I began to love bar codes for their sheer blatant ugliness, says Hoberman, And I dreamed of a totally black and white environment, totally overrun by bar codes.
Last year, the American artist realised his dream in the Bar Code Hotel project. Guests of the Bar Code Hotel do indeed enter into a colorless environment filled with innumerable bar codes. But, in combination with a lightpen, the little black and white bars turn out to be the key to a colorful three dimensional world full of wondrous objects.
Bar Code Hotel by Perry Hoberman (1995) from V2_ on Vimeo.
Hoberman: We are so familiar with bar codes that we hardly even notice them, just an unpleasant fact of contemporary life. They are ugly, plastered onto countless consumer products, defacing the design of packages, books, magazines. And they don't seem to have any of the magical properties that often get attributed to advanced technologies. They are, however, one of the earliest infiltrations of the digital infrastructure into the universe of existing objects. They represent a kind of alternate reality superimposed onto the physical world. This reality is not addressed to us, but instead directly to the computer. Potentially, everything that has a bar code can be apprehended by the computer. Things can be sorted, classified, priced. (...) I first became fascinated by bar codes while reading cereal boxes at breakfast. I knew what they were for, but didn't know how they worked. Eventually I realized that they were an accessible and cheap technology that could be abused and misused in the service of art.
In Bar Code Hotel, the visitors get a pair of 3D glasses and can then find a spot behind one of the long tables, plastered with bar codes. On a large projection wall appears a space that can be filled by running the lightpen over a bar code. An engine, a radio, a strange porcupine sphere, a lightbulb surrounded by pulsating globes or a rolling spiral. The ugly black and white bars appear to be digitally connected with the most wondrous shapes. everything seems to be possible. Some of the bar codes have the word 'jump' or 'flee' and with those the audience can send the fantastic objects every which way. Other commands hidden in black and white make the whole room grow smaller or larger, turn 360 degree; or change color completely. From brown to speckled brown to bright purple. Hoberman recorded the reactions of his audience on video. Children, old age pensioners and everything in between have loads of fun and intently stare at the screen. Hoberman's black and white physical world has become nothing but an interface. A useful tool which only serves to inhabit Hoberman's wonderful virtual world.