• Barcode Ireland Team

The ‘Art’ of barcodes

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Barcodes in art, music and advertising.

Artistic everything has beauty mural

Barcodes and Art intertwined

Barcodes are a potent symbol of consumerism. Created for the retail sector, barcode symbologies are ingrained in the fabric of our daily lives. Artists and creatives however have been inspired by the black and white stripes, turning the mundane and practical into the provocative and abstract.

Dimitry Morozov is a Moscow-based multimedia artist whom we met in our blog “Did you know you need a barcode to sell musichttps://www.barcodeireland.ie/post/did-you-know-you-need-a-barcode-to-sell-music. In an an interactive installation entitled “Post Code,” he transforms consumerist icons, into digital landscapes. Morozov created a mechanism that scans the barcodes of various objects which then turns the encoded digits into post-card sized works of glitch art. The same mechanism retrieves the melodic beeps and hums hidden within the codes, extracting from the simple barcode unique combinations of sound and sight. Morozov’s works view barcodes as more than the relationship between technology and the consumer but as individual works of beauty. He writes, “Thus, such exclusively digital object [sic] becomes means of obtaining an artifact, suitable for archaic, but ultimately human mode of communication - a postcard".

American artist Scott Blake elevated the barcode into an art form. Blake created over 30 portraits of pop culture icons using thousands of tiny barcodes to build an image that was symbolic to their fame. Madonna’s image for instance, was made from thousands of tiny images of her CD covers which when melded together created her face. Oprah Winfrey’s portrait contains the ISBN barcodes from her famous book club. What’s more, many of these art pieces are interactive, where scanning any barcode in the piece will trigger some relevant content. For example, when you scan a barcode on his Marilyn Monroe piece, a clip from a Marilyn Monroe movie is played on a nearby screen.

Of his barcode portraits, Blake says, “I started making art with barcodes right before Y2K, inspired by the year 2000 computer bug, and threatening digital apocalypse. Barcode Jesus was born in Photoshop, by creating mosaics with simple shapes. I first tried circles and then squares. The tile patterns morphed into a cluster of lines, and before I knew it, I was staring at a bunch of barcodes. I assigned the numbers to describe each pixel’s grayscale value and grid coordinate.”

New York artist Bernard Solco’s large scale paintings and sculptures depict popular American product barcodes which illustrate the extent to which art and technology have become intertwined. So precisely scaled and rendered, each painting is capable of being scanned. 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 collection, “American Product Series,” explores the ramifications of the influence of technology over society. 

Interestingly, the paths of innovation and art dissected when barcode inventor Norman Joseph Woodland and artist Solco attended the 50th anniversary of the barcode celebration at the Uniform Code Council. Solco created a painting inspired by the first barcode patent by Woodland in 1949 which Woodland signed at the event. 

The reclusive Banksy is synonymous with street art and graffiti, his works a social commentary on controversial subjects such as police brutality, the refugee crisis, politics, pollution, war and animal cruelty. ‘Barcode’ belongs to the artist’s celebrated early works and dates back to 2004. Stencilled on the wall of a building, the monochromatic palette depicts a majestic leopard emerging from a barcode resembling a cage on wheels, from which it appears to have escaped. The ‘bars’ of the barcode have been bent apart to create an opening from which the leopard saunters, free. As with many of Banksy’s works there are many interpretations. Here the barcode is used as a symbol of consumerism and capitalism. The leopard can be seen to be demonstrating the ability to free oneself from the slavery of consumerism.  Or perhaps more obviously, a commentary on the treatment of animals in cages in zoos for human amusement, or perhaps the poaching of wild animals, their illegal trade and the need for conservation. The work was first seen at auction in March 2012, selling at Bonhams, New Bond Street, in their Urban Art Sale. Estimated to reach between £60,000 to £80,000, it realised £75,650.

Another of Banksy’s more recognisable barcode works is that of a barcode with the silhouette of a shark swimming underneath. The shark appears to be swimming with its dorsal fin ominously cutting the surface, an image that naturally strikes primal feelings of fear and danger in the onlooker. Add to that the barcode and we can draw the conclusion that Banksy was accentuating the dangers that lurk beneath society’s wild consumerism and the spending of our resources.

The whimsical Coney Island Tagging Robot, situated on the wall of a former convenience store, was sadly devastated by the destructive force of hurricane Sandy. The piece was produced during Banksy’s month long “Better Out Than In” tour and depicts a robot spraying an ominous looking barcode onto the wall. The barcode number reads as 13274125, which eerily, is the nucleotide DNA sequence for homo sapiens.

Leagas Delaney London, an independent creative advertising agency, designed a billboard for Stop the Traffik, a coalition working to stop human trafficking. It cleverly and very powerfully depicts silhouettes of human figures amid the bars of a barcode symbolising the commoditisation of human beings.

Reading between the barcode lines, art, culture and music have elevated and been elevated by the innovative yet banal retail barcode.

Our barcodes work internationally. To get barcodes for your work of art, head to our Buy page www.barcodeireland.ie/buy, or contact us on info@barcodeireland.ie or through the contact form on our website www.barcodeireland.ie/contact







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