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.Cory Arcangel
Thou shalt not bother looking further than SMB1.PJaine
Deitch Gallery in Soho is perhaps the trendiest gallery of New York, which grossly means that wrether the art that is profusionly presented there is meant to stay or be forgotten the next year, the shows themselves often turn out to be the New York art thrill of the month, and their vernissages got the prestige that can entertain the edgiest fashion and showbiz crowds that they attract.
This sounds like a critique but don't misinterprete me: I adore Deitch, and there is always at least one of their shows that I found memorable when I visit Manhattan. All I'm saying is that generally you can expect art at Deitch to be either humoristic, light, slick, fashionable, shocking, or all of the above, and this, regardless if the art deals with more serious issues in the background (which it often does).
In this sense, the gallery really corresponds to the
"playful" tendencies of art that emerged in the late 90's, an everyday art of
gags and tricks that probably evolved as the only vivable solution to the harsh utopian lessons of the more dramatically engaged, be it romantic or politic, art of the previous decade.
This presentation will sound like I'm putting a little too much on the shoulders of the artists I wish to relate about in this commentary.
For all it's worth, Cory Arcangel and Paper Rad are indeed presenting a very
"light" and "humoristic" installation at Deitch, one that is loud and danceable enough as to be fashionable. Yes you heard me, this intallation is "danceable", with its trippy,
addictive techno soundtrack based on 8-bits computer game sounds.
This is nearly the first solo exhibit by Cory Arcangel, an artist that was discovered
by many at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, when he presented his two
"video canvases" made from pirated old computer game cartridges (some sort of minimalist loops of which I already saw an example a year before in an excellent group show at the
New Museum of New York).
Video Games you hear? Sounds like one big trendy topic, but let's just say that Cory is probably among those who helped this trend to affect the art world.
Personally, I'm a fan. This is much more easy to claim than to explain. Have you read
the Press Release for this show? It's a very cute statement of the artist detailing his
process, which mostly consists of pirating an old video game cartridge, and
transforming it into video art (in this case, a Mario Brother cartridge but those who already know Arcangel also know that he constantly comes back to the icon of Mario Brothers(tm).
In fact, one of the two installations presented was exactly that: a "detailed explanatation of his process", which included a short "making of" video, demonstrating how his art is really not that easy to do, and a wallpaper (covering two walls) made of an inkjet printed copy of the
computer "code" that he had to write for this piece (took him 343 hours!!), including extra notes for the second installation and a full fresh copy of the original cartridge.
But what it didn't say is "why"?....WHY??... Why this obsession with
old game cartridges? And specifically, with the character and accompanying bit-mythology surrounding Super Mario Brother(tm)? (he's
not the only one, and I really mean it)
The main installation, "Super Mario Movie" (2005), is a 15 minutes piece of "cartridge art" (just to differientiate this from traditional dvd "video" art) that presents a non-interactive
representation of the Mario World, now turned into this hybrid between animation, old silent film (they are intermittent
music video (there is loud danceable music all the way through) and
abstract art. All this, to give the collaborators Paper Rad some credit, presented within a
set environment consisting of
a few columns of decorated cubes, and about
6 cubes offered as seats, on which are projected extra videographic "ornements" to enhance the impression that you are fully being enveloped into Marios's world.
Sounds koooooolll, heh? Well that was my impression too, and actually one that I was trepidly expecting while walking toward Soho. I sort of knew what I was going to get and I was not disappointed. I think I watched the thing 3 darn times!
But why do we enjoy Arcangel's work, exactly? What does this enthousiasm tell about us? To contradict what the authors of the work say about it, part of it is simple nostalgia. Cory and his friend may argue that they never stopped playing 8-bits game, and that every computer media is automatically outdated by definition (hence how nostalgia would loose a necessary "referrent"), the major issue here is that there is one little cartoonish guy that most of us "westerners in our 30's" have cherished as a child and lost in contact with since more than a decade. It's so nostalgic I had an urge to dig a version of the game and play it!
Then, the character of Mario was probably art in the first place. Could you look more ridicule, please? Why did they designed that mustache, exactly? Apparently it was the only way to make the "square" nose makes sense...A construction worker, he looks like your average dad turned into some sort of surrealist hero.
I had to look up to learn a bit about the
history of this game, which came to be a landmark for Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in their early days (and ever since). Mario used to run across rolling barrels in the attempt to save a princess in the classic Donkey Kong (go figure), before he became a plumber, with the adjointement of his brother Luigi, when he had to cross a series of ackward sewers leading to an imaginary world filled with turtles, mushrooms, and other strange animals that he had to conquer in order to reach yet another princess guarded in a castle by a gigantic dragon-turtle.
Forget the consumer world an instant, as with Cory's appropriation, pop art is defeated by the banging surrealism of the digital. This art is as autistic and outworldish as the material it originates from (and to which I might add, it is conveniently subordinated). With Cory there is no really secondary reading to what he exploits. Not much revolt either. The work is presented "as is", and you either accept to embark in this hallucigonetic trip or refuse it as a work of art. There's not much of options.
But let's not reduce this art to what it offers visually because that would be missing a very important point. One of its great merit is how it attempts to demystify computer technology, one that keeps tresspassing on common knowledge, as engineers are continually enhancing tools that we use daily without ever being able to fully grasp how they work (except for a few basic
By presenting us every detail of the process of his creation, Cory seems to insist on demonstrating how feasible the whole thing is, if you allow yourself some patience. I admire the trepidance of artists who
reveal their tricks.
I saw in the first room installation the outline
of a singular battle between man and technology, one that
resulted into man's victory. Somehow the juxtaposition of digital creation with the peripeties of an artist struggling to program some obsolete technology rendered a surprisingly humane aspect to the project. It was such a deliverance to witness someone explaining the secrets of early computer graphic language, since it gave us hints that a control over technology once lost was now regained. Can you imagine a world set against corporative computer societies, with every individual now able to construct their own computer applications?!
Also, and this will sound like a stretch, but, however silly and playful it seems on surface, you can consider Arcangel's work as taking part in a deconstructionnist tradition of formal painting. Nothwithstanding the conceptual approach of revealing the instructions for the work, what are 8-bits cartridge games but a series of
minimal colored squares aligned in movement next to the other? This connection with art history that I've perceived was really enhanced by the important amount of
abstract segments within the film. Can you imagine the influence of constructivism and subsequent minimalism on the craft of 8-bits cartridges? Don't we need to start thinking with "squares", mathematics, and probabilities before being able to
draw a Mario? In a sense Mario is a missing link between conceptual formalism and the figurative. Cory's work seems to dwell on a threshold between exploring the pure visual phenomenon of computer "data graphics" and what they are actually able to transcribe. This work in a way constitutes the compulsive demonstration that everything can indeed be calculated in representation. Don't seek for any other "Da Vinci" code: It's Mario!
It's been said here and there that Cory's "movie" is more akin to mathematics, sculpture, writting, than video art, because the work functions like a ready-made that is being altered, for one, and secondly because the way that images are normally
represented in video games, through a phenomenon of scrolling that would have give a hard time to Vitto Acconci, the concept of framing is also ackwardly altered. Games have their own frames which are virtual, and these don't actually correspond with what is shown on screen. They correspond to codes and their own algorithmical limits. What I'm saying is that what we "perceive" as diegetic in Cory's video is actually "quite there". Computer activity is functioning and thus the screen becomes only a threshold between two worlds functioning differently. By proposing to do a "movie" directly out of an old computer cartridge (and not a representation of this object, such as with the film
"The Matrix"), Cory is assessing the possibilities of a new media language, and how little of it we have explored yet, at least as a language for art. Are images really moving in Cory's art, or is it us that are moving in them?
If we need to agregate links with the history of moving images, we could argue that by being so process-inclined, the work is reminiscent of
early abstract animation by such luminaries as Norman McLaren or even, to look further in the past, the early formalist films of german artists such as Hans
Richter, again coming back to an extremely formalist reading of the work, which share of intrinsic logic is far from being deprived.
But thankfully, all these
analytical details are secondary to what is foremost a very sensual
experience (the room flashes constantly, and it's hard not to tap your feet to the funny kitsch electro rythms), one that is so empowering that you forget to read if the story proposed by the sparse captions actually made any sense.
Speaking of story, at this point I think I will need to wait and see if Cory provides an internet version of this thing (afterall here he is selling the installation, not the video rights) to add a comment. Believe it or not, after 3 times I couldn't really make sense of any plot, as I was mostly looking at the thing from an abstract point of view, with the incongruous Mario
running in every sense, or stopping to (apparently) weep on a cloud. From what I understood, the vignette was originally drawn as a comic strip by Paper Rad, so that Cory transcribed it as codes for the Nintendo cartridge. What story? Hmm....this is less interesting: Apparently Mario just runs everywhere in a chaotic world in order to get to a big rave party. A topic that was probably best rendered by Paper Rad themselves.
Did we really need a story? Maybe afterall that is the weekness of the piece to wish to trigger narrative when so many others (as seen previously) are already gagging on the Mario's theme with perhaps greater punch and effects. Anyway, this art "has a right to snobs", as it is not your average flash web animation. It is constrained to the possibilities that low-rom cartridges can offer. This said, a lot is happening on the screen as the piece is pretty much paced in the ups, so I'm not sure how relevant narrative would be to the work apart from the fact that it is titled as being a "movie", and that it aimed to reference the medium and compared with it. Actually it compared much more with a party!
Reminding myself of a recent article by Timothy Comeau, I was thinking that this work is probably symptomatic of the
Nike generation that Arcangel, at his young age, must be part of. The
"Just Do It" generation of those who know that their 15 minutes are going to be short
and that they must hit it with a bang.
Well "Super Mario Movie" functioned like such a bang.
Forget extraneous elements such as literature or art theory. From the minute you entered the room and the one you left, your eyes and ears were popping out like being in Clockwork Orange, and this is the greatest sucess of this exhibit to be able to captivate so much of attention in a cluster. It's a downright trippy
drug experience !
You come out of it, you have no idea what you saw, but it's like you were spinning in a rotor! I heard Jeffrey Deitch himself call it "the funhouse" when I was visiting. Well that pretty much summarizes it: fun art.
And... trying to find ways to formulate a reproach to all this fun,
I ended up thinking that if life itself is going to suck that much,
than maybe fun is something I want to focus on.
Cory Arcangel & Paper Rad: "Super Mario Movie"
January 15, 2005 — February 26, 2005
76 Grand Street
Soho, New York
Tues - Sat, 12am - 6pm
Ok, as a BIG bonus, a tiny curatorial of links dedicated to the Mario Brothers world,
mostly those already cited in the article, with a few extras:
MARIO, THE GAME:
First, the original game itself(!). Or rather, a dead link of the work that apparently used to function.
Maybe then...try the very old old game when Mario first appeared?
I don't know how you can play this but it is defined as being the source code(!) itself for Super Mario Bros., so feel free and start hacking.
Some guy provided his version of Super Mario Brothers 2.
You can see the whole game Super Mario Bros. 3 being completed in 11 minutes.
If you get tired of innocent kiddy games, try this version.
The Super Mario Bros. original game can at least be played with a South Park character.
MARIO, THE ART:
A fantastic art project by Myfanwy Ashmore that hacks a Mario cartridge in order to reduce it to a worry-less promenade.
Art-induced portrait of Mario done with office sticky note sheets.
Paul Ter Voorde did this landmark flash animation replicating a famous scene from The Matrix in the Mario mode.
Alexander Leon did this incredible series of "epic" Mario cartoons forming a parody of contemporary fantastic cinema. A must!
I called this "average flash animation" in my article above exactly because it's not average. In fact, if you can cope with the scatologic sequence, it's a really bizarre short called "Mario Twins".
The people at I-Mockery have reviewed some of the most bizarre hackings of the Super Mario Bros. game, which you can all download and try for yourself. Here I've selected 4 of the most artistic. This first one is accompanied by a great essay on the clichés of game hacking which you will find to be thoroughly pertinent with the context of this article:
Another Mario Bros. hack that I've selected in context with this article. You got to try this to experience how flashy it is.
How about a bald version of Mario?
Cute version to play on a Christmas Day.
A dumb version where Mario seeks for weed.
A large collection of spoofs and animations based on the Mario character
(try the "relationships" section for very vulgar sex vignettes, or then my favorites not yet listed above which are "Behind The Mario Game", and the kid shorts "Super Duper Mario""" and "Mario's Jump").
MARIO, THE MOVIE:
The poster for the movie:.
The site about the movie.
You can download here, if you scroll a little, full homemade Z category films about Super Mario.
MARIO, THE TV SHOW:
A site devoted to the most absurd of these Mario TV shows:
An episode guide of every Mario TV shows you can imagine.
MARIO, THE LECTURE:
I adore this socio-philosophical analysis of Mario Bros.
An intriguing essay interpreting Mario as a communist.
A small article on what it means to admire Mario.
An essay about how to win the Mario game:
MARIO, THE MUSIC:
A lot of the Mario music can be recovered here.
Score sheets of the video game's music, slated for piano.
Guitar tablatures for every songs of the Mario games.
This pleasureble article covers the history of video game music, but does mentions the Super Mario games.
I did my own little improv demo, for a possible "ridiculous" Mario Bros crack of mine, up for a week because it's not even edited, processed or anything, really just fooling around yesterday, thinking about Mario.
MARIO, THE FAQ:
The ultimate Mario know-it-all site.
A concise description of the Mario Brothers game and its basic rules.
Another great and elaborate site on the the character and the games.
A very interesting historical chronology of the various shapes and styles of the Mario character.
All the ennemies of Mario catalogued here.
A full-fledged forum for those who wish to discuss about Mario.
The blunt list of all Mario games and thus, cartridges.
Another quick easy-to-print Faqall written in text-only:
MARIO, THE REST:
Apparently this Mario party thing is "The" thing, if you're able to make it function.
Why not try instead that little "breakdancing Mario" application, to which you need to first appose your own music.
Dress your own Mario.
Download and alter images of characters and designs from the Mario World:
A test to know which Mario Character you are the most alike.
The original boxe of the Super Mario Bros. game.
Apparently, if you can succeed downloading it, this video of Mario Bros with Ice Capades is amazing kitsch.
A FEW LINKS ABOUT CORY ARCANGEL:
An excellent interview from Petite Morte, you won't be disappointed!
A interview with a certain Eric Salvaggio letting Cory answers a couple of his own questions.
An interview with John Bruneau for Switch Magazine that provided many cool links for my own comment:
The "website for "Data Diaries", one of the most successful project of Cory Arcangel.