Playing old tapes before they become extinct

In 2021, artists Renana Raz and Nitzan Cohen used Wojciak’s manual as the catalyst for a creative process.

 RENANA RAZ, 'Blast from the Past': The work is built on a person facing their past. (photo credit: AVITAL PELEG)
RENANA RAZ, 'Blast from the Past': The work is built on a person facing their past.
(photo credit: AVITAL PELEG)

In another generation, the ritual of rewatching old tapes will no longer exist. Documentation of every day of human existence will be at the tip of our fingertips, drifting in our clouds and accessible from any of our screens. Maybe then, watching footage from our past won’t be so emotional. 

But for those of us that grew up on slide shows of neighbors’ vacations and dropping film off at the drug store to be developed, pressing “play” on an old VHS can unlock a Pandora’s box of overwhelming feelings and memories. But what if we had a manual to help us review our past? 

This was the thinking behind Polish artist Klaudia Hartung Wojciak’s User Manual for Your Past, Which I’ve Never Seen. In her instructive manual, Wojciak outlines various prisms through which one can approach their past. 

For example, in “Gestures of my father are still mine,” she instructs readers to “find 10 typical gestures of your parents from the videos or in the cast of image shortage use your memory. Try to reconstruct it precisely.” In “Embarrassing piece,” she writes, “find 10 most embarrassing moments from your videos. Bring them to the public space. Perform them in the public space.” On and on go Wojciak’s instructions for how to review, reclaim and reconcile with the filmed past. 

In 2021, artists Renana Raz and Nitzan Cohen used Wojciak’s manual as the catalyst for a creative process. They invited artists to revisit their VHS tapes with Wojciak’s manual as a guide. Together, they crafted their responses into a staged evening entitled, VHS: Blast from the Past, which premiered as part of Tmuna Theater’s A Genre Festival, of which Cohen was the co-artistic director. 

 YOSSI ZABARI goes back to a moment before he came out. (credit: MICHAEL LIANI) YOSSI ZABARI goes back to a moment before he came out. (credit: MICHAEL LIANI)

This month, Raz and Cohen will present the second edition of VHS: Blast from the Past as part of the Israel Festival. The lineup will consist of almost all new artists and footage that is new to us while old to them. 

“We looked for stories, interesting stories. The work is built on a person facing their past who wants to clarify a specific moment. It has to have weight or significance that can resonate with other people’s lives. 

“We thought about stories that are different from one another. Not everyone is going back to childhood or their parents. Everyone is going to their past but, like life, there are different colors,” Raz explained in a phone interview.

“We send people to look at their tapes, and once they’ve brought the one they want to work with, we help them to zoom in on what they’re looking for and what they understood from what they’ve brought. They need to have understood something, have a new understanding of what they’ve looked into,” Cohen added. 

VHS: Blast from the Past 2.0

THE ARTISTS who will participate in the second incarnation of VHS: Blast from the Past include Tal Friedman, Shirili Deshe, Roni Kuban, Ofri Cnaani, Doron Nesher, Corinne Kitzis and Yossi Zabari. 

“Doron Nesher is going back to a past film of his and he’s looking for a word that he lost,” Raz said. “He understands that the way for the brain to remember the word isn’t linear, it’s associative and the way is to go back to this movie that he made in 1982. 

“Ofri Cnaani goes back to a meeting with her grandfather, the sculptor Yechiel Shemi, 20 years ago. She wanted to make a movie about him as part of her studies. Something didn’t work in her movie, not just as a grandfather and granddaughter, but as an artist interviewing another artist. Over time she understood why there was this silence and what is brought to light.

“Yossi Zabari goes back to a moment before he came out,” Cohen continued. “He’s at his sister’s henna, before her wedding, and all he wants is to wear the dress and be the bride. I think in this work, time is material. You can see it and you can feel it. Renana can attest to that herself.” 

In fact, Raz is the only artist who will participate in both editions of the platform. Her exploration, which revolves around footage of her uncle’s wedding, touches on a sensitive note in her family’s trajectory: her parents’ divorce. 

“My part is the only piece that continues from what there was. Dafna Kron said that when you make sourdough you need a starter, something from the previous evening that needs to continue. My part is the starter,” she said. 

Cohen, on the other hand, will not participate. His reason touches on precisely why their platform resonates with so many people. “I can’t find my VHS tapes,” he admitted. “I remember erasing them. I was 17, in the midst of teenage depression. I have since looked for the tapes but didn’t find them.” 

“We really want him to participate. The response is ready, we just need the tapes,” Raz said.

Both Raz and Cohen are confident that the project will be ongoing, and noted that they’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. “Part of what is so exciting about it is seeing the path it will take,” Raz added. “We really believe that the strength of the format is a person facing their past.”

VHS: Blast from the Past will be performed at the Israel Festival on September 21 and 22. For more information, visit www.israel-festival.org.