Cory Arcangel’s Surf City
Cory Arcangel is a self-proclaimed “digital hoarder.” He’s kept every animation from his teenage years, every fuzzy picture from his earliest cell phone cameras, and all the defunct software from every outdated computer, all on a neat line of blinking hard drives in his studio. These archives are more than just a compulsive collection, they serve as both the inspiration and the medium for his expansive body of work. Arcangel is best known for hacking and reappropriating old software and video game programs into new interactive and sculptural forms, taking technology of the 80s and 90s that has been rendered virtually useless and reintroducing it in the context of art. Beyond digital pieces, Arcangel also creates music, writes essays, and engages in performance art related to the Internet and pop culture, topics he’s been obsessed with since studying technology at Oberlin college in the late 90s. As a logical progression of his work, and perhaps Internet culture itself, the artist is now introducing a brand of activewear made specifically for surfing the Web, aptly called, “Arcangel Surfware.”
With an irreverent nod to the iconography of the early Internet, the brand includes sweatpants and baggy t-shirts adorned in Cory Arcangel’s yinyang logo and rainbow text in iconic Comic Sans font. Befitting the collection’s aesthetic, Arcangel chose to debut his Surfware at technology nerd mecca Micro Center, a massive electronics store down the street from his studio in Brooklyn. Surrounded by 3D printers, gamer-grade hard drives, and aisles of electronics that will probably be outdated as soon as they’re sold, Arcangel’s Surfware feels right at home.
The model you chose to shoot wearing your Surfware is Net artist Jacob Ciocci, who you’ve known since college. Why did you choose him to represent the brand?
All the people that have modeled for the line are what we would call “Pro Surfers.” If Web surfing is a lifestyle, then he’s a pro. I’ve known Jacob for twenty years and we’ve done many projects together. He’s the one that introduced me to the beauty of Web surfing, especially vernacular home pages from the 90s: Angelfire, Geocities, all those. He’s a real pro, the perfect brand ambassador, and people who know the game know Jacob.
Would you consider yourself a Pro Surfer?
I’m not an elite like Jacob, but I’m aspirational. I’ve had my moments but I would like to rise again. I have problems with my back, I can’t do it like I used to. That’s why we have standing desks! I still love the Internet.
Can you talk a little more intimately about your relationship with the Internet?
It started in 1996. Well, in ‘94 or ‘93 with AOL, but it really started in ‘96 when I met Jacob and I got a T1 connection. It was really fast. I fell in love with Net art, late 90s Internet art, and in the late 00s it evolved into an interest in the early media stuff that was happening. I was in research and development groups that studied meme culture and viral media, and for a very brief time I was an editor at Buzzfeed right when it first started. I’ve been around. I like to follow everything, though I do tend to get onto Internet trends kind of late. I like to see whether it’s a real thing first.
Now you’ve brought your work into a physical space but it’s still very much based around the Internet. Is it nostalgic? Is it commentary?
I make things online and offline, but both things can appear online. I don’t think I would call it nostalgic, that’s a tough term. Since technology moves so fast it’s all nostalgia. I think I spent so much time on the computer that I still really love making art that can be experienced through the computer. It’s really important and it bleeds into my gallery work. There is an animation that is playing on a cell phone in the gallery and then you can download it. It can be experienced in both places.
Your show at TEAM Gallery was a great example of that in-between.
At TEAM, I showed a group of work called “Lakes,” which are a semi-sculptural series of images that appear on flatscreen TVs.
The images come from my current and past Web surfing and have a very, very old effect called Lake applied to them. It’s a once ubiquitous effect that makes the image look like it’s reflecting in water, and in the 90s it was very common, but now it’s very hard to run. The program runs on Java software and it’s been depreciated by a lot of browsers because it has security flaws. It’s interesting to me that these things are very temporary and all these things that exist online are really just software that will eventually stop working. These works were a way to capture that software that I had a relationship with and preserve it, in a way.
I noticed when you or anyone in your studio sends an email, it’s in Comic Sans. That seems like a pretty antiquated font to choose.
It’s our house font. It’s helpful because you are able to write emails that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to write. It automatically puts a cheery tone on anything you write so you can be more direct. You say what you mean. I think it’s designers that hate on it. But if you asked your aunt or your grandmother, they would really like Comic Sans. It’s communicative.
Do you feel like you are anti-design?
No, I just think my design sense is based in the computer vernacular. I like mass culture and I like mass design. Surfware is like that too. The way I designed the clothes is like what you would see a swim team wearing on a meet in another city. It’s about the masses.
Where do you see the brand going?
I think our next collection might be more MySpace style, more emo. Like Hot Topic 2006.
What are you obsessed with?
Micro Center! Hard drives! I want the safest one. I have a lot of data that I maintain; I have every file that I’ve ever created on any computer ever. It makes me so nervous and that’s why I’m obsessed with hard drives. Like if those blue lights over there went off I would be in a complete panic. My animations from when I was 13! I’m obsessive compulsive. I’m a digital hoarder. I have to be plugged in all the time.
So, what is your WILD Wish?
That five terabyte solid state drives would exist.
Photographer: David Brandon Geeting
Art direction: Cory Arcangel and Allie Tepper
Clothing throughout by Arcangel Surfware
Model: Jacob Ciocci
Special thanks to Micro Center