Apr 19, 2012
While much of the discussion around the use of QR codes has been about commerce, today, quite by chance, I saw an example in the name of art that to my mind is the most successful of any that I’ve encountered.
Run as part of Transport for London’s Art on the Underground public art project it turned the poster sites at White City, a station in West London, into an interactive gallery. The artist Anna Barham divided the work into two components, the posters themselves and a series of text and video work encountered by following the links embedded in the QR codes.
It is apt to say it was a chance encounter as at the heart of the project is Tyche, the Greek Goddess of chance and fortune.
The work was hard to ignore as it filled all the poster sites. The QR codes dominated, but on second glance it gradually became clear that rather than being simple black and white squares, the dark areas where actually images taken on the Underground line that White City is on, the Central Line.
This visual trick was very effective in the context, as it made plain that there was more to the posters than at first meets the eye. It was all a bit Alice in Wonderland, highlighting that by taking a closer look and engaging more deeply the viewer can get more from the experience. In this case, by following the QR code – like following a rabbit down a hole – it could take them to a different realm.
As I had a few minutes to spare I used my smart phone to follow some of the links. Some were videos but what I found more intriguing and effective were the higher resolution codes, which encoded text. No need to follow a web link, at least not in the i-nigma reader I used, as it decoded the code and presented a Swinburne poem and a Wittgenstein quote on colour each pertinent to the pictures on the posters adjacent to them.
So what is the relevance to print? The primary points of interaction were posters, and not massive ones, certainly within the capability of any wide-format printer and maybe even the right size for the latest B2 digital machines making their debut at drupa. This project wouldn’t work on a digital display, as the images need to be static and to reveal themselves slowly, which makes them perfect for print. As it was a site-specific piece, the print volumes involved mean it was only practical to print them digitally. Even a campaign across many sites would benefit from site-specific QR codes to measure interaction for campaign analytics, again requiring digital print.
Given advertising’s penchant for borrowing ideas from artists, there is a good chance that some creatives who experience this work take inspiration from it. May Tyche ensure good fortune for the printed poster.
For more information, see http://art.tfl.gov.uk
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