Barcodes, as most people know, provide a way for a machine to read product-related data. For many artists, however, the barcode is a powerful symbol. For example, it can be used to represent soulless consumer homogeneity – or as a form of Orwellian control by money-hungry capitalists.
Other creatives view the humble barcode as a starting point, and as a challenge. The familiar striped rectangle can be manipulated in a variety of ways that challenge peoples’ perceptions and, in doing so, allow them to perhaps learn something new about themselves and the world around them.
1. Barcode building
Situated near Volodarsky Bridge in St Petersburg, Russia, there lies a particularly large homage to the barcode. The so-called ‘Barcode building’ creates the appearance of a massive barcode by the innovative placement of its long, thin windows, which each have a number above them.
The striking red rectangular building is owned by Vitruvius & Sons and adds a playful aspect to the otherwise dour surrounding landscape of grey high-rises.
Increasing numbers of designers are using barcodes for inspiration for anything from seating to illumination. Jason John Muscat from Demuzz Designs created a black rectangular sofa with gaps between the cushioned parts to make it look like a barcode, Hampstead lighting created a wall-mounted light with barcode-style lines glowing in red or blue, Marian Lassak used the barcode’s familiar lines to create a triangular CD holder.
Street art is where the idea of manipulating barcodes first originated. Bristol’s Banksy is often credited with starting the trend for stencilled barcodes with often anti-capitalist messages. Such barcodes now appear on the walls of cities throughout the world.
Several design companies have realised that the barcodes that feature on everyday products don’t have to adhere to the familiar rectangular format. Design Barcode Inc is a Japanese company that specialises in creating innovative barcode designs that enhance the product by being directly related to it.
For example, a bottle of apple juice will feature an apple-like barcode, while an easy-to-prepare food product features a barcode in the shape of an apron. Those with a product to sell can also find barcodes at www.southeastlabels.co.uk or places like Vanity Barcodes LLC, in Lakewood, New Jersey. Click here for help designing a barcode.
Conceptual artists love the barcode. One of the foremost purveyors of barcode art is Scott Blake. Blake specialises in creating huge portraits of cultural icons that on closer inspection are made up of barcodes significant to the subject. For example, he used the barcodes from Marilyn Monroe DVDs to create a portrait of the actress.
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Leading US barcode artist
Examples of barcode graffiti