sun 05/12/2021

Cory Arcangel, The Curve, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Cory Arcangel, The Curve, Barbican

Cory Arcangel, The Curve, Barbican

Ten-pin bowling explored in ones and zeroes

It is probably a worrying sign when the computer games of your youth become the historical butt of a conceptual art joke. Digital artist Cory Arcangel, who appropriates video-game technology, repurposes and redesigns it, has installed 14 10-pin bowling computer games in the Barbican's Curve gallery, and if you remember the earliest, an Atari, you're almost certainly as obsolescent as it is.

The Curve is a perfect space for this piece: the games are projected onto its long, high, smooth wall, the images 20 feet high, so you seamlessly trace the evolution of these bowling games as you wind round. Each console has been modified so that it plays an endless cycle of zero-scoring games; not a single pin will fall if you stay there all night. This is probably the least interesting thing about the installation, an unoriginal comment on failure and the depressing loop that human interaction with technology creates.

But there is more here. As you walk round, the improvements are almost exponential from game to game, obeying Moore's law on the development of technology. The first few are almost embarrassingly antediluvian, with bowling bowls made out of square pixels, whose ineptitude for the role is exposed mercilessly when shown large. How, you think, did anyone ever mistake that for a ball?

The increase in sophistication - rounder balls, more realistic humans, pins' reflections in the polished lanes - makes one think about how each time technology evolves, we accept it, in our ignorance, as almost perfect. This, we imagine, is truly the height of electronic skills; how can it ever get better? And yet we are constantly proved wrong.

What follows, of course, is that even the hyper-realistic heights of technology we have recently achieved are in fact just waiting to become out of date. Call of Duty may put you in a soldier's position, with blood-spatters across your television, but perhaps somewhere boffins are developing a game that actually throws blood at you. And Arcangel's installation can never be complete - there will always be another bowling game to add on to the end, shaming the last and, with it, us, who thought that that was as good as it could get.

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