CORY ARCANGEL: Another project I made around the same time is one called “I Shot Andy Warhol,” which is another modification of an old Nintendo game, and this is a modification of a game called “Hogan’s Alley.” “Hogan’s Alley” was a shoot-’em-up game. This is a modification where I took the bad guys and changed them to Andy Warhol, and the good guys changed to the Pope, Flavor Flav, and Colonel Sanders. It’s a playable video game, and this is what it looks like. You get the idea.
Actually, there’s a couple of – there's a city section, and then at the end, there’s a soup can section, which, the thing I always like to tell people is that the soup can was actually in the original game, so I didn’t actually have to modify anything, it was part of the game. It was part of the reason I decided to make it. And then again you can download the Nintendo ROM if you want to play it in a Nintendo emulator on your computer. Here’s some pictures of people playing it – kids. Kids like this.
Cory Arcangel discusses his 2002 work, I Shot Andy Warhol, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 5 March 2009.
CORY ARCANGEL: Another one I made is called… where is it? Oh, “Super Mario Movie.” So this is a collaboration I did with an art group out of, well, Boston, Rhode Island, Pittsburgh, different places, called Paper Rad. For those of you who don’t know Paper Rad, it looks like this. This is kind of their style. Similar to the Mario clouds, this is a reprogrammed “Mario Brothers” cartridge, and this particular cartridge was reprogrammed to play a movie, a kind of like 15-minute, semi-narrative—semi-narrative meaning it’s not like watching a movie but narrative in the sense that you are meant to watch it from beginning to end—a kind of composition that moves.
So let me show it to you first. Here it is here. This is the first time I’ve ever done an artist presentation after putting some of the stuff on my website. It’s kind of funny just to be surfing through my website. Okay, so this is the beginning. So, I’ll probably fast-forward through it.
So, to make it, I had programmed an animation engine and a music engine for the Nintendo, and then I kind of taught the members of Paper Rad how to use it, and then we collaborated on a script, and we went back and forth over a couple months, kind of building these scenes in a kind of homemade animation program.
This goes on for a while, this first scene.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Did you change the music?
CA: Yeah, well, yes. The music is entirely through-composed, meaning once the video was done—it’s hard to say it’s a video because it’s not really a video—once this animation was done, made about 15 minutes, and then Jacob from Paper Rad went and composed the music like a film composer would. It sounds like, you know, because Nintendo has a built-in audio chip, so it sounds like Nintendo music, but actually all of the notes, they’re all different notes from the original game. But you could hear the motif from the original game that he brings in and out of this, so he’s taking bits and pieces of the original composition and playing with them. In fact, you’ll see at the end, he brings everything back together. So, you know, he goes on this kind of journey.
So we’re going to just fast-forward through some of the... it’s this kind of thing. Anyways, these are just all of the graphics that are on the cartridge basically. This is what comes with it when you take apart the cartridge. That’s just the graphics that come with it. So I’ll fast-forward to the end. This is a good place.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Would this be projected as a loop in a gallery or exhibition space?
CA: Yeah, the way that we have showed it is as a loop in a gallery space, which, it was when we wrote the script and when we were making the movie, we knew it was going to be a loop, so we built into the narrative the fact that you could walk in and out at any time. Although we would prefer you watch it from beginning to end, we’re not against—that’s one of the things when you make moving images for galleries now, you have to deal with this idea of gallery time, which is this completely warped notion of what time is. Because with cinema it’s pretty clear: you sit down and you watch from beginning to end. But to take a kind of constructive cinema and bring it into a gallery, you start working on all these wishy-washy areas. But yeah, a loop in a gallery was actually part of our notion that it could be watched not from the beginning. I’ll show you installation pictures in a second.
So this is familiar to anyone who ever played the Nintendo. This is what it would do when it crashed, but it’s fake. The end is supposed to be a “Star Wars” kind of thing. It’s a prequel to the actual game, so the last scene of the movie is the first scene of the “Mario Brothers” game.
For the one who asked, this is what one installation looked like. The movie is projected here. We kind of made these blocks and projected it on these blocks. The cartridge itself has secret scenes on it, and the secret scenes are what go on these blocks. The first time we did it, with the way it was designed to be shown, it was about two stories high.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And multiple projections, too, right?
CA: Well, the movie, the main movie is one projection, and then this kind of installation element was multiple projections. It has, and willingly with our permission, shown only the movie version, so we’re pretty lax about it. But if we had an opportunity, we have done it a couple of ways with these cubes. But since we knew it was going to be two stories high, that’s like all these abstract graphics and stuff were designed to be shown two stories high. It makes you a little dizzy actually, but that was part of the point.
Again, here’s the source code. This source code is really treacherous and incredibly long, and so no one has ever emailed me about it. I doubt anyone has ever looked at it, but I’ll show you. So it’s the source code, and it’s not organized, so I haven’t organized it yet, and so there’s all the junk. It’s like a working folder. So this is all the, just junk. There’s just like scraps and bits of script, and just weird. I don’t even know what any of this is. I think this is just music? But I don’t even know what any of this is. One of these days… well, it’s actually one of the things that I’m working on, is to go back and organize all this. It will compile it. It’s not all cleaned up like this.
Cory Arcangel discusses his 2005 work, Super Mario Movie, created with Paper Rad, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
CORY ARCANGEL: You're only hearing one side of the video, and this is little bits of video that I downloaded from YouTube, and then it's been reedited into "Goldberg Variation #1" by Johann Sebastian Bach. So we're just hearing this side now. So, that—huh?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Did you isolate every note and then recompose it with a visual note?
CA: I wrote my own video editing software and, yes, went through every clip and isolated every note with my ear and put it into a database and then my program took that database and ran it through the Bach and then spit out the video. So how is that I had to write my own thing to do it because it's a little bit too fast. Final Cut Pro can't quite edit that fast, and so I had to do my own thing. It was a pain in the ass. It's called "A Couple Thousand Short Films About Glenn Gould."
I am working on a new one right now on my desktop, which is going to be, hopefully, cats playing Schoenberg. That I am trying to get working right now, so I have—
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Can we see it?
CA: No, we don't have anything to see. What I can show you, which is possibly even more interesting, is these are the cats that I found so far on YouTube.
I ran into this weird problem on YouTube. This is like 100 and something, like, let's see. This is 157 cats I found, and I'd like about 500. YouTube has 500 cats, but YouTube has a real weird search thing where they only show you, like, up to result 600, and I can't find how to access more. I don't know. Something weird about YouTube that I can't figure out right now. Like I think there's so much stuff on YouTube, YouTube can't even give it to you all. Anyway, so that's something I'm working on.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why Schoenberg?
CA: Okay, well. Why Schoenberg? Well, Schoenberg, of course, was like a turning point in music history, like he basically blew up Western—I mean, Bach is—why Bach? Bach is this weird—well, first Bach codified Western harmony, and he's like the most complex music you can get, and still people who don't understand music can get into it. I mean, it's Bach. Everybody kind of likes Bach, and for that reason people always turn to him to demonstrate new technology, like "Switched-On Bach." Bach is always seen as this weird, futuristic entity, right?
So that's why I originally chose Bach, and then with that video I saw that people reacted really strongly to the cats in it, you know? Like, I think the cats in that video is what saved it, you know? Because then it became funny and silly and not serious, you know? So I said, “Okay I have something here with these cats. This is powerful. This is like working with dynamite,” and so I thought this might be the opportunity to finally, like, take Schoenberg and make it accessible. Like, if I could, can I make that video? Or when I put it on YouTube, people are like, “Oh, it's so cute!” You know what I mean? “I love this video!” But within that, they don't know that they're basically passing around like totally radical music.
Because that's my thing with Schoenberg, I mean I think it's amazing, and I think it's interesting how music and art, to a certain extent just completely veered from public consciousness, you know what I mean? YouTube is this weird middle ground right now, where you have access to such large audiences, and so the goal is to—I don't think it's possible, but I hope that if I made a video that was cute enough that I could sneak Schoenberg on people. That's my goal. I'm working on it; that's all I can say. You know what I mean?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: 500 cats!
CA: Well, cats usually run across the keyboard, and so I figured if I have 500, right? That's like 10 notes per cat. That's 5,000 notes in my database. I think with 5,000 potential notes I could come up with something close to like a ten-minute Schoenberg, the notes of a Schoenberg. It won't be exact. It's cats, so it's not going to be every note exact, so that's what I think I need. But, again, this is all, you know, hypothetical at the moment.
Cory Arcangel discusses his 2008 work, A Couple Thousand Short Films About Glenn Gould, and a new piece also using video clips from YouTube currently in development at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Watch This! Revelations in Media Art presents pioneering and contemporary artworks that trace the evolution of a continuously emerging medium. The exhibition celebrates artists who are engaged in a creative revolution—one shaped as much by developments in science and technology as by style or medium—and explores the pervasive interdependence between technology and contemporary culture.
Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
Watch This! New Directions in the Art of the Moving Image is a series of rotating exhibitions drawn from SAAM’s permanent collection. The works of art featured in this installation identify a complex relationship between still photography and moving images.