Co-Working, Hacking and the Pursuit of Something Viral - Towards a Future with Cory Arcangel

Composite of Wilson's trip to Scandinavia

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Lecturer, Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing
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Project Summary

Thanks to the generous support of a Pincus-Magaziner Family Undergraduate Research award and a Seltzer Family Digital Media award, I spent five weeks across May and June researching and capturing intersections of contemporary art and the internet in Scandinavia.

My main subject was Cory Arcangel, a conceptual artist who hacks in to video games, transforms juice machines into readymade sculptures, and sews Justin Bieber concert merchandise on to pool noodles, amongst other pursuits. Arcangel is a product of the Rust Belt — born-and-raised in Buffalo — and he established himself as a voice of his generation in New York, but for the past three years he has been based in Stavanger, Norway. My project was born out of a desire to see how his practice has evolved in this span. I did so as a fellow Buffalonian — Arcangel and I went to the same high school — and in the wake of participating in Prof. Kenneth Goldsmith’s “Wasting Time on the Internet” and “I Shop Therefore I Am” seminars.

My trip coincided with the opening of Arcangel’s Arcangel Surfware flagship in Stavanger’s peripheral Øst district. The shop is part retrospective, part testing grounds for the artist and its design vacillates constantly between “a really downmarket cell phone repair shop and something you would see in Berlin.” Arcangel is the sole employee and his best sellers are fidget spinners, flip flops, and t-shirts. Arcangel says, “I take things being stupid very seriously.” And so to paraphrase the artist, the flagship is a stupidly serious meta-commentary on how trends are packaged and peddled.

Prior to arriving in Stavanger, I travelled throughout Sweden and Norway studying the regional forces at play which inform and inspire artistic action. I was particularly interested in the legacy of the SadBoys, a ragtag group of Swedish rappers fronted by Yung Lean (born Jonatan Leandoer Håstad). My research traces how the group’s Arizona Iced Tea-swilling, Ed Hardy-wearing aesthetic has transformed the creative language of young Scandinavians. An incredible hubris is omnipresent in the extended SadBoys family; their videographer enthusiastically told me that he would be the next Ingmar Bergman.

Another intent of my research was to understand how Scandinavia's arts councils are adapting their systems of patronage to the digital age. To this end, I interviewed Kulturrådet (Arts Council Norway) and Nordisk Kulturfond (Nordic Culture Fund) officials and an array of new media artists who had recently or were applying for funding. Along the way, I encountered all manner of astounding artwork — from Djurberg & Berg’s “In Dreams” (2016) in a mossy corner of a 15th century hunting grounds to Lasse Årikstad’s “The Best Part of Business is Minding Your Own” (2018) taped to Bergen’s windows and doors.

I am grateful to CURF for facilitating my cultural studies, the findings from which I will present through the History of Art department and whose subjects I will continue tracking long into the future.