Super Mario Clouds

Cory Arcangel

Super Mario Clouds (Nintendo cartridge hack & downloadable Internet work, 2003)

Super Mario Clouds (Multi-channel projection installation with hacked cartridge and Nintendo, 2004)

The Making of Super Mario Clouds (Single-channel video, 2004, 76 min, color, silent)


Super Mario Clouds (Nintendo cartridge hack & downloadable Internet work)

Super Mario Clouds was originally created in 2003 as a video game cartridge hack. Arcangel hacked a 1985 Nintendo cartridge of the game Super Mario Brothers, which he took apart and reprogrammed to show only the game's clouds, scrolling across a blue sky. He then posted the source code with commentary on his Web site, along with a tutorial on how to hack the cartridge. As Arcangel says, “By putting it on my Web site I was saying, Here's what I made, and here's the source code and a little bit of information about how you would go about making it yourself.”

The work has continued to perpetuate itself via the Internet, and has been replicated and modified in numerous iterations by hackers and artists. “A lot of people ended up modifying it,” Arcangel relates. “I had one guy take the source code and put it on a Game Boy. So he sent me an image of the clouds on a Game Boy, which I thought was really cool. And another guy took away the clouds; he sent me a QuickTime movie screen capture that was just blue. …That was part of the original idea of putting it on the Internet, so that they could just play with it, interact with it, and send it back to me. ….There's another guy on the Internet who made it even more pixelated—"Super-pixelated Clouds" it was called. …So they would just e-mail it to me, and I would post a link to it. And that is something that could never, ever happen in the gallery.

Super Mario Clouds (Multi-channel installation, 2004)

Super Mario Clouds was first exhibited as a three-channel installation at Team Gallery in New York in a group show in 2003. The installation is a multi-channel, projected version of Arcangel's hack of a 1985 Super Mario Brothers game cartridge, which he hacked and reprogrammed to show only clouds scrolling across a blue sky. The original version was made available as a tutorial and source code on the artist's Web site. The installation featured three large-scale projections of the clouds, as well as a booklet with the source code and instructions. (The piece, an edition of five, consisted of the cartridge and the Nintendo console.) Super Mario Clouds was also exhibited in the 2004 Whitney Biennial, this time as a two-channel installation.

“It was the same piece [as the Internet version], but it has a totally different effect,” Arcangel says. “But the thing that's important about it is that it works within the gallery. Someone who goes to the gallery can identify with it. This was mostly I think because of course that audience would never, ever, ever remotely care about my Web site. …The piece is an idea, so what form it takes—I don't know how to explain it. It is the same thing and it isn't.”

The Making of Super Mario Clouds (Single-channel video, 2004, 76 min, color, silent)

The Making of Super Mario Clouds is a single-channel video that serves as another iteration of Super Mario Clouds, Arcangel’s hack of a 1985 Mario Brothers video game cartridge. For that piece, he erased everything but the blue sky and scrolling clouds that form the game’s background, and posted the instructions and source code on his Web site. In the first part of the single-channel work, which Arcangel calls a “documentary on making a cartridge,” he silently records himself in the real-time process of hacking the cartridge for the 2004 Whitney Biennial, where Super Mario Clouds was shown as a two-channel installation. While The Making of Super Mario Clouds poses as an instructional video, willfully amateur camerawork and the omission of any sound track indicate the artist's intentions: to give viewers, in his words, "a feel for the process, in its gloriously boring true detail." The second part of this piece is a video re-scan of the scrolling clouds and sky.

“The reason I did that [the single-channel version] was because people kept asking me for something,” Arcangel explains.” “Now that I have this grand version, this multiple projection gallery thing, which is quite pristine and rarefied, all these people keep e-mailing me and asking, 'We really like this project, we saw it on the Web or heard about it. Can we show something?'… So I made this single-channel version just to be able to say, 'Here.' Or if you really want to know how to make it, here's another document that might help you. I had to do it or else I had to tell all these people no.”

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