An exhibition by Cory Arcangel at Firstsite (from 4 May 2019) draws upon Colchester’s heritage as a garrison town to explore how technologies originally developed for the military – such as lasers and the Internet – have become part of mainstream culture.
Arcangel examines the relationship between digital technology and pop culture. The ageing of technology is a central theme in his work, and he uses software and hardware such as baby monitors, web browsers and lasers, along with Internet resources, as his raw art materials. Some of Arcangel’s best-known works are his Nintendo game cartridge hacks and reworkings of obsolete computer systems of the 1970’s and 80’s.
Cory Arcangel: BACK OFF features line drawings of vintage Ford Taurus’, photography, lorry lights, a laser, a drum machine and a baby monitor—plus a new series of prints made specifically for Firstsite – to explore themes such as violence, surveillance and consumerism, particularly in relation to the current social and political climate in America. Many works feature symbols of American popular culture – french fries, basketball and the singer Marilyn Manson.
The visitor walks into a gallery space lit by “chicken lights”. These lorry lights usually adorn large US trucks – producing light shows across America’s highways every night. The formulation of lights here simulates encountering an eighteen-wheeler at night. Smoke hangs in the air, illuminating the beams of Dunk (2019) a laser animation depicting a stylised basketball player from an NBA video game throwing a ball into the basket whilst beats blast from a reconfigured drum machine PSK (2014). This dim space filled with smoke, colour and noise evokes the feeling of an underground club, disorientating, with the promise of euphoria.
Other key works on display include MIG 29 Soviet Fighter Plane and Clouds (2005), a four-channel video involving two Nintendo game cartridges that have been hacked, making the game unplayable and (Untitled) Fries, a close up of greasy french fries spilling out of their paper wrapper.
The exhibition also features a brand-new work made especially for Firstsite – HIGH RISE, public safety, Pink Camo, WORKOUT, Rothco, XTEXTILE, Tactical Work, Y, ORALS BROKEN, Battle Dress, Dukes (2019) – a series of prints on IKEA tabletops. This shows 11 close up photographs of leggings printed onto IKEA table tops. Brightly coloured fabrics are interspersed with vibrant camouflage – reflecting Colchester military heritage – inviting us to examine how this military device had pervaded fashion. Using IKEA table tops as his medium, Arcangel combines the mass production of fashion with mass produced design – do we use fashion to stand out from the crowd, or ultimately do we only end up blending in?
Cory Arcangel: BACK OFF is also complemented by an online artwork, Bomb Iraq (2005), which is accessible via the Firstsite website: www.firstsite.uk/whats-on/cory-arcangel-back-off. Discovered on an old computer purchased at a charity shop, a game that had been created by the previous owner has been restored and transferred online – allowing anyone to play.
Cory Arcangel says “We live in an un-charted time and Firstsite has really been the perfect for myself to think through our own age with objects, lights and lasers. I’m really proud of this show, and so happy to share it with everyone!”
Firstsite Director, Sally Shaw says “Firstsite’s artistic programme draws on Colchester and Essex’s radical past. The work of Cory Arcangel adds a contemporary chapter to this legacy through the artist’s hacking and re-appropriation of pop culture. Cory Arcangel: BACK OFF is part of an exploration of digital culture which we are undertaking through our 2019/20 exhibitions programme and follows on from the critically successful ‘Zoe Beloff – Emotions go to Work’ which investigated how technology is used to turn our feelings into valuable assets. We hope that by bringing the work of Cory Arcangel to Colchester – the oldest military town in the UK, will spark conversations about how these aggressive technologies are absorbed into the everyday world around us.