Brooklyn-based Cory Arcangel is one of the leading media artists of his generation. He often appropriates, manipulates and subverts new media, including video games, computer software and the internet. Arcangel's project for The Curve, a co-commission with Whitney Museum of American Art, is an installation featuring 14 bowling video games from the 1970s to the 2000s. Looped to play scoreless games, they create an immersive sound collage from the abstract static Atari, to Nintendo's bleeps and bloops, to the more realistic electronic simulation of bowling sounds of recent PlayStation consoles. Arcangel also displays the video-game consoles themselves, each with a small computer chip attached, flickering at one end of the darkened gallery. Beat the Champ, opens in The Curve on 10 February 2011.
Dazed Digital: Why did you only want the games to roll gutter balls?
Cory Arcangel: I hacked them in a way that has not produced an interesting result because I like having situations that are reductive or loop back on themselves. Lifeless situations. I have one piece work, called ‘Permanent Vacation’, where two computers are stuck in an out-of-office email cycle. These situations, and the fact that these machines are stuck in limps, are interesting to me.
DD: Why is that?
Cory Arcangel: There are a couple of reasons. I like the idea of tech working against itself, the idea of a machine playing itself but not playing itself. It’s a more interesting situation to have modified these games to do something absolutely disappointing. I think that one of the most awkward virtual situations that we have is rolling a gutter ball in video game bowling. In it, there’s an element of disappointment, endurance and humour. But it’s also kind of sad.
DD: Is this a comment on how we interact with culture?
Cory Arcangel: The working title of this work was actually ‘The Decline of Western Civilisation’ and that was very much the spirit of the piece from the start. Without a doubt it’s about the easily disposable nature of culture. Intuitively, addiction is certainly part of it as well. I’m always trying to make something that has a resonance somehow, it’s hard to put your finger on it, its something intuitive and subconscious. I think that your critical mind and your intuitive mind are related. If you think enough it will eventually bleed in to your intuition and your intuition will eventually bleed over in to your critical thought. But certainly they don’t live on the same block in the neighbourhood.
DD: What’s the significance of the soundtrack to this exhibition?
Cory Arcangel: Each game plays its own individual sound of rolling gutter balls. There are 14 of these games next to each other, so it’s a real cacophony of sound. It’s a bit like the soundtrack of a video game arcade in that there are all of these noises that compete with each other. The Curve in the Barbican is arranged in such a way that when you walk along, you can hear different areas of sound coming from each video game and progress through a history of video game music.
DD: What attracted you to exploring the history of hardware?
Cory Arcangel: These pieces of hardware are a part of everyday life and it’s interesting to modify them or rearrange them. When I was younger, I used to watch my friend play video games, but as a cinematic and aesthetic experience. People don’t usually consider them as a subject for fine art, but they’re warming up to it. The fact that I’m doing a show at the Barbican is proof of this.
DD: Who are your main audience? The art world or the gaming world?
Cory Arcangel: I have different pieces that create different audiences. For example I have internet pieces that only internet audiences know about. Super Mario Clouds had quite a life, but it started as an online tutorial on how to make it. The reaction to it was great and that was 9 years ago now. At the time I was in The Contagious Media Group, which studied viral media, and most of my works around the early 2000s were purposefully engineered to become viral
DD: Hacking - what does it symbolise to you?
Cory Arcangel: The original definition of hacker talked about people who did interesting and funny things with computer programmes, often to play pranks. That is, I think, a very good description of what I do - humorous software mutilation. People often see hackers as dark characters that break into stuff, but I’m not related to that at all. I have an affinity to early hackers and an early definition of the word.