Artistic tools are supposed to be only as creative as the people who use them, but in today’s mass of consumer-end, interactive, digital culture, the reverse might also be true: are we only as creative as the digital systems we’re given to play with? US artist Cory Arcangel combines a nerdish love of everything old-tech with a shrewd curiosity into how technological systems frame and condition creativity, producing multimedia work that is all about ‘repurposing’ – coaxing new creative life out of apparently banal and defunct cultural gadgetry, or diverting current technology into producing unlooked-for forms of novel experience.
So, for his first solo show at Lisson, Arcangel kicks off with one of his familiar hacked videogames, a self-playing 1999 Nintendo 64 basketball simulator in which a pixelly Kobe Bryant gets stuck in an eternal practice shoot, condemned always to miss the bucket. The weird lifelessness of this loop points us to something philosophical about how, as gamers or social-networkers, we invest ourselves in such digital alter-egos – human ghosts in the machine.
That idea of cybernetic interaction between people and technology gets a more directly artistic twist in what look like large, 1960s abstract colour-field paintings, but which turn out to be big photographs generated from simple Photoshop colour gradients. They’re a bit trite, and far less interesting than when Arcangel reboots an old pencil-plotter printer, getting it to produce a series of identical, but apparently hand-drawn sketches of palm trees, a 1990s Ford Taurus and, er, Bill Clinton.
Arcangel’s goofy retro-fitting of mass culture into art culture plays for laughs in a room of gyrating ‘dancing shelves’, wobbly glass-and-steel display stands arranged to hark back to the modular sculptures of po-faced conceptualist Sol LeWitt. Elsewhere, a room-humidifier vaporises a tangy mist of Diet Sprite, converting soft drink into sticky air. A master at playfully prising open the gaps that consumer culture wants to keep seamless, Arcangel can sometimes get too cute, but it’s always entertaining.