Video tapes with strange names transport you to abstract realms

A pile of forgotten cassettes create art and mystery.

Mine is probably the last generation to have tangible memories evoked by the sight of a video tape. We can remember the clack and heft of them, the colored plastic, the rough white wheels and the forbidden, squeaking black tongues inside. The labels where you wrote down in marker or printer ink whatever flicker of time you'd frozen in the box.

Mystery Tapes is a wonderful, nostalgic neon space where staticky monitors sit in congress around a pile of 640 video cassettes. Their labels offer random-feeling names like CRY AND DOUBT or TABOO PHONE, and when you put one into a slot, a little bit of color, sound or shape springs to being in the world. You can put in three or four at a time and each tape has a unique contribution to the landscape. The combinations feel theoretically endless.


It was much more engaging to rifle through the heaps of tapes and try different ones together than I would have ever expected. CULTURAL SHOP, GENERAL TRUTH and SWEET FILL gave me the sound of lonesome whistling among buttery prisms. I could almost catch a whiff of that old Blockbuster smell—no, worse, the tiny shop in your local strip mall where you'd hang out after school. It was another time, and Mystery Tapes, free or pay-what-you-want, feels like an eternal portal to it.