Artist Cory Arcangel Blurs Cultural Boundaries
Artist Cory Arcangel challenges the boundaries between high and low culture – and different artistic disciplines – in works that span from Internet hacking to internet video collages. Now the artist goes back to his training as a classical musician and questions the context and impact of classical and pop music.
Last week at Pop Montreal, the band Title TK played a music-less concert in a church. Their guitars sat on their stand untouched; the three band members chatted about different bands they liked and the music industry in a deadpan manner.
The members of Title TK are all conceptual artists, including Cory Arcangel, the 32-year-old media artist/hacker/sculptor who was the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum a year ago. Arcangel, who trained as a classical guitarist at Oberlin University, has in fact always been involved in music; but his work is now increasingly moving from the realms of internet code, video games and hacking to the universe of sounds – both avant-garde and pop.
Arcangel’s first music-inspired project was a meticulous collection of CDs grouped into a Case Logic binder, which had become obsolete with the advent of new technologies. As an homage to Kelly Clarckson’s "Since You’ve been Gone," the CDs in the binder represented albums from different bands that, together, constituted a "genealogy" of the hit.
In a recent series, Arcangel took classical compositions from Schoenberg, Glass and Paganini and recreated them using user-generated animal and how-to videos rummaged from the web. In Shoenberg Opus 11 – Cute Kittens, he recreates the modern master’s complex composition by piecing together clips of cats pounding on piano keys. The contrast between the painstaking recreation of the piece (it took the artist more than six months to make it) and the kitschy videos creates a tension between past and future, high and low, genius and banality.
“The goal was to see if the cats were magnetic enough to propel Shoenberg into a context in which he would never appear,” explains the artist. “Those videos actually got posted on blogs for cute kittens so people were interested in the cats enough to watch a Shoenberg piece. And then it might be played in a museum context where cute kittens may be a new phenomenon.”
Arcangel, who has no formal art training but is mainly known in the contemporary art world, says he needed to stay away from music after his studies. “It took ten years for me to feel that I could interpret Shoenberg on my own terms and contribute in my own way,” he says. The series were inspired by Arcangel’s interest in “stupid Internet videos” and the infinite amount of unfiltered information that the Internet has allowed to circulate. At once a fan and a critic of mass culture, Arcangel views the Internet as the perfect expression of the well-oiled capitalist machine – and its systematic destruction of culture and memory. “I’ve always been attuned to the unsustainability of everything,” says Arcangel. “How everything is falling apart. And especially when you’re in front of a computer. The speed of decay is getting faster and faster. And with this cloud stuff, everything is getting so fragile.”
One reaction to this grim reality is to adopt a pose of caustic indifference, as Arcangel did during a recent performance. As hundreds of viewers in Vancouver watched, the artist kicked back and drank a glass of wine while watching TV. It was a non-event par excellence and yet raised questions — about the commodification of art and the creation of genius — that artists have been pondering since the day Marcel Duchamp placed a urinal in a museum. His actions may not offer possible clues, but they certainly provoke more thoughts than mindless TV watching.