The Mario Movie

Posted by Alexander Galloway | Wed Jan 12th 2005 1:08 p.m.

[This text accompanies the publication of the source code to "The
Mario Movie," opening at Deitch Projects in New York this Saturday
January 15th. Cory Arcangel also has a second show opening this
Thursday at Team gallery in New York. -ag]

"The Mario Movie," Deitch Projects, New York City, January 2005

Cory Arcangel (Beige) and Paper Rad

This is a group effort, so let me first introduce the principle actors.
Paper Rad: Benjamin Jones, Jacob Ciocci, and Jessica Ciocci. Beige: Cory
Arcangel, Paul B. Davis, Joe Bonn, and Joe Beuckman. They work in
collectives for the same reason that punks play in bands: it's funner
that way, and it's easier to make more noise. There is the
Lennon/McCartney question of who is responsible for what, and I can't
make head nor tails of it. But from what I know Ben and the Paper Rad
kids have a shameless affection for dirt-style, fan fiction comics about
Garfield and Howard the Duck. And then there's Paul who I am told once
entered the DMC turntable competition under the DJ name "Spin Laden."
(He advanced through the opening heats, a challenge in itself, before
being thrown off for scratching in the Notorious B.I.G. lyric "Time to
get paid / blow up like the World Trade.") The clothes that the Paper
Rad kids wear they sew themselves. Cory wears them too, I think, when
he's not wearing pizza-shaped animal pullovers knit at home with his
other chums. And on more than one occasion, I've been present when,
sauntering past a stray guitar, in a Kmart aisle or friend's house party
it doesn't matter which, Cory has spontaneously tapped out the full
arpeggios of Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" with ten fingers at full
frills. Then there was the music performance in Brooklyn when the Paper
Rad three sat cross-legged on the floor performing a pretend recital on
some Sony "My First Laptops," while the music was droning on prerecorded
throughout. I thought electronic music was the one thing you didn't have
to lip-sync? Oh well. Here's how I understand it: I've done way more
ecstasy than Beige and Paper Rad put together, but they've done way more
acid. And that makes all the difference. As Ben scribbled in a comic
once, "Can one be tanned at night by stars?"

But it gets weirder: "The Mario Movie," Deitch Projects, New York City,
January 2005. There is not much a rational person can say about a
psychedelic rave fantasy, with messed up graphics, with castles floating
on rainbow colored clouds, with dance parties and raves in underwater
dungeons, all starring Mario the plumber who does little more than weep
through the tumult. And the whole thing plays live off a hand-soldered
video game cartridge. Gosh. But if I may observe one thing it would be
merely the following: this is the real deal. Which is to say that it's
not the real deal. This is computer code. But what you see is not what
you get. To watch the code itself would bore to distraction. Instead
this code runs on a video game console that converts it into sound and
image. The game console is the Nintendo Entertainment System, known
affectionately as "the NES" to every youngster lucky enough to receive
one for Christmas in 1985. (Raised by hippies in Oregon, we were not so
fortunate.) The NES is a magical device, for given the proper code it
can synthesize any sort of video signal from scratch. This is not the
sort of video made with a camera and edited on a computer, mind you. How
do we know? First, the compiled Mario Movie is 32 kilobytes in size, or
about twice as long as the few paragraphs you are reading now. Even
compressed, a ten minute video is roughly a thousand times larger.
Second, the movie runs directly off the customized game cartridge pushed
into the socket of the NES console--without, Cory is keen to observe,
altering the factory-soldered graphics chip shipped on the original '80s
cartridges. "Yo sound the bells / school is in sucker," MC Hammer would
come to say a few years later. "U can't touch this." This is the real

Because of this, computer art is more like sculpture than like painting
or video. In making the work computer artists actually fabricate the
substrate of the medium, they don't apply things to surfaces or use
prefab tools to move images on a screen. The code is the medium. So in
writing code, and running it, the computer artist builds the work from
the ground up. It's all math and electricity. To engineer the
soundtrack, Cory pokes the audio registers on the NES's chip in specific
frequencies. When he does they chirp. To get the video, he writes
hundreds of lines of code, code like "lda $2002" (translation: load the
value from memory position 2002 into the "a" register in the processor),
or like "jsr vwait" (translation: jump ahead to the subroutine called
"vwait" to stall for a few milliseconds while the television's electron
beam repositions itself). What appears on the screen is the image of
pure data. It is, in a manner of speaking, what numbers look like (if
they could). Translation: this is not video art. Maybe call it math art,
geek art, whatever. The Mario Movie makes tedium profound, and the other
way around.

They say everything becomes interesting in the long run. Super Mario
Bros might be nostalgia to you. But it's not to them. All media is dead
media, that's what Paper Rad and Cory understand. It's all garbage from
the beginning--so don't yearn for a time when it was otherwise. When you
understand media as trash then there is no nostalgia. If there is any
shred of longing that remains in the work, it's not for our childhood
friend Mario. It's for an acid high, for a simulated hiatus in a far off
land that no one has ever been to. It's for watching a cartoon schmuck
trip rather than you. It's nostalgia for raves sucked from the fevered
brains of raver-haters. Everything is as new as it is old. Everything is
as sucky as it is good. This is the movie.
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