Daedalus Howell & Kary Hess | Multimedia Installation & Performance | 2016
Stairwell Video recreated an 80s-era, VHS-only video store and invited participants to “rent” a video for the night – but the video can never be returned (the video store vanished in the night, erased like magnetic media and the dreams of a generation). The installation explored what happens when you squeeze nostalgia and a dead medium into a 110-foot Victorian-era stairwell. And then add late fees…
The production of the last video cassette recorder (VCR) occurred when the final manufacturer ceased production at the end of July 2016. Conceptual artists Daedalus Howell and Kary Hess celebrated the once-dominant home video platform with Stairwell Video, a recreation of an 80s-era, VHS-only video store, for a single night in July 2016.
“Stairwell Video recreates what was once a regular secular ritual,” says Howell, who reminds that the installation is a one-night-only pop-up, so rented videos can never be returned. “From selecting a video, presenting your store membership card, viewing, and returning the video — or not, as the case may be. This was a ceremony performed by American families that is now lost forever. Stairwell Video provides a way to engage with this ritual once more and perhaps even introduce it to a generation who have only known online streaming and multiplexes.”
The event’s 100-minute runtime mirrored that of “A History of Violence,” the last commercially-released VHS video. As was reported in the New York Times, Japan’s Funai Corporation quit the VCR business July 2016, effectively bringing an end to a medium that changed our culture’s relationship to films.
“The video store experience was unlike the collective spectacle of a movie theatre or binge-based personal viewing on an iPad,” says Howell. “A rented video cassette was a sacred object that we took into our home, cared for, and tried our best to remember to ‘be kind and rewind.’ There was a connection with the media and an affection for the object itself. That its demise comes during the centenary of Dada is like two great tastes together at last — it’s sentimental and absurd.”
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