Jessie Scott Video Shop Algorithm
Jessie Scott's 'Video Shop Algorithm'
Stories & Ideas

Thu 11 May 2023

VHS shepherds and weird teenagers: Jessie Scott’s Video Shop Algorithm

ACMI X Craft Film Interview Pop culture
Jayden Masciulli
Jayden Masciulli

Visitor Experience Guide

Video artist, author and ACMI X resident Jessie Scott shares her artistic influences, her favourite video store memories and how we can find value in VHS tapes and DVDs once again.

Her artistic practice has encompassed everything from large-scale installations and documentaries, through to self-managed libraries and databases, but there is one element that Jessie Scott keeps returning to – the humble video shop. Jessie talks to us about her latest project – the nostalgia-fuelled interactive card game Video Shop Algorithm – and how to bring back the social experience of video store culture that we’re so desperately lacking in the streaming age.

Jayden Masciulli: Tell us about your creative practice – what motivates and inspires you?

Jessie Scott: I'm a trained video artist who also happens to work in a bunch of other mediums – I've self-published a book, a game, done exhibitions of collage and photography and made documentaries and participatory works. But video is what ties it all together for me, and I do believe in having a discipline rather than being a kind of uber-producer of art. What motivates me is a desire to communicate, and art – for whatever else it is – allows you to do that when just using words won't suffice. Art allows you to show things, to create an experience and to communicate in a way that is not closed-ended. 

Jessie Scott Video Shop Algorithm

Jessie Scott's Video Shop Algorithm

JM: Where did the inspiration for Video Shop Algorithm come from?

JS: Video Shop Algorithm is an attempt to re-create the social experience of video shops – the conversations, the arguments, the exchanging of trivia and anecdotes and the sharing of knowledge. I really miss that part of film culture and don't feel it has been replicated elsewhere in terms of a fully embodied experience, that provides both a sense of bounteous plenty and a useful limitation and boundary. There was a lot of guided discovery in a video shop, that my friend – the artist Xanthe Dobbie – beautifully described as "being at the mercy of whatever the weird teenagers in your town were into".

JM: What are some of your favourite films you remember renting, and are there any other favourite memories you have of visiting your local video shop?

JS: I have so many happy memories of video shops, I wouldn't even know where to begin! I started going to video shops when I was a three-year-old in my pyjamas on a Friday night, picking out a VHS compilation of cartoons. I kept going until about 2015, which is when my last video shop closed down and I started this project. Probably the most memorable era of VHS-borrowing for me was through the mid to late-90s, a.k.a. my teens, when I was discovering indie and arthouse directors like John Waters, Wim Wenders, Alison Anders and Hal Hartley. Gas, Food and Lodging (1992) was always a favourite with me and my sister and I have a copy on VHS that I will never, ever part with.

Browse games at the ACMI Shop

JM: What are some of the sources of inspiration you draw from when creating/designing?

JS: I'm really interested in portable and democratic forms of art – art that you can hold with your hands, buy for not much money or free, put in your bag, share and loan. I am inspired by other artists and designers who embody that spirit in some way. Some historical examples include the collective Ant Farm, who worked across video art, sculpture, architecture and design, and staged live happenings or stunts that were humorous and critical; Keith Haring for his sheer exuberance and energy to communicate his visions in any and every form possible; Miranda July's Big Miss Moviola VHS chain letter which was un-precious, community-building, playful and political all at the same time. Sam Wallman is one of my favourite contemporary artists because although he has a strong political agenda, he is always interested in ways to make his work accessible and engaging – there's a refreshing absence of artistic ego. There's so many more, but that's just a sample.

JM: How does the environment and sustainability impact your work?

JS: I try to make as many good choices as are available to me when I produce any artwork. I try to use recycled or sustainable materials and limit myself to using what is available and accessible, rather than generating new materials or ones that have far to travel. However, there is a limit to what difference individual consumer (and even producer) choices at a small scale can make and these are certainly dwarfed by the much more consequential moves governments and industry should be making. What my work does, in a bigger picture sense, is get people to retrieve these objects – DVDs and VHS tapes – that were once considered to have cultural and economic value but have now been discarded, and to realise that they can still have worth and that they can still produce knowledge, culture and enjoyment. We live in a very disposable, single-use society, and streaming services perpetuate those instincts, making content ephemeral and disposable, hiding the environmental impact of that far from view. So, this game works against that idea – "up-cycling" your old video trash into game night treasure.

Video Art Video Shop (Jessie Scott)

Jessie Scott's Video Art Video Shop

JM: Is there a favourite exhibition or film from ACMI you remember?

JS: So many! Too many! Eyes, Lies and Illusions is an all-time favourite exhibition, Correspondences by Victor Erice and Abbas Kiarostami, White Noise (going deep into the archives there). Len Lye, more recently, Soda Jerk, Lis Rhodes – there have been so many incredible shows at ACMI over the years.  I've also had great times in the ACMI cinemas – attempting to see all the films in Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle, twice, and failing both times; seeing the brilliant Indigenous land rights film Two Laws projected on 16mm; and most recently going on my own to see the double bill of Paris, Texas and Samson and Delilah on 35mm, with an intro by Warwick Thornton – a totally magical experience. 

JM: Do you think it’s possible for video rental stores to make a comeback in the future?

JS: Hmm... not as a commercial concern, no. After more than years of researching and making art about video shops and lending libraries, I feel like there is a lot that the model can offer that is not replicated by current forms of film and culture distribution. They were a very neat solution to the incredibly fragmented nature of film distribution, allowing content from many different sources, large and small, to accumulate in hubs that were more-or-less evenly distributed across the city. You had these shepherds who guided you through these collections, giving recommendations, facilitating access visually and physically. We can all have anything we want now supposedly via the internet, but there is little opportunity now to stumble on things, or find what you weren't looking for, the way we commonly did in the video shop. If you are not someone already versed in cinema, you could easily get stuck in a content silo – restricted to whatever fare the handful of streaming services you can afford decide you can have access to, for example. But the bricks and mortar business model doesn't really work anymore, for lots of reasons, chief among them because the whole industry decided to make the shift to streaming. So, I guess my question is what could we learn from video shops that would make that experience better? Perhaps this is not something the film industry could answer for us - perhaps this is something that comes from a grass-roots level and involves creating more real-world social opportunities for film culture to be supported. 

JM: What are you currently watching, playing, streaming?

JS: I made this long list of Australian films I've loved over the years or wanted to see, and I've been slowly working my way through it. I feel like Australian film either gets an unfair bad rap, or it's massively over-praised – so it's interesting to watch or re-watch stuff with a bit of critical distance.  This has been an eye-opening process, as I realise that some that I used to love were actually pretty average (Kiss or Kill), some were on my list forever that I was certain I'd love but didn't (Sweetie), some were much better than I gave them credit for at the time (Love and Other Catastrophes) and some are every bit the stone cold classic that I remember (Chopper). Tony Ayres' Home Song Stories and John Curran's Praise are next on my list...

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