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Adelaide Every finds the artistic truth behind QR codes

Adelaide Every hadn't thought much about QR codes until one day when she came face to face with one in the most intimate of settings: a bathroom stall at Missoula's Union Club bar. It was January, and the visual artist from VonCommon Art Studios in downtown Missoula, known for her experimental work with Plexiglas and spray paint (and also as DJ Mermaid), had already booked herself an April art exhibit at Zoo City Apparel without knowing at all what she'd show there. But suddenly, there it was, that small geometric design that has become a pervasive link between the material world and the digital.

Every is a self-proclaimed technophobe. But the code's aesthetic caught her eye and she had an artistic revelation, which led to her current project of making a 10-foot-by-10-foot QR code sculpture for First Friday this month.

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"I wish I knew more about technology ... and I'm so behind the times, and I don't care, honestly," she says. "I've been seeing it the past couple of years and obviously a lot more recently as it becomes part of our cultural lexicon. It's allowed people to connect ideas that you want to portray. You can have a poster but then you have this little code, and you get something more out of it. The whole idea, it got me thinking about what it means to exist in the physical world and be in a specific place on the earth and yet also be able to have that translate into a digital location as well. I don't know what it is. I can't quantify that loop or that circle or that process. It's just so fascinating to me for some reason. And I decided, 'That's what I'm going to do; I'm going to make a giant QR code.'"

The QR code has a longer history than one might expect—going back almost two decades to a less flashy use than its current role as an advertisement porthole. The matrix barcode was first designed in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota called Denso. It was used by the automobile industry to track vehicles during the manufacturing process. Like the UPC scanner codes, it's black-and-white and it holds standardized data that can be decoded quickly with a scanner. But there is something artier about the QR code over the UPC: It almost looks like you can decode it with your eye, as if buried in the labyrinth of shapes you might find an actual landscape. Most recently, it's invaded the mobile internet lifestyle, most notably in the ad realm: Take a snapshot of a QR code with your smart phone and it leads you to a company website where you might find shopping deals or chances to win prizes. Others lead to a Google map so that users can find the exact location of a restaurant, bar or shop.

Every's giant-sized QR code is a geographical code for the location of Zoo City Apparel, on whose wall the QR code sculpture will be displayed.

"The nature of this is very exact and very specific with little room for interpretation," she says. "My goal is to make this work, so that if someone is at the right distance, they snap their picture of it and it will take them to the Google map. The black areas have to be very specific, but this particular grade of code does allow for 25 percent error margin. "

Each piece of the code is made out of Plexiglas. The entire code will be lit up by Christmas lights, giving the surface a white glow. The black parts, made from spray paint, will be opaque. It's 125-inches-by-125-inches, or 10-feet, 5-inches on all sides, but it was a bit of a mathematical struggle to get to that measurement.

"I came about that because of a couple different parameters," says Every. "Originally, I wanted to do it 12 feet high—it just seemed to work in my mind But the wall that Zoo City has is basically 10 feet, 7 inches tall, so I decided to do 10 feet. But then, when I went to divide up the spaces, it was all kinds of funky decimals of inches of things. And so it was like, okay, 'That's going to get really complicated. So now it's 25 squares wide and tall, which means it's 5 inches by 5 inches for each square; that came out to 125 inches and it just barely fit into my available space."

The challenge of making everything fit together doesn't mean Every isn't putting her artistic flair aside. (A long-ago piece by her involving cigarette butts illustrates just how quirky and independent-minded she is.) In the translucent, marble-like spaces between the black lines, she's stenciled designs, lightly sprayed with gold or silver to give it almost a tiger-like texture.

An added bonus to Every's exhibit will be a reading by playwright Kate Morris, who created a 10-minute play inspired by the QR code piece. It's about robot aliens who move to Missoula and try to integrate into human society and, specifically, into Missoula culture. "And they see Missoula as the code," says Every. "They don't see it as the mountains and people and tangible things. It's an alien robot-versus-human interaction, and how awkward that is." She laughs.

Every's concept has a sort of rebellious irony. The QR code is meant to take a person into a digital world of consumerism. Every's code takes a digital concept and makes it an earthly piece for people to gaze at in and of itself.

"Something about recreating that in a physical form through tangible objects, making it super large because it's always so tiny—it just clicked for me," she says.

At the end of the month, Every will sell off pieces one by one—dismantling the code entirely, which sends it back into the realm of ideas. Says Every, "I want to parcel them out and sell them off and disperse them through the community."

Adelaide Every's Plexiglas installation Qyou aRe opens at Zoo City Apparel Friday, April 6, at 5 PM, with a reception featuring a staged reading by Kate Morris and DJ entertainment from Women of Action, Abe Coley and others. The exhibit continues through the end of April.

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