SYMBOLOGY: The Fine Art of Barcodes

In the current age of accelerated technological advancement, one seldom has the opportunity to reflect upon the nature of the changes this advancement brings until well after they have been effected. The impact that this condition has had in the last fifty years on the fine arts, which are historically resistant to interface, has yet to be calculated. One artist’s focus on this issue, and more specifically the technology of the bar code, has drawn the attention of both the art community and the bar code industry.

New York artist Bernard Solco’s depictions of popular American product bar codes illustrates the extent to which art and technology have become intertwined. These impressive oversize paintings have been precisely scaled and rendered so as to remain scannable. Yet, Solco’s works are not simple depictions of bar codes; in their altered format and context, they manifest new meaning. His “American Product Series” recently exhibited in Soho NYC, explores the ramifications of the influence which technology exerts over American society.

Bernard Solco has united the two distinct roles of consumer and artist. Representing a range of popular products from Welch’s Grape Jelly and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes to Elmer’s Glue and Kodak Film. Solco’s series delineates the buying habits of a specific sector of the American public. The works comment on the power of marketing to transform products into entrenched institutions, to ingrain them into the very fabric of a culture. The paintings would seem to suggest that the consumer is as much shaped by the innumerable products and marketing strategies offered to it, as it is a player in shaping them. The bar code is the symbol of this socio-economic union. It is the ubiquitous postscript to every human transaction.

Solco’s “Symbology Series” is remarkable in its graphic strength and cohesiveness. These giant black and white geometric abstractions are actually real working symbols encoded with various data. The images allow for a new awareness of the bar code, compelling one to consider the origins and ramifications of a technology which is so widespread that it has almost come to be taken for granted. Solco’s work is able to exist due to the advent of digital technology. This highlights the manner in which art and technology evolve in conjunction.