|Cory Arcangel Doesn't Even Like Super Mario
Work: "Data Diaries", 2003.
Cory Arcangel is an artist who makes art at the intersection of kitsch culture and computer history. It comes through in projects like "Super Mario Clouds". An original copy of the Nintendo Video Game Cartridge "Super Mario Brothers" was cracked open, and all the data erased, with one exception: the clouds that appeared in the game, scrolling by in 8 bit serenity. This fetishism for the dusty abandoned basements of video game culture permeates his work, coming out in his musical projects as well.
What follows is the preliminary interview I did with Cory. Even a casual conversation like this connects strongly to his body of work, with its rough edges, celebration of pop cultural refuse and total abandonment for the concerns of an accessible user interface.
ES: Can you tell me what artists have motivated your work?
CA: Well I really like Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and my friends at paperrad.org make cool stuff, so does Joe from BEIGE. Ummm, I dont know much about art history or anything on that style, so I cant really reference anything other than my friends, and / or music. I have really been interested in post-GNR Lies Axl Rose, and post Van Halen David Lee Roth. Actually did you know that David Lee Roth just self financed a 1 million dollar art video?
CA: It is called Daves No Hold Bar b Que. I have only seen bits and it looks amazing! Also I do not think it is avail to the public. I guess he turned his pool into a series of caves and then rode around in a golf cart while filming it. Awesome.
One thing that has really got me thinking lately is this conversation that my friend Paul from BEIGE told me about. Stick with me here,it was between some of the kids from paper rad, and this guy from Chicago called "Le Duce" who is in a band called the POTIONS. So they were all sitting around trying to name the top 5 musicians who wear costumes. The people nominated were:
The Village People
And then Le Duce says -> "Carlos Santana". That kinda stuck with me. I cant get over it.
ES: You know, it's true? I would never think of Carlos Santana as a Costume Rocker but he is. That's how good he is.
CA: Generally I am interested in this idea that all culture exists on the same A.D.D. addled plane. Nothing makes any difference because after years of watching the Golden Girls, O. Winfrey and Who the Boss? how could anything possibly sink in? Like Chuck E Cheese, Chuck D., Heavy D, Biggie, Big Pun, Big Boy, Bob Evans, Roy Rogers, Rolls Royce, and Rollos ,....what's the difference? So I would love to say there was some contemporary artist who's work really got me thinking, but lately I have just been trying to sort out 20 years of garbage TV culture that is filling my brain.
ES: Can you talk to me a little bit about your audio work with Beige?
CA: BEIGe is a programming crew I am a founding member of...I think we started around 1997 or so....it is 4 people, myself, Paul Davis, Joe Buckman, and Joseph Bonn. I guess[?] we are a collective, as we often work together or release work under the name BEIGE. We all met at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. I went to study classical guitar, Paul went to study electronic music and harpsichord, and Joe Bonn studied art history, and electronic music. At the time, Paul Davis and Joe Buckman [a friend from St.. Louis] were making music and so they formed Beige Records to release it. After a few records we all started to make some really weird stuff and eventually wandered off the map into hardware hacking, video art, and bead work [we do not really see any difference between audio and visual work] so we just went with the name BEIGE as an umbrella to describe everything we were doing. FYI: It is funny cause all 4 of us have never actually all been together at the same time.
Our first biggie style project was the vinyl release "the 8bit Construction Set". It is a 12 inch DJ battle record. Atari vs. Commodore 64. This took about 2+ years to make as we started in 1998. It was well received. Mixmaster Mike, Luke Vibert, Bodenstandig 2000 use it, and it was featured on Qberts DVD wavetwisters [even I have never seen the DVD]...Our first art style show all together was in Chicago at a space called "Deadtech". [at this point I should send a shout out to the og data art player robray@deadtech] At that point I think we knew we were on to something. This show was them kinda trucked across the ocean to Munich a few months later. The most important part of BEIGe is our view of process based computer art. This was inspired by our classical training. These ideas about process are what define a BEIGe work, and is why most everything I do one way or another have a kinda BEIGe feel to it. It is just how we do it.
" "ing an earlier interview:
The idea behind a classical training is that one must obtain a relative
mastery over the instrument before even attempting to interpret any
composition. On guitar I had to play only studies and exercises 6 hours a
day for 2 years before one professor would allow me to play any work. So
somewhere around 1997 as everyone started fooling on computers [with no
regard to even attempting to understand the tools they were using] we came
to the conclusion that one should obtain a relative mastery over their
software/hardware. [I had been rocking hypercard/director and things since
early versions so I was lucky to make all the same mistakes people are
making now when I was 12...]
We [BEIGE] started using fixed architecture machines, computers which are no longer being developed, at this time because it is impossible to keep up with commercial software and hardware. Imagine trying to play Bach on the piano if they switched keys around every few years ... and charged you for it! Plus the limited capabilities of these computers allows us to understand every aspect of the machine. Thus we can [pardon the phrase] become "experts".
ES: Do you think Super Mario Brothers was one of the things that gives our generation cohesion?
CA: Well,...not Super Mario Brothers, cause for an example, and i think I make a good one, I never really liked or played the game. at this point most of my interest in the game is in the 16 * 16 sidescrolling graphical limitations. So to answer the question, I think there are a lot of people who missed that particular game, but no one who missed the aesthetic of the early computer and video game movement. [Remember that early computers and video game systems were basically the same thing.....] So yeah, that is definitely a big thing for our generation. No question either way about it.
ES: I notice in your work that you use the aesthetics of Nintendo cartridges in particular; in "Super Mario Clouds" and "I Shot Andy Warhol." I think the Clouds piece is really resonant to me just because of what that game means culturally; almost like we were finally seeing what was possible in the world. I wouldn't be surprised if video games are seen as sort of the equivalent of LSD, in terms of the impact on art in the following generations. I mean, what draws you, personally, to the language of these games?
CA: I don't love the games so much, but I really love the systems. I love the look that the old Systems have. For one, the NES directly accesses the TV's colors. So you tend to get these really bright colors on older TV's, much brighter than cable, or VHS tapes. This kinda thing also looks good even as a glow cast on a room. Like my cloud cartridge was really made for a TV I have in the corner of my apt, so at night it makes my living room glow that slurpy blue of the sky in the game. Second, I really like the idea of scrolling. Even more than movies, games tend to frame narratives in such a way that people really believe that the game world extends beyond the borders of the screen. All you have to do is move the joypad left or right to see it. And I really like the yucky stuff that the TV signal adds to the pixel perfect style. People forget that the pixel design style that is really popular is kinda like a mirage. That aesthetic only exists in the heads of designers because back on the day pixel graphics were all displayed on TV's which of course make everything blurry. Awesome. I can't wait until bad blurry antialiasing starts to be in vogue....in fact I can't wait until computer arts come in vogue. That will be the day which I bet never will come. ha ha ha....:)
ES: A lot of your work also deals with expiration. You seem to have an interest in dead media Nintendo, Commodore/Atari, 1.44mb diskettes. In the same sort of vein, I see a lot of your work bearing back to childhood, stuff like video games, hockey fights, and driving around strip malls. Now I'm obviously showing more psych major self than art minor self here, but I see the work as kind of tragic, because you have these video games, these relics of childhood, and here we're also seeing the bits and pieces disintegrate. I mean, am I being too poetic here? Reading too much into the work?
CA: Growing up in Buffalo I would here stories over and over again about what a banging city it used to be before the 60's. And all over the city there are these broken down reminders of this era. My fav is this place which was the train station built for the PAn-AM [I think?] EXPO at the turn of the century. It is a big grand central type train station which has been gutted and is totally deserted. It is tough to explain but it is really striking. Also I remember there being in the harbor for years this old ferry. It used to take people to this amusement park called crystal beach in Canada, and on the way over, there would be ball dancing on the boat and all other kinda of post-WWII awesomeness. But when I was little it was just sitting in the harbor rusting until one day it rusted too much and finally sank. I mean when you are young these thing leave quite an impression. So it seems to me the hopelessness that could the city of Buffalo just seeped into my work. Like why even try to fight decay? Lets just get on with it and see what we can come up with.
ES: What are your favorite quotes recently?
CA: "Like rock and roll, only slower," - Dirk from jodi.org explaining the idea of being an exhibiting artist.
ES: Is there anything you'd like me to ask?
CA: Is Acid the name of a sound?
ES: Is Acid the name of a sound?
CA: Why yes, ACID is the term used to describe a sound made by the roland 303computer controlled bassline synth. Songs made with this machine are termed "ACID traxx". This style was invented in Chicago in the mid 80's.
CA: (As ES): Acid has a certain groove that makes your body want to move, when you hear it when the acid hits your soul?
CA: I would agree with this statement. The first time I heard an ACID track I think I was like 15-6 and I remember thinking that I had never heard such evil machine music in my life. I was in some burnt out warehouse in Buffalo NY and I remember it was like 4000 degrees and there was some other DJ there who was only wearing an American flag and playing records with the sounds of waves on them. awesome! My other early ACID track memory is basically the same except it was a different warehouse, and it will like -20% and you had to wear your winter clothes indoors to dance without freezing.... hmmm....
CA: (As ES:)Does It [the sound of acid] makes you lose control of your body?
CA: Yes.CA: (As ES): Does it has a sound so unique you just have to move your feet when you hear it?
CA: 100% true.