Cory Arcangel uses the systems and social mores of the Internet as artistic material, lending solidity to what he calls the virtual realm that “both consumes us and fits so neatly in the palm of our hands.” In his current exhibition, some of those digital forays are channeled toward decidedly analog ends, through several series of works on paper that give web-based content physical form. By turns funny and unnerving, droll and dark, Arcangel’s unique prints use humor to provoke a deeper reflection on the technologies in which we are steeped. As so often in his work, “a simple intervention creates a disquieting effect,” as curator Ruba Katrib has put it. “We realize through these works that even minor alterations of seemingly inane cultural references have potentially disturbing effects.”
Arcangel’s wry humor and his interest in cultural cast-offs are on full display in a series called inspos, in which slogans are printed (using the Laserjet in his home office) on airsick bags lifted from commercial flights. The banal phrases—“now let’s be clear,” “let me explain”—are common in the Twitter vernacular, often used as inoffensive lead-ins to some incendiary statement, and meant to stoke the algorithms that promote extreme views on social media. Free of context, the words take on a more beguiling, poetic quality, akin to the language-based works of Bruce Nauman or Ed Ruscha that hint at meaning but never prescribe it.
Arcangel turned to the humble barf bag as a medium for art after collecting them from airplane seat backs for years, and their branded backgrounds are a visceral reminder of his frequent pre-pandemic travels. These oddly familiar receptacles hint at the queasier side of the art world’s former jet-setting ways, and the carbon-hungry habits to which it may unthinkingly return.
Arcangel further mines the dregs of the Internet in another new series of prints, Cheesy Nacho Recipes to Devour on Super Bowl Sunday. The recipes—from the “pulled pork” variety to more baroque combinations like “chili cheese tater tot”—come from Today.com, a site Arcangel refers to as a hub for a vanishing middle in American culture. The lines of type are offset against the marked ground on which they are printed: pages clipped from the owner’s manual of Arcangel’s flatscreen TV. In need of a surface, the artist turned to overlooked sources of paper already his fingertips, a reminder of the sheer amount of printed matter that enters any household unbidden. The wastefulness implied by the nachos’ empty calories is echoed in his use of this unread, unwanted type—the instructions and warranties consigned to the junk drawer that we don’t read but can’t seem to throw out.
That both series were made using a standard-issue home printer embraces a comically deskilled approach to printmaking. Anyone with a desktop computer can generate printed matter with a few mouse clicks, and Arcangel reflects on the gap between these everyday actions and the rarefied techniques of fine art prints. In his inked vomit bags and layered nacho recipes, Arcangel says he is “trying to find the edges of prints”—pushing his chosen medium to its limits and exploring the fringes of art’s legibility.