Thomas Carlile's Landscapes of Memory

This article is from 2010.

Thomas Carlile's Landscapes of Memory

Public art exhibition spread across the city interpretable by touch phones

Keen-eyed observers will spot a number of black and white square barcodes amidst the shop signs and fly posting that decorate Edinburgh’s streets. But what is their purpose? Rachael Cloughton explains:

The first one I saw was stuck to the concrete walls of a car park at Ocean Terminal: its ambiguous sequence of lines revealed nothing of its purpose and demanded little attention. A few days later I noticed another one at a different site. The minimal series of black and white squares lacquered to a lamppost contrasted with the fluorescent lime letters of the shop sign behind it. This time it held my attention. After running the image through the scanning application on my iPhone the words ‘a green ASDA sign is the only sign of life amongst grayness’ surfaced on the screen and the purpose of these enigmatic squares finally became clear.

Each code is part of an ongoing public art project by the Edinburgh based artist Thomas Carlile. Entitled Landscapes of Memory the work is inspired by Guy Debord’s concept of dérive [or ‘drift’], which re-evaluates the urban environment as space rather than a series of architectural styles. Both personal and highly technical, these ‘quick response codes’ and the information they contain relate to a series of directionless journeys travelled by Carlile since May 2010. Scanning each code through an iPhone or a similar device connects it to the web, where the artist’s initial thoughts and emotions towards the surrounding area are held.

The work is deliberately esoteric: there are no maps to find the small square codes quietly dotted on lampposts, street signs and fences around Edinburgh. There are no accompanying instructions. Carlile’s work is designed for an audience as curious as himself, and the information unlocked by the codes is a reward for the viewer’s fastidiousness.

Carlile’s background in graphic design is evident within the work. Each piece of text is subjected to a meticulous thought process before Carlile selects an appropriate typography. For instance, one code, reading ‘Rough Estate’, is spelled out in speared letters that hint at the threatening nature of the virtual content, while simultaneously arousing suspicion in the viewer towards the surrounding space.

‘I carefully analysed every typeface I had accumulated in my sketchbooks,’ explains Carlile. ‘My objective was to assign a typeface to every emotion in my written observations, developing an interest in conveying feeling with the subtlest use of form and as little information as possible.’

The sheer volume of communication that permeates the urban environment within which the codes are placed, further emphasises this idea, drawing attention to the mass of information we digest in a single moment.

The complexity behind the codes – both in their production and their intricately crafted and categorised typefaces – dramatically contrasts with the passive nature of Carlile’s journeys around the city, which he embarked upon without time-keeping devices and which were led solely by intuition. Yet, it is the question of whether it is possible to intimately engage with landscape in a modern, urban environment that truly resonates.

So far Carlile has left 40 active codes across Edinburgh and the artist is set to widen his explorations to the the Glasgow area. It is fitting that this constantly expanding public art project has maintained the free spiri of Carlile’s initial walks and is hitherto without a clear destination or end.

To read Thomas Carlile’s quick response codes download the BeeTagg Reader Pro app from the App Store for iPhone, or from Marketplace for Android phones.

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