Super Mario

Cory Arcangel

Super Mario

15.12.05 → 16.01.06

The work of Cory Arcangel (Beige) by Raphael Gygax.


Boot-Up V,I - Nintendo ON. Blue sky. White clouds. Empty street. Blue sky. White clouds. Empty street. Blue sKy. White clouds. Empty street. White clouds. Empty street. Boot-Up V,2 - From video installations using obsolete home computer game systems to low-tech video, from lecture like performances on pop themes to the faked Internet page, Cory Arcangel displays no fear in his encounters with the old and new media of art around which his experiments circulate. To gain an understanding of Arcangel's multi-facetted work, one has to key into numerous access points simulta-neously. It stands to reason that his Nintendo installations fall within the discourse of New Media and more specifically within the subject area of Cenerativen Tools.I At a formal aesthetic level, an art historical relation to Minimalism emerges, which in turn conneas Arcangel to Pop. Arcangel's Conservatory education and his emphasis on the Minimalist compositions of the 1960S can be detected in works such as Nipod 17:2 (2004) or Nintendo-Ipod-Mega-Jam.mp3 (2005), in which minimalistic electronic sounds dominate. The artist's simultaneous interest in programming cornes as no surprise - the notation system in music bears precise comparison to the programming and hacking of computer systems. Another way to access his work is to consider the use of obsolete game systems, the raw materials ofmany of his works, as an historical approach to human game culture and particularly video game culture. Observing the body ofwork that has emerged over recent years, a propensity for cooperation with musicians, designers, programmers and artists is revealed, for instance in fhe work for his label BEIGE, or fhe artists' collective Paper Rad with whom he produced his largest work Super Mario Movie (2005). Arcangel's work is always released wifh reference to his label BEIGE. The label was founded by Arcangel togefher wifh fellow students Paul B. Davis, Joseph Beuckman andJoe Bonn.2 BEIGE regards itselfas a programmers' collective, renowned not only for its experi-mental Internet projects, but also for its elec1ronic music. Their record The 8-Bit Construction Set (2000 ), created purely from 8-bit computers and video game console sam-pIes, attrac1ed international attention - fhe record was used as "raw material" by DJs worldwide. Next Level- Minimalism V,J - Nintendo ON. Lost Mario. Shot down Warhol. Frustrated gamers. LoSt Mario. Shot down Warhol. Frustrated gamers. Jailed Mario. Shot Warhol. Frustrated gamers. Again blue sKy and white clouds. And an empty street. Next Level- Minimalism V,2 - In his artistic produc1ion of the last three years, Arcangel has concentrated increasingly on fhe so-called 8-bit game system which, at the beginning of the 1980S, revolutionized theentertainment market and intro-duced a new era - the Came Ceneration. Today, the game market has grown into a bmion dollar business. More and more scientific stUdies are anotted to the gamers' desire for and addiaion to bits and bytes - and no longer simply from a reactionary pedagogical point ofview that regards the com-pliter game as an aggressor and source of anti-socialization. Mario and co. have growli up - the rough 8x8 pixel maliikins are now 3D-rendered Adonises in 64m colors. Arcaligel's work mdisplitably bears withm it a mild nostalgia. But the artist's interestlies in new interpretations and evaluations of what has become redlmdant techliology in today's society. The basic raw material Arcaligel used for his best-kliowli work Super Mario Clouds V2k3 (2003) is the bes1-selling game Super Mario Bros (1985), and here he hacks into the game module also kliowli as the cartridge. This is ilot just an item of software, but is in fact hardware, hacked into by the artist and subsequently modified. In the video How to Make Suuper Mario Clouds (2003) he visualizes and explains, slep by slep, the procedure for colis1rlicting one's owli Super Mario clouds. By disconnecting some contacts on the circuit board and mserting a chip contaming a prograrn writteli byArcan-gel himself, alI the obstrlictions as weIl as the garne's hero are elimmated. The moment the maliipulated cartridge is placed in the game console the white clouds, which have to be contmliolisly regellerated, advalice jerkily across the blue sky. The game uildergoes a narrative clealiilig process, the dynamic is short-circuited and reduced to a mono-chrome background. The work's Mmimalis1 aesthetic reveals clear references to abstract monochrome painting. Accord-ing to the Americali media theoris1 Mark J. P. Wolf, the games of the 1970S and 1980S are weIl suited as raw material silice an early garne's crude graphic capability produces an image world that in itselfis relatively abstract. In the work Japanese Driving Gamue (2004) the garne's structure is capped, rendering it unplayable. The car that players sleer along winding roads is deleted. What remains is a ghostly journey through a psychedelically colored lalidscape. For the exhibition, the two works have beeli combmed for the first time and exhibited as abs1racted lalidscape paintings with the title Sutper Lam1dscapeNum11ber One (2005). The ms1al-latioli s'hifts the racer game into the center and the clouds take on a framing flmaioli as ifm a 19th century lalidscape painting. In this way the clouds cali be observed as an ironic commentary on classic cloud painting, which art historical research has identified as an experiment that contriblited to the development of abstract painting. Simultaneolisly the clouds are fully abstract images - simply a row of codes.  The reductive and mmimalist nature of the works is combmed with an offelisively, poster-Iike use of colors, a typical feature of Pop Art. Aliother interesting lmk with Pop Art lies in the nature of the production method based on mass reproduction techniques. It is theoretically and techliologically possible to cheaply mass pro duce media art providing access for alI, and yet the work becomes stylized into a rarefied artifact via the mechanisms of the art market. In his text How to Build Mario Cloutds, Cory Arcaligel describes the path of production for the SutperMario Cloutds V2k3 installation in the style of an mS1rlictioli malilial, explaming the process step by step ailà providing the neces-sary codes for programming flirther animation. The raw material is available in second hand s'hops or on E- Bay for little money. A moment ofrevelatioli is concealed behind the idea, for ilot omy s'hould media art be giveli wider accept-alice and the artwork flirther dernocratized, but we mliS1 also more fully comprehend the machines that play such a dominant role in the hyper-techliologized world of today. In their artistic works Arcaligel and BEICE consislently formulate a media critique that highlights how mu ch the creative artistic process is now dependent on and dictated by compliter programs and their already determmed param-eters. In order to hold on to his "autonomolis" status as an artist, Arcaligel concentrates on the programming laliguage of the 8-bit system, which guarantees hirn complete aes1hetic control over his work. The result is a clearly formulated code, which contains a wonderful rationality, and in which every detail is llicidly expressed. The work Super Ma rio Movie (20°5), which he devel-oped in cooperatioli with the artist's collectivè Paper Rad mvolves what, up to now, is his most complex work on pro-gramming. By the same token, its narrative character and its dramaturgy set this work apart frorn alI the others. As already stated in the title, it is about a programmed "film" that tells the tragic story of the hero Mario, the most popu-lar figure in the history ofvideo games. This is located in a hermetically sealed game world, which slowly disintegrates and dissolves. Like in the Walt Disney film Tron (1982), in which a young man ends up in a computer world where video games become reality and he has to fight for survival, the graphic title sequences are in the same typeface and maintam references to the film. Shortly after the opening sentence "As a video game grows old - its content and inter-nallogic deteriorate", the dystopic adventure of Mario begins and he is flling through a pattern ofpsychedelic col-ors until he fmds himself on his owli over-sized head, which in turli dissolves, pixel by pixel - here the narrative struc-ture is introduced, which recalls the self-reflexive video clips of Michael Condry or Spike J olizes' film Being John l11alkovich (1999). Additionally, the mserted textual com-mentary is concerned excllisively with semiotic s'hort cir-cuits and breakdowns. In its long sequences of colorful geo-metric patterns, which always dommate the sloryline, Super l11ario Movie appears to be self-generating - however, each mdividual color pixel has beeli defmed by the programmers. P'onus Level- Hack Attack continues, Internet and ~IP3 V.J - Static boulders . Lonely enemy. Flickering picture squares. One way search engmes. And 666 x the same MP3. Bonus Level Hack Attack continues, Internet and ~IP3 V,2 - Arcaligel' s work also dislinguishes itselfby demanding audience interaction. This usually ends in total frustration and thus delivers a critical commentary about the participatory strategies so very popular in the 1990S. In the work Super Slow Tetris (2004), the classic game Tetris (1985), in which simple geo-metric elements made up of lmes have to be aligned, the speed is so far reduced that playing the game is rendered unbearable. The game experience that normally requires a reactioli time ofhuildredths ofa second becomes an Odyssey. Rather thali thematizing the experience oftime and its ex-pansion, the work blends seamlessly into Arcaligel's method-ology by virtue of a small intervention in the syslern to deprive it of its flilic~tioning. Similarly, in his work Space Invader (2004) the original Space ImJvaders (1974) game is subjected to a "hackilig-Iike" reductioli process. The artist elimmates all but one of the hos1s of enemy aliens that nor-mally attack the defending mother s'hip. However, Arcaligel deletes nothing frorn the original game in I Shot Andy Warhol (2002), mstead the charac~ters are simply exchaliged. Armed with a plastic pistol, players interact by firing light impulses at theTVscreeli to shoot dowli the Alidy Warhol figures that appear. The garner therefore plits himself in the role of Valerie Solanis who in 1968 attempted to guli dowli Alidy Warhol. Other celebrities theli appear, such as the Pope, Colonel Sanders and Flavor Flav, but they mlist be spared, for it is omy Alidy who is to be glmlied down. In spite ofits aggressive impetus (which quickly becomes boring)'the work cali be read as a homage to Alidy Warhol, co-folmder ofPop Art, whose extensive work with alieli image material and mdlistrial reproduction technologies is ulirivalled. The reverse mechanism that Arcaligel repeatedly uses is also to be folind in works conceived either for the Inter-net or as cheaply acquirable compliter programs. For TA. C. (2004) he developed a prograrn that emarges compliter files many times over, rather thali making thern smaller. The program's promising abbreviation, T.A.C. adually stands for TotalAsshole Compression - a new Dada-esque pro-gram type. An element offrustratioli is also present in the search engine Dooogle (2004), which cali be seeli on the one hand to parody, but which on the other takes up the queslioli of Internet search engmes and their use, in \Tiew of the fac~t that they are the mos1 important instrument oftoday's information society. Who, or what, is granted vis-ibility and guaranteed a hit? What is actually gathered frorn the text search and what is rejected. This role barely exists in Dooogle - the information search is contmlially short cir-cliited by a new one. Every search term goes to the same loca-tion, a results page for Doogie Howseu:, M.D. , an Americali cuIt series from the early 1990S. Likewise, the work Data Diaries (2003) was conceived for the Internet, altholigh here there is no implicit critique of the medium itself. It is obvious frorn the title that some kind ofjournal is to be pub-lisned on the Internet; this, in itself, rais es few eyebrows in today's web society. But this is in no way a conventional alithor's diary, mstead the compliter's so-called memory-save occupies the central alithorial role. Up until the moment a compliter is turned off, the data last used remains in the secu-rit y memory saver - to express it metaphorically -, the data wanders around in the compliter's uilconscious and is impris-oned there until it is subsequently overwritten by new docu-ments. Arcaligel extracts this data frorn the memory storage daily and manipulates it as video data. He opens it using the Current slandard compliter video playback prograrn Quick-Time. A video clip lasting almost ten-minutes is produced, featuring colorful, wildly flickering patterns in squares, which recogilize no rules or repeating schemes. The visuals are accompanied by a dark, background noise - an attempt to visualize the compliter's uilconscious. Seeli in formaI aesthetic terms, the abstract vide os belong to the tradition ofCermaliAbsolute Films of the 1920S, which sought to attam a filmic, that is to say, time-determined form of painting -major protagonists of this movement were Walter Rlittmanli with his film Lichtspiel Opus I (1921) and Viking Eggelilig's Diagonal-Symphonie (1924). The interest in various forms of data conversion is also exhibited in Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast" compressed over and over as an MP3 666 timnes (2004). The title already reveals the content of the CD, which was avail-able for plirchase at the exhibition. The techliologicallayer-ing of MP3 data, a kind of dlibbing process using today's favored form oftralisporting digital music, is repeated 666 times by the artist. The apparent "alchemy" of this process, signified by the nlimber that represents evil in Christian numerology, results in a dark noise being audible when the CD is played - the heavy metal song is converted into a piece of cyber-gothic. Flirther interest in musical experimen -tatioli is s'howli in the work Nipod 17:2 (2004) in which a fully flinctioning Ipod is ilicorporated into a Nintendo game system - in other words the music is squeezed into 8-bit techliology to produce mmimaliStic electro beat solmds. Mdividual songs cali be selected frorn the play list and played back using the joy pad, the game console's steering equip-ment. Aside frorn listening to the songs raliging from Emi-mmem to Ace of Base, interventions cali be made into the song strlic~tlire - one cali speed the melody up, slow it down, or elimmate the bass line. Final Level - Nerdism, Performance and Video V.1 - Raving cats. Jumping Nerds. Carflinkel without Simon. Raving cats.JuMping Nerds. Carflmkel without Simon. And no limits.Final Level Nerdism, Performance and Video V,2 - Like the tiny "mini -malistic" interventions in Nintendo game cassettes - which nonetheless have extreme consequences - with which he has concerned himself for the greater part of the last three years, Arcangel is persistently interested in the medium of video, for its uilpretentious, primary form of simplicity. In Cat Rave (2004), which was the result of a collaboration with Fralikie Martin, the viewer observes a cat sitting in the middle ofcolorful rave storm, placidly licking its paws. After a few minutes the cat gets up and walks away. Arcan-gel uses the video medium here in its mos1 basic flinction -to record apparently spontaneous, private moments. The filming ofa beloved holise pet in its normal holisehold envi-ronment is parodied. In the video 414-3-RAVE-95 (2004) the protagonis1s, two freakily clothed nerds, have to per-form a bizarre choreography to a nerve-wracking techno song, using a kind of electronic gymnastic mat, similar to the one used in the party game Twister. At the end of the video, the goal of this curious behavior is revealed - a kind of pos1modern courting ritual. In the event that sorneone might find their appearance attractive, the video title con-tains a telephone nlimber for the plirpose of setting up a date with the nerds. Arcangel often uses a Nipod in his performances and, with great virtuosity, snows what the prograrn is capable of. As weIl as explaining and demonstrating his programmed works, the artis1 delights in lecturing on the 1960S-70S music duo Sim1ton & Garfutnkel. Equipped with a dlio's Best of DVD, Arcaligel demonstrates his antipathy for Simon during the video screening by attempting to celisor hirn using his halids to delete Simon 's image. Bearing t11e title Sam1s Sim1ton (2004) the work is in video form, and the per-formance is showli taking place within his owli four walls. Eveil in this naked celisoring of Si mon, Arcaligel's motiva-tion is far from satisfied. He follows up with a psychogramme of the mlisician, s'howing no mercy, even dowli to an analysis ofhis stiffposture. Arcaligel also extends his observations to scenes of the concert audience, drawing attention to a solitary, ant-sized female spectator who has her back turned to the duo, and is dancing wildly and hysterically alone, just for herself. Armed with a laser pointer and the DVD player's remote control, such moments are immediately frozeli and zoomed in on - and played back agam and agam accompa-nied by the queslioli: how could such a situation occlir? Now, at last, it becomes clear that what culmmates in such per-formances is the very essence of Arcaligel's work: moments of reversaI, small and strange as they may be, are precisely what captivate his interest. In spite of the aesthetic forms and even the works content diversifi-cation, these "nerd-like" incidents become his denominator. It is not the great world experience that seerns to interest Arcangel, for he foclises much more on iliconspiclious, negligible points, and in so doing, sets the preconditions of his N erdzone with its own laws and trliths. This distils to a firs1law -there is no Gante Over anymore - it has long silice beeli hacked out.