Amid so much anxiety surrounding the importance of creative authenticity, American artist Cory Arcangel takes a somewhat playful stance on the issue. Browsing the Brooklyn-based artist’s website, you can read, in exacting detail, the instructions on how to reproduce his iconic Photoshop paintings for yourself. In a recent interview the tech-obsessed media artist claimed that “they’re so easy,” but this simplicity belies a complex and sophisticated attitude to digital media and the ‘hackability’ of tech—from obscure Nintendo games to advanced 3D software.
In the latest episode of Raw Materials—where we interview leading artists about the physical objects that inform their practice—director Izzy Cohan gets Arcangel chatting about everything from baby monitors (how can they be turned into art?) to the machines that power digital menus in McDonald’s.
Born in the late 1970s, Arcangel’s work has consistently, and gleefully, returned to the toys of his childhood. In 2002, the artist infamously hacked a Mario cartridge, deleting everything from the game except an infinity of blocky and floating clouds. These artworks—both meditative and sugary—overthrow fine art’s traditional instruments, or force us to think again about the sites in which ‘art’ plays out; ignoring horse-hair brushes and oil paints in favour of screens, gadgets, and often obsolete systems. For Arcangel, a baby monitor is akin to a block of marble. It’s just a question of where—and how—you chisel it.
Alongside his ongoing solo practice as an artist, Arcangel is also a curator. His latest show—co-curated with Tuna Kukielski—recently closed at New York’s Lisson Gallery. Titlted Difference Engine, the exhibition sought to balance the mechanical logic of machines with the fetishism of surrealism. The exhibited works played with the ambiguity between clinical robotics and the madcap, and often uncanny, nature of how we use technology in the modern age. What emerged is a picture of modern technology as both a miracle and as misery—something we can get our hands on, but can only just begin to comprehend.