Artist: Cory Arcangel
Title: Pool Noodle Sculpture Year: 2014
Medium: Pool Noodles, Socks, Sports Wristband
Through techniques of hacking, manipulating, recycling, and reconfiguring, Cory Arcangel turns the intersection of technology and culture into materials for making art. He works in a range of mediums, from music, film, painting, and performance to video games, websites, and software, often relying on appropriation of pop cultural idioms, particularly those found online. Some of his best known works include his Photoshop Gradient Demonstrations, digital paintings made from the software’s ubiquitous templates; Super Mario Clouds (2002), for which he hacked the classic video game to remove everything but its sunny backdrop; and Drei Klavierstücke op.11 (2009), a version of Arnold Schönberg’s 1909 musical piece of the same name made from compiled YouTube clips of cats playing the piano. Arcangel is as forward-looking as he is nostalgic for obsolete technologies, and through his devotion to open-source code intends to further the cycle of appropriation he’s an integral part of and undermine the ideal of artistic originality. With his ironic touch and ability to mine the choicest bits of absurdity from the internet, Arcangel also freely admits that humor is a central concern of his practice.
American, b. 1978, Buffalo, New York, based in Brooklyn, New York
Arcangel first encountered these unadorned objects as found or readymade works of art at his local Walgreens pharmacy, where he noted: “Half of the store seems dedicated to catalysing chronic bodily decay, and the other half seems dedicated to the fallout.” By dressing these foam lengths in shop-bought accoutrements and clothing, he attributed each with certain humanoid characters, built around three pre-determined sub-sets of contemporary consumerist America: teenagers (or ‘tweens’, the more specific category for those aged in-between 10 and 12), middle American fans of the rock-rap star Kid Rock and Wall Street traders. While the collective title for this series – Screen-agers, Tall Boys and Whales (2011-14) – mirrors each of these categories, each of Arcangel’s new foam noodle assemblages also have their own titles and tribal allegiances.
Leafs, for example, is a solitary green cylinder, subtly embedded with two large-gauge earrings (like those found in extreme body piercing and earlobe stretching practices) each decorated with a marijuana leaf. The work titled Clarity is a pink float wearing black headphones and an armband proclaiming a love of dubstep – the same genre of electronic music that can be heard emanating from the iPod mini, similarly strapped around its limb-like circumference. High Life depicts three pink and blue striped-sock wearing jocks, one with a beer can attached to its drink-holder summit, while other groups of reconfigured swimming aids include the goth-like band of Misfits, who wear skeleton print leggings and are accompanied by a floor-bound stereo, again playing their favoured style of music.
Aside from Arcangel’s acute portrayal of contemporary American identity as the sum total of its readily available, mass market hyper-branded goods, his agglomerative sculptures also refer back to specific moments in recent art history, such as the Minimalist ‘planks’ of John McCracken, the consumer good presentations of Cady Noland or Haim Steinbach and, most specifically, to the striped, painted poles of André Cadere. With the latter in mind, the largest installation in Hot Topics is entitled Your Performance and consists of seven multi-coloured pool noodles covered with vertical bands taken from tracksuits or sportswear items bearing the famous three stripes of Adidas. Arcangel’s exhibition in Bergamo, This is all so crazy, everybody seems so famous, includes a further 20 pool noodle works, as well as a new carpet piece, early modified computer games and four of his recent Lake works (reflective, meditative flatscreen videos), all of which will be presented in the historic Sala de Giuristi, the oldest municipal building in Italy.
Arcangel is one of the most influential artists of the New Media Generation. In fact, the Whitney Museum in New York dedicated a solo exhibition to him in 2011. His work revolves around the concept of safeguarding identity as well as digital and physical memory. His goal is to revive the importance of tradition through interest in the relationship between technology and culture, territory and innovation as well as through the appropriation and reuse of media. Arcangel’s works reflect and act within a contemporary society that is highly digitalized, adaptable and constantly changing, in which the practical value of things is destined to be lost in a short time in order to make way for new products – a duplicate of value. The artist is interested in saving technological objects from obsolescence. These objects seemed to be cutting-edge until a few years ago but now they are unused and condemned to a timelessness which is almost metaphysical and no longer accessible. Although he grew up during the technological boom – when mobile phones, videogames, computers, the Internet, and their relevant updates and upgrades were beginning their diffusion – Arcangel’s approach towards a society of mass consumption and communication is not that of the user nor of the spectator but of the hacker who can manipulate data and bestow new meanings upon information. For instance, this kind of action can be found in his work Super Mario Clouds(2002), in which the popular game is modified: most of the architectural elements have been eliminated, leaving only clouds floating against a light blue background. In this way, importance is given to representation and pictorial space in videogames for the very first time. The artist’s message is that manipulation also means sharing: the directions and source codes to create different works are available on his website as well as in a series of publications entitled The Source. This attempt to safeguard and take action is also captured by the exhibition’s title – This Is All So Crazy, Everybody Seems So Famous – a quote from a hit song by teen pop music icon Miley Cyrus. The intense desire to have our «15 minutes of fame» – the acclamation by Andy Warhol – conceals the obsolescence inscribed in that time, so limited and shallow in comparison with incessant unfurling of the future.
The exhibition created for GAMeC and curated by Stefano Raimondi is one of the city’s most important cultural events in preparation for EXPO 2015 along with the major retrospective exhibition devoted to Kazimir Malevich which the museum is displaying this fall. It will be held in exceptional circumstances at the Sala dei Giuristi of the Palazzo della Ragione in the heart of Upper Bergamo, the city’s political centre for centuries.
First and foremost, the exhibition project hinges on the contrast and exchange that could exist between one of the city’s most important historical buildings (Italy’s oldest municipal building whose construction began in the late 12th century) and the American artist’s ultra-contemporary installations. The space in the hall has been conceived as a large platform. The middle portion is occupied entirely by the artist’s Photoshop CS: 1060 by 2744 centimetres, 10 DPC, RGB, square pixels, default gradient «Spectrum», mousedown y=1800 x=6800, mouseup y=8800 x=20180 (2015). The piece is part of the Photoshop Gradient Demonstration series, a carpet that came into being through studies and collaboration with local companies, and traces the technical and technological processes of weaving. Until just a few years ago, weaving was one of the province’s most thriving production sectors and has undergone a process of renegotiation over time.
This work is a surface that can be walked upon measuring over 200 square metres and covers the entire floor of the room, developing into in a brilliant progression of colours to create a sounding board for the ancient fresco paintings decorating it. The piece envelops spectators completely, leading them into the «centre of the picture» – a typical Futurist concept.
The exhibition installation then extends along the perimeter of the space, where the artist will set his works alongside the frescoes, luring spectators into applying a dual and simultaneous reading of the two levels of creation: the ancient one and the contemporary one. The carpet was made with the coloured and iridescent patterns of his pictorial works and is structured into blocks of colour. Formal aesthetics are purely conceptual since the reference is one of the gradients of Adobe Photoshop CS.
The transformation of a digital «object» into a concrete object is doubled in the exhibition created for GAMeC. In addition to this work Arcangel has conceived a silk scarf available in a limited edition (100 pieces) with the “Russell’s Rainbow” gradient used to create a carpet displayed during the exhibition hosted at the HEART Herning Museum of Contemporary Art: a multiple which further illustrates Arcangel’s trans-media practice. Among the works presented for the exhibition, the most recent ones are part of the Screen-Agers, Tall Boys, and Whales series and the Lakes series. Two other works are on display from Arcangel’s earlier works dating back to the first years of the 2000 -2010 decade which introduced modifications to the Nintendo video game consoles: Super Mario Clouds (2002- ), and Totally Fucked (2003), both presented here on period specific CRT monitors. These works offer a nearly complete comprehensive view of Cory Arcangel’s creative idiom over the last 15 years.
The Screen-Agers, Tall Boys, and Whales series (2011-2015) reflects upon contemporary worldliness with a touch of nostalgia: long plastic tubes used as pool noodles are transformed into characters (the short-lived icons of our here and now) and primped up with necklaces, electronic must-haves and designer clothes; music and beer bottles randomly positioned around the room.
The Lakes series (2011-2015) is made up of installations with flat screen monitors – the omnipresent symbol of the consumer society – which have been literally overturned and set vertically: the artist has borrowed images from pop culture and applied the famous Java «lake» filter revived from the 1990s that creates a rippled effect, as if something were reflected on a liquid surface. The created image is not in motion – as one would expect to see on a monitor – nor static, but a hybrid of the two: the image upon which contemporary society floats and ripples. There is also a catalogue/work of art for the exhibition printed in both Italian and English that is equally sui generis. It resembles a teen magazine more than it does a traditional catalogue and features a series of essays by international curators along with publications typically aimed at the younger set (posters, stickers and gadgets).