20100802

have you seen the signs?

All imagery has meaning.  It's inherent, right?  As does any object.  Hiding messages inside imagery is as old as the hills of course. And it's everywhere, not just in art.  We depend on symbols daily.  

I am exploring communication through symbols and gestures in my studio.  I recently discovered (from Bruce) one obscure way to turn text into symbols or hide a message called QR (Quick Response) barcodes. They won't be obscure for long, I don't think, plus they are already big in Japan (where they originate). I am seeing them more and more in the margins of magazines, as ads, signs and on the web.  Have you?


Image is everything. Symbols and imagery as signage is so often more concise and simply more aesthetic than text, which so easily (and often) becomes clutter.  (When text is done 'right', it is a different thing of course, but save that for another time please.  And save for later another personal favorite - when symbols are more confusing than effective.  Love that too.)  

Today, I'm interested in how QR codes diminish text into clear tidy boxes.  They aren't only to hide a message but to condense them.


In order to read the message, you need a QR reader which now is as cheap as um, freeee and as easy and portable as an iPhone app.  (For any mobile device really.)  There are about a dozen apps for this.  I got the MAAD QR app and it works perfectly fine for me.  You open the app, point the camera lens of your phone at the code and zap, it pops up a translation which could be text, a number or web link.  It's super fast.  So, imagine reading a magazine and instead of jotting down notes on a new solar-powered gadget or ripping out pages to save recipes, you just zap a QR code with your iPhone and you get the additional information. Plus it's handily stored so you can revisit it later.  Love. This.

It's no surprise that artists are embracing the new method to add another layer of visual communication in paintings, music videos and fashion.  Techno and Mod styles merge so well in QR codes.  Beyond the standard bold black and white palette and hard edges, the concept alone can add a juicy layer to a piece for the avant-garde as well as Pop.  Or domestically, how about hiding a message publicly in a chain-link fence?  See below Kylie Minogue's video, All The Lovers, featuring some codes (and other more obvious symbols).



Beyond the artwork itself, galleries and museums (like the Mattress Factory) are using them to condense wall text - gawd isn't that refreshing? As well as use them to track art pieces just like your basic bar code does.  Educators are finding handy ways to utilize them in the classroom.  This site has a list of tips for creatively using QR codes. A downside for luddites is that without a reading device I can't see how a person would translate the messages with their eyes alone. So those people miss out.  However more and more even luddites carry a cell phone.


The appeal of QR codes is more than just being relatively new.  They offer a wonderful aesthetic compromise.  They have just the right ratio of high contrast portions that a person could ignore them if they choose, and say, appreciate the art nearby, be it natural or artificial.  And conversely, they are eye-catching enough to easily spot them among the clutter of the world.  Can't you just see them on t-shirts?

qrcode

You can put a phrase into a QR generator at this site and make your own code.   

qrcode

4 comments:

Chris said...

Mmmm, Kylie Minogue. . . .

Those QR codes look like 2D barcodes to me. Same concept -- you can get a lot more info in one than you can in a simple 1D code. Interesting, I'd never seen them before.

trena said...

I've never heard of these before. Could you send the links you mention in your post? I'm curious how educators are using these. And this luddite still has an old school cell phone, so I'm out of luck for now.

Tonette said...

I like them better than the regular barcodes. I think it's a smarter, more compact design. Sorry that the links didn't show up. I had changed my background and lost my link colors in the process. Look again, you should see them now. There are several. And the classroom link is there for you, Trena. I thought you would dig it. Ciao!

Tonette said...

Oh and p.s. Kylie just turned up, I didn't go looking for her. Honest I didn't.