|A consumer phenomenon clocked at the speed of art.
Conceptual artist Scott Blake captures his audience red-handed in the participatory and reciprocal act of art.
Blake's "Every Barcode" (exhibited for the next few centuries at http://www.barcodeart.com/every_barcode.html) is an animated conceptual Net art piece representing every imaginable consumer product. Begun on February 27, 2008, it will take approximately 317 years to complete, thanks to an inherent 100 billion mathematical and visual possibilities.
The work counts through each UPC number from 00,000,000,000 to 99,999,999,999 at 10 digits per second. When the number matches an item registered in the official UPC Database it flashes the name of the manufacturer and product description for one tenth of a second.
Blake's work contributes to a premise shared by John Simon's "Every Icon", a thought-provoking work of computer-based conceptual art recently unveiled to critical acclaim. As "Every Icon" explores all mathematically possible combinations of black and white squares on a computerized grid, it indicates technology’s capacity to fill visual space across invisible time at warp-speed. Meanwhile, Blake's "Every Barcode" chronicles the depth and velocity of consumerism in perpetual motion.
Within the timeline of the ongoing creation of both animated works, familiar images will emerge and – in the blink of an eye – be forever discarded. In the case of Simon’s "Every Icon", the occurrence of recognizable shapes is based on the unpredictable geometry of grid pixel imagery. By experiencing Blake's barcode art, on the other hand, the viewing audience is inspired by a real-time interactive anticipation that constantly mimics – or incorporates – the physics of supply and demand.
As long as "Every Barcode" exists, its inventory of visual possibilities will expand according to the corresponding dynamic database of barcodes. And the longer one watches, the more the possibility grows that a brand or item description will appear. The consumer of one of the products that briefly flashes may subliminally see it during its short-lived objet d'art debut, before it resumes a non-art role in the manufactured world.
Built into that synergy of chance is the very real and unavoidable likelihood that the viewer will momentarily become a contributor to the artwork, by virtue of having purchased barcoded products in the marketplace. Every viewer is a brief and involuntary supporter of "Every Barcode" art, thanks to being a lifelong consumer of everything mundane.
For an engaged or invested viewer those inevitable possibilities – of connecting to the artwork through an intimate and organic relationship – are irresistible. The simultaneous thrill and agony of anticipation as we wait to see "our" products flash forth is animated by our own frenzied inventory of desires.
Of course the artwork itself has no fixed imagery or barcode of its own, and is not buying into its underlying momentum. "Every Barcode" relies instead upon us – with our lively appetites for consumerism – to fuel and perpetuate its creative process and artistic evolution of progress.
Art, at least in this case, does not need to imitate life, because "Every Barcode" lives vicariously and perpetually through each of us.