprah Winfrey’s portrait contains the ISBN barcodes from her book club whereas Bruce Lee’s image is comprised of the barcodes from his DVD. When scanning the individual barcodes on Bruce Lee’s image, a short fight clip from the actual movie which the barcode represents starts to play. Blake comments on the piece: “I used the barcodes from Bruce Lee movie DVDs to create this 8 foot portrait of the Chinese martial artist. The mosaic tiles are arranged in a zig-zag pattern to break focus like a shockwave from a punch.” Take a look at Scott Blake’s website to delve into more of his works.
Another American multimedia artist, Bernard Solco, is best known for his large scale paintings and sculptures of product barcodes. It was his goal to both reflect upon as well as represent how art and technology have combined in recent years. Of his most famous works, a number of over-sized one-dimensional and two-dimensional barcode canvases were created and exhibited in Soho, New York in 2000. The paintings are so precise that they remain scannable. The art collection, “American Product Series,” explores technology as an influence over society.
Solco attended the 50th anniversary of the barcode celebration at the Uniform Code Council, and with him, the inventor of barcodes himself, Norman Joseph Woodland. Solco created a painting inspired by the first barcode patent by Woodland in 1949. And 50 years later, artist and inventor – both creators in their own right – came together with Woodland signing Solco’s painting at the event.
When it comes to graffiti and street art, Banksy is a popular phenomenon. Though many of his works are either taken down by the council or destroyed by competitive graffiti artists, some still remain. And one of his more iconic and well-known pieces is a monochrome print of a leopard free of his cage. The bars of the cage are depicted as the lines in a barcode which induces many themes and thoughts. Many argue that since barcodes are often used as jail bars in art, the print symbolises society’s slavery to consumer culture. Those with a more direct approach claim that it represents the illegal big cat trading happening in the world black market and is a message of awareness to conserve and protect our animals.
Another prevalent piece of Banksy work is the pink barcode with the silhouette of a shark swimming underneath it. At a contemporary art auction held in Bloomsbury, London in 2012, the canvas reached the highest bid at 30 000 pounds. The shark appears to be swimming with its dorsal fin protruding the surface – usually an image that induces a sense of fear, alarm and danger in many. In adding the barcode element to the picture, we can draw the conclusion that Banksy was highlighting terrible danger that lurks beneath society’s wild consumerism and the spending of our resources. The image may also suggest believing that one’s wealth measures one’s worth is a deadly notion.
Barcodes as an inspiration for artwork proves the innovation to be not only a practical and efficient means of doing business in retail, but also a source of creativity able to spread deeper messages. It takes a level of intelligence to ‘read between the barcode lines’ and find hidden meanings and insights that can be offered globally. Barcode art comes in varying forms – some offering insight and food for thought while others have no message and just offer a form of visual stimulation. Whatever their resolve, artwork in general is always as unique as each and every barcode number or code that exists today.
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Our blog researchers include local barcode experts from the SA Barcodes team: Cat Robinson and Andreas van Wyk
SA Barcodes Team
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