The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA) – the epicenter for all things weird in Philadelphia – hosted a free night of VHS relics as part of curator Eric Bresler's Video Pirates project on Monday, July 15. This first run of the new PhilaMOCA “Video Party” event takes a trip back into the forgotten footage of low-budget videotapes, promotional films and public access rarities from the depths of the Video Pirates collection.
Projected onto the Mausoleum's gigantic, recently installed movie screen, the Video Pirates experience takes viewers onto a wacky (and sometimes slightly uncomfortable) journey into the annals of abandoned ideas, '80s and '90s era home videos that were never meant to be seen in public, and company films completely devoid of self-awareness and irony. The result is equal parts voyeuristic joy and nostalgic amusement that never fails to surprise and baffle.
At a time when so many technophiles and gadget-lovers camp out to be the first to snag the latest release or constantly update social media from home and away, Video Pirates offers a glimpse back at simpler times when, instead of YouTube, people visited video stores to rent physical tapes. Bresler digs through these lost-and-found objects to curate a look back that, paired with the current state of art and technology, is as much of a quirky throwback as it is a forward-thinking archive of curiosities that would otherwise only find their way to a trash dump. Now, however, we can ridicule them on the big screen for years to come.
Kitschy appeal and retro aesthetics are perhaps the main hooks here, but there is also something to be said for the relief that can be found in spending an hour chuckling at grainy old flicks. While these days we are often blindsided by barrages of HD and instant access, the low-fi, lowbrow gems of Video Pirates provide a brief relief from the constant clawing for the high tech by allowing us to be present in one spot and revel in the absurdity of these juxtapositions. From this position, we can finally forget about our inboxes for a moment and just have a good time. Sure, there are always vacations, but most cabins don't come complete with ridiculous Beanie Baby documentaries either, and that is what makes this type of exploit unique. Plus, for a free Monday night event, it's hard to beat.
From the cheesy scripts of '90s Christian propaganda films to outrageous celebrity appearances in Japanese commercials Americans were never meant to see, Video Pirates offers a plethora of the painfully oblivious and the indiscreetly outdated that, combined with the right friends and a couple beers, makes for quite the night.