In 2004 we received a commission from Vivid in Birmingham, to help them with a problem. Over 30 years of video and film production (as Birmingham Centre for Media Arts) they had accumulated over 2000 master tapes in Beta format. These tapes were taking up a large amount of space and they were unable to continue to house it – we were brought in to provide a solution. So we created ‘Dead Media – an artwork, an archive, a solution to a problem’.
We took an empty shop unit in the Pavilions Centre on Birmingham’s High Street, and created a ‘multimedia exhibition’, changing the shop into a kind of art gallery, with installations created by Friction arts. This was a complete fake, and served only two purposes. Firstly, we had taken a few seconds from each film, and edited them together (which took months), and projected the resulting film onto the ceiling of the space. The film turned out to be very beautiful, a kind of moving image ‘time capsule’, showing short snatches of people’s lives, almost randomly juxtaposed with images of the city. This came towards the end of the ‘exhibition’ and would be viewed by the audience member lying down on a sofa bed. The film was almost an hour long, and many people watched the whole thing, it had a mesmeric, yet familiar and comforting quality.
The final, and most important part of the experience came right at the end. We had wrapped each tape in a heat sealed bag, printed with an image from the project, and numbered as a limited edition individual artwork. We had ‘hidden’ these in an ‘attic’ we had constructed at the end of the shop. We would climb the ladder, grab a tape and pass it to the audience member. In return for receiving their limited edition artwork, they were asked to provide their contact details in a large, leather-bound ledger we had placed on a lectern near the exit.
So from a single archive of 2000 master tapes, facing destruction, we created 2000 archives of a single tape, preserved for posterity by the people of Birmingham. A great solution, and a great piece of work on our connections with time, and our collective responsibilities.