In didactic texts, artist talks, personal websites, and private interviews Cory Arcangel describes Super Mario Clouds as “an old Mario Brothers cartridge which I modified to erase everything but the clouds.” Exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2004, 2009, 2011, and 2015 the game’s blue sky and leftward floating cloud forms have come to represent not only Arcangel’s twenty-first century pop art practice but one horizon of videogames as an artistic medium. However, attempting to reverse engineer Super Mario Clouds according to the artist’s original source code distributed in exhibition catalogues, documentary videos, DIY websites, and GitHub repositories reveals that Arcangel’s ROM hack does not actually contain Nintendo’s ROM. Despite claims of erasing “everything but the clouds,” there is no erasure. There is a discrepancy between art historical accounts and the technical operations of Arcangel’s artwork. This video documents the history of Super Mario Clouds and demonstrates the results of my own attempt to “erase everything but the clouds,” a ROM hacking exercise that produces a different game altogether. This example of practice-based research and digital art history operates at the intersection of close playing, critical code studies, and media archeology to articulate the intractable materiality of the mechanical, electrical, computational, and even economic processes that characterize videogames as technical media and ultimately disrupt Arcangel’s narrative of erasure.
Delivered as part of Platform Games at Babycastles: babycastles.com/Platform-Games
Exhibition catalog available at: patrick-lemieux.com/temp/LeMieux-Platform_Games.pdf