tom moody

erasing the clouds (and the collective)

Patrick LeMieux offers a rather snide takedown [Vimeo] of Super Mario Clouds, a work he attributes to the artist Cory Arcangel (it was originally exhibited as Cory Arcangel/BEIGE -- more on that below). He re-examines the code and concludes that... drum roll... the work doesn't actually "erase everything but the clouds" on the Mario cartridge. I posted a comment on the Vimeo page:

Patrick, you treat this like a detective story where you discovered a master criminal with clues hiding in plain sight. I was writing about the BEIGE Programming Ensemble on my blog back in 2002-5 and attended their shows and Arcangel's talks and it was pretty clear that "erasing everything but the clouds" was a figure of speech to explain the piece to an un-technical audience (which included curators unsure of this computer art stuff).

In focusing so single-mindedly on Super Mario Clouds, you are ignoring that it was part of a body of work, produced by Arcangel individually and as part of an artistic "collective" (BEIGE). The cartridge works all involved reprogramming the games to some extent. Thus, "Landscape Study" added photographic elements (rooftops) into the Mario scrolling and "Mario Clouds" treated the clouds themselves as discrete icons that could be "put back into the game" without all the other Mario elements.

It's easier to explain this as "erasure" but you are focusing on this aspect single-mindedly as evidence of some kind of fraud. It's not entirely your fault, in that Arcangel and Team Gallery have "erased" the BEIGE origins of the work from Arcangel's bio, but I wish you had done more research before going on the attack like this.

[edited after posting to clarify description of "Landscape Study"]

Most of my BEIGE writing is still up at digitalmediatree.com/tommoody. Of particular interest is (BEIGE member) Paul B. Davis's 2006 video where he talks about "Super Abstract" -- concocted by BEIGE before "Clouds" -- which employs related techniques of chip removal and replacement,* yet didn't become a zeitgeist/canonical work, worthy of attack 15 years later.

As for why Super Mario Clouds became a monster artwork, here are some reasons:

--Team Gallery did an excellent job of presenting it in Arcangel/BEIGE's 2003 show. Those blue rectangles were aesthetically pleasing and the placement of the screens and monitors was both striking and "street." By contrast Team corraled all the other BEIGE product (bead works, dot matrix printouts, etc) into a tiny room off the main gallery, where it could be easily overlooked.

--Those blue rectangles tie into the color field painting history -- Barnett Newman, Brice Marden, etc -- that curators love. Plus Duchampian and Warholian appropriation and other precedents they can flatter themselves for recognizing.

--The time was ripe for "computer art that didn't suck" after notable failures at the Whitney such as the "BitStreams" show.

--There was interest in "collectives" (PaperRad, Dearraindrop, etc) which died right after the 2004 Biennial.

--Arcangel was giving amusing lectures and performances at the time in NYC and had built a certain momentum for his career (with and without BEIGE). Clouds's inclusion in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, followed by the Deitch show with Paper Rad, was the culmination of sustained effort on Arcangel's part. After that BEIGE dissolved and gradually dropped off his resume. (And Arcangel's own work got worse, but that's another blog post.)

*From what I've been able to reconstruct, some cartridges involved changes to the graphics ROM (chip) and others involved changes to the program ROM (chip). BEIGE's practice was pretty fluid and many different ways of "hacking" the Nintendo cartridges were explored. Some of the code from "Super Mario Clouds" appears in at least one other work ("Landscape Study") but Patrick LeMieux didn't consider all the BEIGE cartridges taken together for similarities/differences, he just focused on one for his "gotcha" moment.

- tom moody

January 6th, 2018 at 8:48 am

Posted in art - others