Cory Arcangel “Hot Topics” at Lisson Gallery, Milan and “This is all so crazy, everybody seems so famous” at Palazzo della Ragione, Bergamo
Stella Succi: I heard you were fond of Gigi d’Agostino. Well, I’m a huge fan and I went to two concerts of him this summer. It’s kind of weird that you like Gigi d’Agostino!
Cory Arcangel: I’m a fan of “L’Amour Toujours”; that’s one of my favorite songs of all time. And when I got to Bergamo a couple weeks ago, every time I got into the car I kept asking them to turn on the radio, because it was my dream to hear that song on the radio in Italy. And just two or three nights ago I was in a cab which actually happened to be a great cab—you know, tinted windows, Air Jordan stickers all over it, cab driver with neck tattoos—and he was listening to the radio and that song came on.
SS: A dream come true!
CA: Yeah, cross it off my bucket list! I mean, that song is so beautiful and so sad. Everything you need to know about life is in that song. I love any kind of wistful, sad Euro trance.
SS: But that’s so funny, because here Gigi d’Agostino is considered quite a simple artist, very “average” in terms of culture, but actually loads of people involved in art and music love him. But if you go to the concerts, it’s really weird, because you find very strange people and they’re huge fans wearing all the Gigi d’Agostino clothing.
CA: And what does he represent, what does that clothing represent? I have no idea, and could never figure it out from google searches.
SS: That’s completely personal. But people listening to him actually are very middle class and low middle-class. I come from that neighborhood in Milan, so a pretty rough place, and Gigi d’Agostino is like a master there.
CA: And what years was he at his height of popularity?
SS: This summer he gave all free concerts in squares all around Italy, but now it’s strange, in the audience you find people who are 15 and 16, and people who are 40 because they used to listen to him, so the squares were all full. But in Milan this winter, there were about 50 of us.
CA: So it’s like a Spinal Tap moment for him.
CA: I don’t know when that song was released, but it was in the 90’s, right? I heard that song when I started to come to Europe for art in the early 00’s. I used to love to come to Europe to hear all the Euro trance—which wasn’t available in the US. Then, of course, I would return home to the US and try to track it all down on the net, but from Youtube, for example, Gigi d’Agostino is just so hard to parse.
SS: Well, you’ll have to come to a concert. It’s kind of an experience.
CA: Yeah. But this cab I was in—it was definitely the kind of vibe that I imagined for hearing Gigi d’Agostino. It was one of these souped-up small cars with tinted windows – a real kind of aggressive, small car. It was what I had always pictured: if you listened to that kind of music in Italy, there would be a kind of aggression behind it, a kind of restlessness.
SS: Well, I’ll start with the pool noodles because I don’t know if you’d ever thought of this, but something that impresses me is that teenage culture is quite the same across time. The music teenagers listen to now is the same as what I used to listen to, and these kinds of symbols are really persistent.
CA: Yeah, isn’t that weird?
SS: It is! I found myself at a high school concert last year, and the high school bands were playing Sex Pistols and System of a Down, just like when I was a teenager.
CA: That’s a cool combination, by the way.
SS: How do you explain this? Especially because now the Web is so fast, but teenagers aren’t…
CA: It definitely had to happen with the web, because before the Web, there will still local scenes and local music, so for example kids in Washington, D.C. listened to D.C. hardcore… and there were a few things that were able to break through that: Morrissey, the Smiths, Sex Pistols… But I think now there’s a kind of timelessness, so all these people like Morrissey and like the Smiths, they all pile up. Also, I think there used to be a kind of narrative to mainstream and underground culture: this happened, then this happened, then this happened… and there was so much effort just to find out what was happening. You read this a lot now: people reminiscing, “You used to have to find the record store, and then the guy used to have to tell you what to buy,” and all that stuff. But now that’s all obviously a lot easier, and so it’s like it’s in a kind of holding pattern, but bands just get added to it. So maybe it’s to the credit of those artists, maybe that stuff is timeless. Who’s to say the Smiths aren’t timeless? Maybe all high school kids in the next 500 years are going to get into that.
SS: And that happens in particular with alternative culture: pop artists are much faster than the others.
CA: That’s a good point. Look at how fast pop music is changing. If you listen to hip-hop radio now, you just think, “What am I listening to?” Drake’s complaining about being depressed; pop music is crazy right now. Maybe alternative culture is still a reaction to whatever the mainstream is.
SS: I’d like to be a teenager now, just to understand.
CA: Maybe you’d be interested in the same music. Metal’s different, though. Metal has always been kind of strangely timeless. Metal kids always listen to Black Sabbath… Maybe there are these alternative universes of music. And Goth – people are still listening to Sisters of Mercy.
SS: This week I was talking with some friends at Mousse, because the U.S. “king of Botox” died, and we were thinking a little bit about his death. There are these older people who all get Botox and they all become quite the same. And they know this. We’re not in the 80s or 90s – they know their faces are all going to look the same, and they continue to do this. And this guy was kind of their Kurt Cobain. They are a subculture. And so I was wondering if you have any thoughts about older subcultures. Do they exist? Have you made pool noodles of older people?
CA: I wonder if I have made a couple… Adult subcultures in America are, to me, rude t-shirts—at least, in America—or maybe Gwyneth Paltrow is an adult subculture. Like healthy creams for your face, healthy living, or Oprah—is Oprah maybe an adult subculture? Like [Oprah’s magazine] O… There are subcultures for everything, except when you get really old and then you just don’t care anymore. That, I hope, is what’s going to be the most fun age, when you just say, “Oh, whatever.”
And older people here in Milan look especially amazing—they have a real sense of style.
SS: Every time I read something you write, I always feel it’s very playful because you always start with a joke. And I was wondering: was there a moment in which you told yourself, “OK, what I’m doing now is not a joke, it’s not hacking, but art”? Is there a particular moment, or have you always been aware that you were making art?
CA: That’s a complicated question. I can give you a complicated answer. There are different definitions of art: you have art as the height of human creativity, so the way cooking is an art or cinema is an art. And that definition is like when you’re a kid and you make a picture and you have an idea that it’s art. But then you have the slightly more restricted definition of “fine arts”. So fine art is the industry that I’m in and you’re in, and you’re up against a certain history of, say, Warhol and all this kind of stuff. So are you asking when I thought that what I was doing was fine art?
SS: Yeah, that’s it.
CA: It’s a great question; the reason that it’s a complicated answer is because when I started doing the stuff I was doing in the early 2000s, computers were a non starter in the fine arts. There was media art or computer art, and then there was fine art, and there was a really strict division between the two. And if you made the kind of work that I made, it wasn’t really welcome in “fine art”. So I had an idea that it could be fine art, but maybe the problem was actually convincing people that it was. That took many years, although it wasn’t necessarily that hard, to be honest: it wasn’t that people were against it; time just had to go by and generations had to change. But now all the generations have flipped, and it’s not even a big deal anymore. So that’s the complicated answer. But because of these divisions, I was also involved in all these other great scenes, luckily, to be honest, like Net art and media art, and those scenes were also totally amazing. So I got really lucky, to be honest, that I was in between all these different worlds.
SS: And now some of your early works are milestones.
CA: Yeah, LOL, and they’re old now!
SS: Yeah, I realized that the Super Mario works are historical now! Nostalgic, even.
CA: Yeah, the amount of time between when people were playing Nintendo and when I made those works is almost equal to the amount of time between when I made those works and now. So there’s a strange nostalgia now for the actual work—to me that’s been really weird. I can’t believe that some of those works are almost 15 years old. That’s shocking. But it’s cool, I have to say: I think the way things have changed in the last couple of years is just awesome.
SS: One last question before your opening: are there any young artists – younger than you – who are inspiring to you?
CA: You want some names? You’re putting me on the spot! I’d be afraid of leaving somebody out. Though, since we are talking a bit about the net and ye olde days, I could mention that have always felt very close to the generation right after me—which was the “surf club” generation. So these are people like John Michael Boling, Joel Holmberg, Guthrie Lonergan, Petra Cortright, Borna Sammak, etc, etc… They were part of the surf club scene which was centered around sites like Nasty Nets, Supercentral, Double Happiness, and Spirit Surfers. It was a beautiful and very inspiring scene. I would probably include Vvork in that mix as well. In fact, Oliver Laric and Aleksandra Domanovic from Vvork contributed to my GAMeC catalogue.
SS: Yeah, I love all the contributors.
CA: And I don’t know if you remember that site, VVORK, but… blogs just happened, and they just had a site where they would post pictures of art, a few a day, no commentary, just the artist and the year. Of course, this is what every site does now, but that was the first site ever to do it. And they did it for seven or eight years, and it was massive. If they linked to your artwork on that site, your server would melt. So it was very important. Now, it’s kind of the template for all contemporary art sites, or Instagram – all that stuff moved to Instagram, really. The thing that was great about that scene was you could actually still reach out to somebody and say, “Hey, I’m also interested in the Internet and art—let’s get together.” You can’t really do that anymore. That’s why it was a fantastic scene, it was terrific. Other then that, I’m blanking, I’m not sure I am able to parse for age, or genre in my current interests, so maybe I’ll give you a list. Some things that have been on my—admit-ably scattered—radar lately are the TV shows Veep and Empire, Tony Conrad, portable Mp3 players, Mary Heilmann, Second Life, d’Eon, Hannah Diamond, harpsichord, Amalia Ulman, LTO tape, the Korg M-1, The Geocities Research Institute, OPN, Robert Hood, Danny L Harle, & Lorenzo Senni.
The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound, 2011-2012
Gigi D’Agostino – L’Amour Toujours – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w15oWDh02K4
Ian van Dahl – Castles In The Sky – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reok5PGJmiI
Alice DJ – Better Off Alone – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgs9QUtWc3M
until 20 May 2015
Emo kid, 2014
Cory Arcangel “Hot Topics” installation views at Lisson Gallery, Milan, 2015
© the artist. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London
“This is all so crazy, everybody seems so famous”
until 28 June 2015
Cory Arcangel “This is all so crazy, everybody seems so famous” installation views at Palazzo della Ragione, Bergamo, 2015
© Cory Arcangel. Courtesy: the artist and GAMeC – Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bergamo. Photo: Roberto Marossi, Maria Zanchi.