four monitors showing vhs generation loss

A Video Preservation Petting Zoo

First off, I’m writing this in month… 6? I think? of the COVID-19 shutdown that has totally reshaped everyone’s world, including mine, my sense of time, any semblance of schedule. Fortunately, I am still employed, my kid has gone back to limited preschool, I don’t really have anything to complain about, so the ever-gnawing sense of looming dread is all down to my internal state, not my environment. Though I am also writing as the haze of the worst week of (orange-sky!) wildfire smoke clears slightly, so my environment is maybe newly non-deadly.


I was looking over some old files recently and realized that I had never done much to document or summarize an event I helped to organize that I was super excited to put on and dearly hope can be repeated if the world ever returns to normal. Morgan Morel, a dear colleague at the Bay Area Video Coalition, proposed that we collaborate on an informational night about BAVC’s Preservation Access Program, which has been subsidizing digitization of artist and community organization-based videotapes for something like 20 years thanks to funding from the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. The idea was to provide some info on how artists in particular could apply for the BAVC program, and in the spirit of collaboration we expanded it to be a bit broader about video preservation and give the museum audience a chance to look at weird old tape formats, along with the kinds of videos we (BAMPFA and BAVC) typically preserve.

hand painted film
We made postcards!

The result was a couple hours of fun hanging out with nerds, hearing Morgan talk about his video preservation work, and looking at some awesome tapes. We had a table set up with a whole slew of equipment people could poke at: there was Morgan’s analog video synth making wacky patterns, a stripped-down digitization setup running vrecord on an actual VHS tape, and a small tower of monitors playing back four generations of VHS signal loss. We also had a second projector running a loop of cool video art excerpts from BAMPFA’s collection (selected by Annie Schweikert and Jon Shibata). Rad!

Due to various mishaps and misplannings, I managed not to get a good audio recording of the event (including Morgan’s spiels about PAP and video preservation in general), but we got a static camera shot of the whole thing, which should give a flavor of what went down. Props to Morgan also for the drone zone tunes in the video! It’s also kind of wild to see people hanging out and chatting inside in the sweet innocent times pre-COVID.

We’re (or at least I am) hoping that we can do something similar next year, and maybe make it a tradition! At the very least I hope this is the beginning of more collabs between BAMPFA and BAVC. Thanks Morgan!