The Chuck Close Tapes is a video installation made using videotapes that––allegedly–– once belonged to the artist Chuck Close. The genesis of the tape collection remains unconfirmed, and yet serious real estate, time, and energy has been used over the decades to keep this tape collection in tact, due to its supposed celebrity origin. The tapes are filled with hundreds of hours of unedited television recordings from the 90’s and 00’s. Christensen digitized the tapes, and made a video projection piece out of the VHS material. The projection is exhibited alongside the tapes themselves, which are displayed as precious objects in custom museum vitrines on pedestals.
Does the cultural and economic value of e-waste shift when a well-known identity is attached to the material? Can our personalities and tastes be construed in the recordings that we make, and/or in the electronic material we choose to throw away? The value of our personal recordings is also investigated in We Share Our Photos and Hard Copy, two other works in the Upgrade Available series. In making those pieces, Christensen found that most of our personal documentation is rendered anonymous and worthless once we throw it away. Our recordings usually assimilate into the infinite plane of unidentified personal ephemera, floating away on a sea of digital files and hard copies. The VHS collection at the base of The Chuck Close Tapes illuminates how the opposite can be true of collections made by people with cultural caché: the material here is not even personal, just straight recordings off of the television, and yet the collection has always remained in tact because Chuck Close is the person who is thought to have hit the record button. Close’s celebrity transferred to the economic and cultural value of these tapes. Can we actually determine some “Chuck Close-ness” by analyzing the things he potentially recorded? If this same collection had been made by a person of lesser cultural stature, the tapes certainly would have wound up in a very different place years ago—namely, the trash.
The story goes that Close no longer wanted to store the tapes in his studio, and so he gave them to a blue chip gallery in NYC to preserve; the gallery stored them for several years, and then passed them off to an artist in Ohio who had space and students that could use and study them; that artist got tired of storing them, and passed them off to Christensen to use for her project. Christensen contacted Close about the tapes, and heard from his studio that he supported her using the tapes, but he could claim no actual confirmation (or denial) that he was responsible for the recordings. Again, the question of identity is brought into view: if Close did make the tapes, they could potentially clue us into some aspect of his celebrated practice; if he did not make the tapes, they are effectively anonymous, just boxes of tapes filled with junk recorded off the television.
Either way, the tapes are an incredible collection of ephemeral TV recordings; a television survey of these proportions could not even be accrued on hard copy today, in an age of DVR’s and digital recordings. So despite who made the recordings, the cultural value of these tapes is still quite relevant. And either way, The Chuck Close Tapes are culturally emblematic enough that we can indeed put them on a pedestal—in museum vitrines—for meaningful consideration.
The Chuck Close Tapes was made with additional support from the Film/Video Studio Residency at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
Video installation (video projection, custom museum vitrines on pedestals displaying VHS tapes)
++Eyebeam (NYC, NY), "Second Site: An Exhibition of New Approaches to Video," in conjunction with the Moving Image Fair
++Ronald Feldman Fine Arts (NYC, NY), "Wave & Particle"