Netflix is so ubiquitous, and the video store has disappeared so thoroughly, that it’s surprising to read that it actually happened quite recently: it wasn’t until after 2007 that nearly all 1,100 video stores went bankrupt. Before that, every town had at least one video store, and every town had numerous. In 1990, one in two households had a VCR, and those who did not rent a movie box with their films.
In the recently published book by Rotterdam artist Gyz La Rivière, Home Video, video stores and video in Rotterdam, there are photos of about 135 video stores in the Rijnmond region, surfaced from various archives and received after calls on the socials. This makes the book a fine overview of four decades of urban history. The countless decent branches of chains for the whole family such as Videoland next to the chains that focus more on ‘quality film’ such as the Filmfreak. And of course, typical for a large and mixed city like Rotterdam, the shops tailored to specific population groups; Cult on the Claes de Vriezelaan for the arthouse enthusiast, Mei Lun or Woo Hing on the Kruiskade for Chinese-language tapes, or Taj Videoclub for Hindustani and Pakistani films.
The many images of the shelves the films on which the films are displayed immediately evoke memories of the specific despairing pleasure of wandering around a not-so-spill video store to decide what to watch that evening. Talking to other doubters or the guy behind the counter, who had a tip for you. La Rivière therefore calls the video store a social institution, while it was warned at the time that watching at home would lead to isolation.
But the artist is not only interested in urban history. The second part of the book is a (visual) essay on the (Rotterdam) use of video in itself, ‘both a democratic and a totalitarian medium’. From art medium to security camera so to speak, via the home videos. In recent years La Rivière has mainly been working ‘in the spirit of retrofuturism, with a warning about the ‘big data’ madness of today’. He wants to talk about the human “that we are collectively losing”.
The book was presented in the Joey Ramone gallery, which now also houses work by La Rivière. In the white spaces there are beautiful walls with tapes and other abstract installations over and with video tapes. In a corner a short trailer of La Rivière plays on a once modern, round TV via its own pirate channel. And, very retro-futuristic, that same clip runs on the tiny but bright screen of a Sony Watchman Voyager, the portable television that never quite made it.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on September 18, 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of September 18, 2021