Archangel adopts the unique corridor space of The Curve to present a chronological sequence of projections of 10 pin bowling video games continuously throwing gutter balls. As we progress through the space, we move forward chronologically, from the bleeps and flashing cursors of 1970s games through to ever more sophisticated technology. Although the graphics and player guiding systems progress, the gutter balls continue to roll. We are faced with ever more elaborate expressions of exasperation from the characters on screen. The irony of a population engaged in playing a physical sport in a virtual world is not lost on Arcangel. He uses this piece, and the feelings of frustration and futility it provokes, to question our habits and use of technology.
As we continue to move through the piece, the speed and power of play rises to a crescendo and we are immersed in a deafening cacophony of artificial sounds. It’s a dizzying experience to be surrounded by such noise in combination with repeated images of failure. Our thoughts move from the specific to the abstract in considering the wider implications of the dominance of American culture.
At the somewhat anticlimactic finale of our journey, we are confronted with a line up of the tiny consoles responsible for creating the bewildering environment in which we find ourselves. With a critical touch, Archangel leaves visible a small circuit board delicately inserted into the game controllers. The circuit board takes the place of the game player and sends signals to the game consoles of a player repeatedly failing to hit his target. Far from a passive documentation, the exhibition reveals itself to be a live demonstration of failure taking place before our eyes. The line up of consoles recalls the inevitable progression of technology, new models replacing old, rendering previous consoles out of date and inadequate. In fact all of the consoles used by Arcangel are out of date such that in this exhibition, even the most recent models are exposed as hopeless and pathetic.
In his intervention with the machines Arcangel critically engages with his medium, the 8-bit video game. He also refers to the tradition of “glitch art”, a type of net art which has developed an interest in subverting the proper functioning of web pages and programmes. Arcangel’s work, along with glitch art, net art and some other new media art has a tendency to come across as crass and one-dimensional when presented in the gallery space. The crude arrangement of Arcangel’s work in the contemporary exhibition “Here Comes Everybody” at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin renders his work hollow and unsatisfying. What elevates “Beat the Champ” is the fact the work was conceived specifically for The Curve’s space. More so than traditional art forms, new media art demands astute and careful curation. The present exhibition is conceived as a journey on which we encounter stages of effect and realisation. It’s this site-specific conception of the work that gives Cory Arcangel’s work an unexpected but very welcome sophistication.
For visiting information see the Barbican website.