Cory Arcangel, Beat the Champ, 2011

This post, about art hacks, has almost nothing to do with cultural journalists. It has more to do with a visit to the Cory Arcangel installation at the Barbican and computer hacking.

Arcangel has taken 14 games consoles and fitted a chip which allows the system to play itself. His coding dictates that the central character in each of the games, all ten pin bowling, always loses.

Media art as practiced by Arcangel may be new, but the spirit of it goes back some way. You might argue that a famous 16th century painting could contain a skilful hack into our field of vision.

Modern art is meanwhile full of examples of what you might call hacking. Pointillism found a short cut to the visual cortex. Cubism fixed a few residual problems with perspective. Surrealism cracked the firewall of the preconscious mind.

And the spirit of sabotage is certainly there in the work of Nam June Paik, whose first show in 1963 featured pianos which had their keys glued together and were otherwise wired up to fail. So this is a tendency which has been in media art since its beginnings.

Games consoles may not be quite as resonant as pianos, yet. So Arcangel’s history of bowling games is a pretty narrow theme. But it no doubt acquires depth and relevance if viewed from the right angle. Just like that skull by Holbein, in fact.

Blogger Thomas Schickle offers one such angle with his review of the show and interview with the artist.

Meanwhile, here’s a glowing review from self confessed fogey of sorts Charles Darwent in The Independent. Here’s a featurette on the show with quotes from Mark brown in the Guardian. And finally,here’s my slightly less enthusiastic review for Culture24.

Beat the Champ is on show at The Curve in the Barbican Centre until 22 May.

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