Cory Arcangel

While Cory Arcangel’s Whitney exhibition seems overly conceptually didactic in its fabrication and weak on product, the centerpiece of the exhibition Various Self Playing Bowling Games (2011) goes beyond the novelty of how it was made to reveal something more about the inseparable evolution of technology and humanity.

Various Self Playing Bowling Games is what it says: a five channel projection that unites five game consoles (spanning four decades) and their controllers which are powerlessly being operated by a blinking microchip board to play continuously losing games. The 28 page brochure reveals that using proprietary software Arcangel has programmed each system to record/replay 100% gutter ball games. 

Perfunctorily interesting is the exponential visual and audio development of the gaming industry. We leap from primitive pixelations and basic internally synthesized sounds, i.e. squarish bowling balls and the heavy drone of rolling ball to impressively disco 3-D bowlers who slide to the sound of the realistic theater of a bowling alley. More curious is the progression of emotion as the gaming technology advanced. In the earliest game, the walking pixel-stick has no expression; it takes a few steps, the ball rolls, misses, and rolls back. In the adjacent three screens the animation continues to advance but amusingly all three bowlers wear almost the same gesture of frustration: the ball lands in the gutter and all three bowlers thrust their hands behind their own ears. This act of  ”gosh darn it”, seems very moderate, until the character in the 4th screen follows up with several punches to his own eyes. In the final screen the rage progresses; here the most anthropomorphic of all the bowlers glides balletically while he performs smooth bowling moves but reacts to his gutter balls in a fist-pounding, knee bending, total breakdown. Is this emotional transformation of the game character simply connected to the advancement of technology, or is it an increasingly accurate depiction of people playing video games?

-CR

Cory Arcangel, Video Painting @ Smithsonian American Art Museum show:

Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image

“Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image takes stock of the cutting-edge tools and materials used by video artists during the past forty years. The current installation features key artworks from the history of video art as well as a new generation of artists on the cutting edge of new media art practices. The works on display range from Nam June Paik’s early, innovative experiments with video to Cory Arcangel’s reworking of Nintendo games and obsolete computer systems. The nine artworks on view are: Cory Arcangel, Video Painting (2008); Jim Campbell, Grand Central Station #2 (2009) and Reconstruction #7 (2006); Peter Campus, Three Transitions (1973); Kota Ezawa, LYAM 3D (2008); Svetlana and Igor Kopystiansky, Yellow Sound (2005); Nam June Paik, 9/23/69: Experiments with David Atwood (1969); Bill Viola, Surrender (2001); and Marina Zurkow, Elixir II (2009). John G. Hanhardt, senior curator for media arts, selected the works. The majority of the featured artworks are recent acquisitions, with five entering the museum’s collection in 2010. The works by Viola and Campbell’s Reconstruction #7 are on loan.

Dedicating a permanent collection gallery to time-based art is an important new aspect of the media arts initiative at the museum, which includes acquisitions, exhibitions, educational programs, and archival research resources related to film, video, and the media arts. In 2009, the museum acquired the complete estate archive of visionary artist Nam June Paik. Hanhardt, the leading expert on Paik and his global influence, is organizing the archive and the museum’s Nam June Paik Media Arts Center. Research into the archive will be the basis for a series of publications of Paik’s writings, exhibitions, and a catalogue raisonné. Nam June Paik: Art and Process, the first in a series of exhibitions, is scheduled to open in December 2012.

Read More About the Installation and Media Arts at the Museum
Washington City Paper, March 31, 2011, “ Rediscovering Paik: A Chat with Smithsonian Curator John G. Hanhardt” by John Anderson
The Art Newspaper, March 4, 2011, “Fast forward video art” by Anny Shaw
The Washington Post, December 17, 2010, “Watch This! at Smithsonian American Art Museum worth a look” by Michael O’Sullivan; also “The Story Behind the Work: Igor and Svetlana Kopystiansky’s Yellow Sound in Watch This!
Smithsonian magazine, Around the Mall blog, December 10, 2010, “New Video Art Show Opens at the American Art Museum” by Jesse Rhodes

Read More on the Museum’s Blog Eye Level
February 4, 2011, “Read This! Five Questions on Media Art with John Hanhardt

Great little show, very well-installed and especially loved the piece by Arcangel (depicted).

—VF