Cory Arcangel describes himself as a “29 year old computer nerd from Buffalo / New York”. He works as artist in between media, game and concept art. But most of all he has a very fresh view on things that does speak from his minimal, modified works.
For a long time he is now into hacking things, especially vintage gaming hardware in favor of the Nintendo Entertainment System. He started out doing things with Beige, a “programming ensemble”, that meanwhile also turned into a record label. (You will best check out the incredible old-school Beige website to to get an basic understanding what they are about.)
The works of Cory are artifacts, some kind of derivates or moddings, that play with context of the original work. Who is Cory Arcangel? Is he a hacker? Is he an artist? Is he an actionist? Or just a nerd that likes to play? Let’s roll with the interview.
Cory Archangel performing Born To Run Glockenspiel Addendum live
Hello Cory, what is your basic concept to hooking on things?
This is hard to pin down. I really have no general interest: each project tends to be different, cause I like to tinker with stuff. Take it apart, put it back together again, etc, etc. The art part of it in many ways is a separate interest. They collide, cause basically I want these things I make to in some way to affect people. Therefore I can’t just tinker, I have to tinker with something people care about.
What does the hackers attitude mean to your life apart from building works and artefacts?
Hacking to me means having fun, playing around, practical jokes, being clever, maybe even being a bit of a wise ass.
You often make artworks where you add, modify or filter things out of products that are complete in their original purpose.
Ah yes, so I will restate your question: How does your modification reference the original? In general, hopefully, the modification and source material can not exist without each other. Now, this isn’t always possible, but that is the goal.
And do you work exploration or systematic? Design or accident?
I am a fan of systematic and design. I’d love to be more accident and exploration, but I am a nervous, uptight, and stressed out person. So, I like routines, and doing the same thing every day. This translates to “systematic and design” I think. One day if I ever truly have a break through (aren’t artists supposed to have these moments?), I’d start having accidents and stuff in my work.
Much of your work is very conceptual. Would your art even exist if there would be only the concept, so without the work that is done and showable?
Yes, of course. In fact, this interview and the images that accompany it exist totally separate from the works. Most people who read this will have never seen them. But cause I often frame my works with the internet in mind, they are made to exist in this 3rd person. Though more recently, I have been making works which can not exist and don’t made sense outside of the gallery, and the same for internet art. It all a back and forth I haven’t fully settled in on yet.
Back in 2002 Cory got big attention with a piece called Mario Clouds, that followed his typical way of modding old games and removing sprites and layers. In this piece he removed most of the game elements, making the games somehow useless artifacts, that showed significance only on a aesthetically level. He became the first attention at the Game Art hype around 2005, when Game Art exhibitions were the new “big thing” at contemporary art museums, where he showed his almost favourite Super Mario Hacks. At one he removed everything, but the layer of clounds, the other was a 15 minute glitch movie directing Mario through an abstract story of glitch and blocks. (You can download the original .nes ROM.)
Can you tell me something more about the Mario Clouds Hack and the time when you hit the museums and got real attention on that piece?
“Umm,….I wouldnt say that Mario Clouds was the first project that got me attention, but it was the project that definitely got me the most attention. The idea for the Mario Movie had been around since I made the clouds (2002) maybe even before, I’m not sure. But I do remember Jacob from Paper Rad came over to my APT, and he had some Paper Rad Mario Brothers comics, and then we came up with the idea of making a “silent movie” on a Mario Brothers cartridge. It just took us a couple of years to get around to really working on it, even though we had scripts for it and small parts programmed for a few years.”
One of his latest clever “hacks” is the Blue Tube. It’s a minimalistic work that plays with the YouTube interface. It is a short video, that colors the YouTube logo blue, that is embedded part of every YouTube video on the web. This surprising work (shown below) is again a good illustration of seeing the valuable detail in the everyday thing. At least this work is temporary, because it some distant point the You Tube logo will loose it’s shape or move to another place. It is somehow an exclusive work for this social software at this distinct point of time (“Web 2.0?”) and will maybe disappear in its effect we can see today. (Update: YouTube played a bit on their interface and the effect is slightly gone.)
How do you relate to the original “work” on the Blue Tube work?
The “Blue Tube” is of course an easy example. I simply draw attention to the YouTube logo that it embeds in all the videos it displays. I was hoping to point out to people, that this is a brand, and it will have all the problems, ups and downs, that are associated with this structure. At this moment, YouTube is seen as this utopia, this perfect entity of entertainment. I was hoping to shine a light on it, and say, hey, its temporary, it wont last forever, etc, etc. It’s just like all other technology. We will laugh at it in ten years. Just like ‘…we used to watch crappy little square videos on webpages! Ha, haha. It’s so cute!'”
An other recent work from Cory is the Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Glockenspiel Addendum (YouTube Video here). He writes on it on his website: “I have recently completed a new composition titled The Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” Glockenspiel Addendum. For those not in the know, Bruce’s Born to Run record is littered with glockenspiel. For example, the famous melody from the song Born to Run is actually a guitar DOUBLED by a glockenspiel. Yes, I know what you are thinking,…awesome, awesome, & awesome. The Born to Run record itself contains 3 songs that feature the glockenspiel, … For this project, I decided to create an addendum to the original and compose, play, and record glockenspiel parts for the songs on Born to Run that do not already feature the instrument. (…). Basically you can play the vinyl or mp3’s at the same time as the original recording, and you got your self a seamless mix with even more glockenspiel then originally provided by Bruce and the band.” It seem that this one follows again his approach of filter out specific elements, that related to the original works, but also can stand on its own, but more like an artifact, that a finished product.
What was you interest on doing the Bruce Springsteen Glockenspiel addendum?
I was interested in simply the phrase “Born to Run”. I like how that phrase sums up kinda America’s own myth of itself. The outlaw, the west, restlessness, the underdog etc, etc…
Kid playing “I shot Andy Warhol” and some video work from him.
Do you plan your works for a special impact on the audience, or comes everything “out of you” in let’s say a natural way?
I view everything as a performance. This includes the work. If you ever have met me, you would notice I am constantly spouting ideas for art projects, to people I know, and don’t know. I do this primarily, for entertainment (myself and others), to joke around, but also I do this, to see the reaction. I once read a Martin Kippenburger interview where he mentioned doing this to see where people got confused with his ideas, so when he made the work he could take it farther and confuse people more. I am kinda the opposite. Since I work with media and computers I assume people will already be totally confused before I even start the work, therefore I use these reactions to make my work simpler.
Are games in your opinion a special kind of software or is it something else?
Great question. Yes, they are interactive. Also “Game Play” is a whole science unto itself which comes into the mix.
Where does your inspiration comes from?
Do you know the works from jodi.org and how would you relate to your own stuff?
Oh man… Jodi are my all time favorite artists. I just love their works! I most of all have loved to see their progression. So I can’t say I have a favorite work of theirs, just kinda a favorite transition. I loved their transition from coding works into “screengrab works”. This was brilliant. They are no longer manipulating codes so much, but simply exploiting what is there. As for a relation, I’m not sure other then the fact I am a huge fan!
What is your very, very favorite software?
Right now it is Photoshop 7. I have such a hard time with it. and can barley accomplish anything with it. It’s always telling me some layer is locked or needs to be rastered or whatever there is. Half of the time the things I am trying to accomplish don’t happen cause I am so stupid and bad at it. I am serious here, but I can’t figure out how to draw a line.I don’t think I have the right “line module” so every time I try to draw a line it comes an arrow. And when I try to switch the line preset it says I only have the arrow available.
And finally you got some space to say something about your friends, affiliates, must seen works, book, movies or else.
Oh wow. Hmmmm… I am a big fan of come from behind Americana underdog movies. Rudy, Miracle, just to name two. As for books I just read Thomas Bernhard’s “The Loser” and thought it was pretty good.
Thanks for this Interview!
Text and Interview: Martin Wisniowski, August 2007
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