New media and internet artist Cory Arcangel often appropriates artifacts from earlier digital times for his artwork. In a series of videos, Arcangel hacks cartridges of the original Nintendo game Super Mario Bros., twisting the game’s graphics into surreal reinterpretations.

In “Super Mario Movie” (2005), created in collaboration with artist collective Paper Rad, our protagonist is thrown into a world neither he nor we can comprehend. The rules of the game universe are turned upside down, colors shift, Mario floats on air. The game’s text becomes nonsense and the screen is at times overtaken by vaguely familiar symbols and abstract patterns. Through this all, Mario wanders. A nostalgic throwback, an existentialist exercise or a good internet joke? It’s up to you to pick your own interpretation; I suspect Arcangel would be fine with any of them.

The video below is part 2 of 2; the slower-paced part 1 of “Super Mario Movie” is embedded below. At bottom is Arcangel’s “Super Mario Clouds” (2002), another hacked-cartridge piece in which the artist removed everything from the game but the slowly-moving white clouds in the background of some Mario levels. The work has become iconic for its re-purposing of video games and repackaging of retro technology into art.

YouTube video

YouTube video

YouTube video


Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

4 replies on “Cory Arcangel’s Surrealist Super Mario”

  1. So, I’ve seen this whole reprogramming the clouds from super mario brothers thing from at least 3 different artists…. one of them long before Cory Arcangel’s version, thank you. How many times are people going to get to do this and be thought of as legit artists?

      1. A grad student at the SMFA a number of years back when circuit bending and such were just starting to get big and someone at the List center who I don’t believe was Arcangel, but might possibly have been… about 4 years ago.

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