Discover digital surprises as ArtWalk season concludes

August 30, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

QR code exhibition is designed to launch conversation

The latest exhibition from artEAST is a series of stark images — square and oblong patterns in a “Tetris”-esque arrangement against a colorless background.

The smartphone-equipped in-crowd recognizes the patterns as QR codes, barcodes designed for mobile devices to read.

Expect to see oversized QR codes along Front Street North as the spring- and summertime ArtWalk concludes Sept. 2. The nonprofit artEAST collective plans to deploy the codes to connect attendees to images and videos at the Art Center & Up Front Gallery and along the street during the event.

Seattle artists Stephen Rock and Nichole DeMent used QR codes to connect smartphone users to data and images during a spring exhibition in Seattle.

Now, the duo plans to offer a similar experience to ArtWalk attendees. Rock is creating a sculpture up to 12 feet tall designed to evoke building blocks — and covered in QR codes — for the event.

“What’s interesting to both of us is the subtle variations,” DeMent said. “To the average observer, they all look the same.”

If you go


  • 5-8 p.m. Sept. 2
  • ArtEAST Art Center & Up Front Gallery, 95 Front St. N., and along Front Street North and in Gilman Village, 317 N.W. Gilman Boulevard
  • The nonprofit artEAST is hosting a wine-tasting fundraiser at the art center during ArtWalk. Tickets cost $10 for two tastings or $20 for four tastings.

What is a QR code?

A QR code, or Quick Response code, is a barcode designed for smartphones to read. The black-and-white squares often link users to websites or digital media, such as photos and videos.

Users must download a smartphone app to read the codes. Download free scanner apps in the Apple App Store, Android Market or BlackBerry App World.

ArtWalk organizers recommend# the free Scan for iPhone users, QR Droid for Android devices and QR Code Scanner Pro for BlackBerry users.

Once the code reader is installed, users need only to open the app and direct the device’s camera at the code.

So, attendees can scan a QR code outside artbyfire, a downtown glass studio, and see a digital portrait depicting glassblower Lenoard Whitfield. The image forms from iPad “brush strokes” — actually, careful finger swipes across the screen. Or, scanning a code at the Hailstone Feed Store accesses a photo of the historic gas station from a bygone era.

The black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background intrigued artEAST Executive Director Karen Abel and member artists.

“We thought it would be kind of a hoot if people up and down the street, as they encounter these oversized QR codes — almost like a scavenger hunt — and as they read them, then they would come to some interesting image or something like that,” Abel said.

The downtown and Gilman Village ArtWalk is the latest application for the almost-ubiquitous codes.

Manufacturers include the patterns on ketchup bottles and other everyday products. Studios use the codes to link smartphone users to film trailers. College administrators affix codes on campuses as navigation aids for lost students.

“We started noticing QR, just like you I’m sure, earlier in the year,” DeMent said. “Going through the newspaper we’d see the Fred Meyer ad that would take you to a video of lawnmowers or something. Then, you start seeing it on real estate signs, etc. We thought those are just abstract representations of things.”

The possibilities for including the feature in ArtWalk also intrigued Abel — even if the experiment causes some head scratching among uninitiated attendees.

Throughout the planning process, organizers asked if enough people understood the codes.

“That’s going to be a question. Personally, I think the answer today is a lot of people don’t,” Abel said. “But 12 months from now, everybody will. That’s why we thought we’d be fine to do this QR code street scannable experience today, because by the September 2012 ArtWalk, it’s probably old news.”

The last ArtWalk of the season includes more traditional offerings, too, such as Artist Alley on Northeast Alder Street. The outdoor space features a professional model for figure drawing and a potter’s wheel. Inside the art center, the organization plans to host a wine-tasting fundraiser.

In the meantime, Abel is urging ArtWalk attendees to download smartphone apps to read QR codes.

“It will probably generate more conversation than it will actual scans, but I think a year from now, it may be a completely different story,” she said.

Redmond artist Susan Melrath used the Brushes app on the iPad to create the digital painting for the artbyfire exhibit.

Since she read about museums using QR codes to add to exhibits, Melrath started using QR codes to connect art aficionados to videos, including a time-lapse segment to show viewers the process to create a painting.

“It kind of lets people into the process that sometimes might be kind of mysterious to them,” she said. “It’s really not mysterious — it’s just paint on canvas.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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One Response to “Discover digital surprises as ArtWalk season concludes”

  1. Prabir on August 31st, 2011 9:48 am

    This is interesting for art enthusiasts to engage with arts. This would also help educate more people on QR codes and its variation in use. We would be waiting to here the fun embedded into these codes.

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