[NetBehaviour] "Decode" at the V&A: Digital Reflections and Refractions.

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Wed Feb 24 16:18:45 CET 2010

"Decode" at the V&A: Digital Reflections and Refractions.

By Charlotte Frost.

A large installation in the Grand Entrance of London’s Victoria and 
Albert Museum clatters away, registering its presence in this historic 
hallway. Jointly commissioned (by the V & A and SAP), bit.code (2009), 
by Julius Popp, consists of a large panel of black and white blocks 
which appear to represent a curious, indecipherable code as they rotate 
around their frame. Periodically its units align, clearly depicting 
popular terms streamed live from news site feeds. In this physical form 
and location, this is real-time made somehow more timely. Looming over 
visitors, a literal staging of data being decoded, the work asserts 
itself as an apt entry portal to "Decode", the V & A's inaugural 
exhibition of contemporary digital and interactive design.

This institution has long been dedicated to collecting and presenting 
the myriad manifestations of design, from architecture to textiles. It 
therefore seems right and fitting that some of the products of recent 
digital design be displayed here too. A lovely detail of this continuity 
between objects d’art past, present and future is demonstrated by the 
cover of the exhibition catalog. Its decorative ‘wallpaperyness’ seems 
to reference the Arts and Crafts movement while looking not dissimilar 
to 1960s Op art, and yet there’s no escaping the fact it features a 
highly stylized plug motif. This serves to reinforce the digital as the 
mode du jour, as well as making it clear this is somewhere it should 
feel rightfully at home. And such eager hospitality allows the show to 
occupy not just the Porter Gallery, but other parts of the V & A and 
South Kensington locale.

The exhibition has been arranged under three closely intertwined themes: 
Code, Interactivity and Network. Though they serve as reminders of the 
characteristics of the work, there is too much over-lap between these 
terms for works to actually be ordered according to such categories. In 
more literal terms, therefore, you first encounter small, mainly 
screen-based, code-driven works before arriving in a playground of 
large-scale interactive installations, with the pieces categorized as 
‘networks’ sitting in between. However, given that a great number of 
works within the selection (made by the V & A and partner curators 
onedotzero) reference mirrors, a clearer – though unofficial – theme 
might be that of ‘reflection’.


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