Philly Tech Week: AIGA Philadelphia Presents "Animate"

Jacob Colon, for GPA -- I froze when I walked into SPACE (72 N. Second St.), the gallery and Philadelphia headquarters of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).

Quick Response (QR) codes - symbols that scan media through your cell phone's camera - covered the gallery's walls from head to toe. I immediately realized that I had no idea whether my phone was even capable of scanning the jumbled codes, thinking it must be exclusive to my often-favored iPhone users.

Fortunately, I successfully scanned, and scanned, and scanned until I felt strange looking down at my phone for minutes at a time with other gallery goers in orbit.

One scan brought me to the meticulous, Kandinsky-esque drawings of Andrew Schmidt; another to an animated short by graphic designer Nathan Kaszuba.

This new exhibit by AIGA Philadelphia, titled "Animate," was open on April 4 not only in collaboration with the first night of Philly Tech Week, but also to coincide with Old City's famous First Fridays.

Nicole Koenitzer, AIGA Philadelphia's Interactive Director and the brains behind this digital exhibit, has wanted to put on a QR code show for a long time. Calls for artwork yielded over 100 submissions from Philadelphia, across the U.S., and even as far as India.

Koenitzer’s background in programming made her extremely familiar with QR code technology. She previously saw another art show in which QR codes identified her geographic location. To Koenitzer's knowledge, hers is the first show of its kind to feature art directly through scanning the codes.

In addition to pioneering the way we think about art galleries, "Animate" depicted the revolutionary medium that is the QR code. With some codes being as small as a driver's license, the organizers of this exhibit were able to fit far more pieces of art onto one wall than I've ever seen before. According to SPACE’s director Gaby Heit, the gallery space itself is interactive.

"Artists who contributed to this exhibit walk in and say, 'How do I know where my work is?' The only way to find out is by scanning these random codes," she said. 

Because there is no way to look at a QR code and know what you're going to see (at least for the average viewer), the best way to interact with the gallery is to scan until you drop.

"Part of why it's so much fun is because it's random," Heit added. "You don't know whose art is where, or what you'll find in each code."

The only physical artworks exhibited in "Animate" are two three-dimensional lenticular prints donated by the Silicon Gallery and created by artist Anna Tas.

Surrounding both of these mind-bending prints are dozens of QR codes that bring the viewer to a series of optical illusions much like the physical prints themselves.

AIGA Philadelphia hosts a new art exhibit every month. In March, the gallery showed the work of London-based graphic designer Kate Moross. Heit tries to ensure that SPACE features a wide variety of mediums within the world of graphic design. She feels that housing an exhibit based entirely on QR codes and motion graphics reflects SPACE's desire to feature more unconventional art with fewer boundaries.

Photo courtesy of Philly Tech Week.