Exhibit examines digital culture

Cory Arcangel’s exhibit provides uncommon artistic commentary on our modern digital age. (credit: Jennifer Coloma/Operations Manager) Cory Arcangel’s exhibit provides uncommon artistic commentary on our modern digital age. (credit: Jennifer Coloma/Operations Manager)

Have you ever spent too much time looking at image macros on the internet, or scrolling through videos of cats on Youtube? Many people regard these diversions as pointless yet amusing wastes of time, much like other aspects of today’s digital culture.

New York-based artist Cory Arcangel, however, finds something of artistic merit in American digital culture. Arcangel uses mostly ready-made digital technology in his art. In a sense, his artwork is a subset of pop art — taking elements from popular culture and giving them a twist — but its heavy emphasis on the digital era makes his approach more unique. In his work, Arcangel also uses hacked and obsolete pieces of technology, such as old video game cartridges.

Cory Arcangel: Masters, a new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art, shows off selected pieces of art that Arcangel has produced over his decade-long career, including five videos, a modified video game, a modified flat screen television, a wallpaper installation, and a collection of archival materials. The exhibit, which opened on Saturday, also debuts a new work: Arcangel’s collection of catalogued trance and techno LPs.

Like other pieces of modern art, some elements of Arcangel’s work may come off as somewhat overrated. One work featured in the exhibit, “Super Mario Clouds,” simply displays the sky and background clouds from the game Super Mario Bros. — nothing else.

But the exhibit still has its merits. Few people in modern art address the values and concerns of the digital age, despite its growing influence on our culture and society. Above all, Arcangel’s work is a commentary on American culture in the digital era. His pieces highlight how most of the technology we use quickly becomes obsolete in our consumer culture; every year there is a newer, fancier iPhone or tablet that quickly becomes replaceable.

Many of the works in the exhibit focus on the transient and pointless nature of technology. The work “Untitled Translation Exercise” is basically a showing of the 1993 American film Dazed and Confused, but with the script dubbed by an outsourced Indian firm. The odd juxtaposition of the depiction of American culture with the stilted, wooden voices of the foreign firm create an interesting commentary on the outsourcing of American labor and the effects of globalization on American culture. Moreover, it’s incredibly funny to watch.

In an interview posted on the Carnegie Museum of Art website, exhibit curator Tina Kukielski describes Arcangel and his work: “I’ve always thought of Cory as a cultural purveyor. He is an artist who understands the mechanisms and systems of technology and the internet and is able to intervene in the slightest way in the sense that he upsets the rhythms or patterns of culture just enough to expose their very being.”