THE TAPE travels again: How to Eat a Film

THE TAPE has been inactive. It was last seen covered in golden runes, bearing a message of warning. Those warnings were not heeded. The journey of the tape continues. In the first installment of this two-part series (read part two here), I will detail the construction of the package.

THE TAPE, as you may know, is an ongoing correspondence between myself and Vvinni Gagnepain. Since 2009, we have been mailing a VHS tape back and forth in packages of ever-increasing complexity, each time adding an experimental short film to the tape. For the full background, you’ll want to read up on this collaboration in the archives: THE TAPE and on Vvinni’s blog: A Complicated Web of Paper and Lies.

I was in quite a pickle!

My package for Happy Birthday, Murderer! was one of my favorite things—and perhaps the only bit of physical media work that I made at MCAD which I would actually consider art. It would be a difficult act to follow.

The one element that I felt had been really lacking in any previous iteration of THE TAPE was a sense of narrative. I hoped with this epistle to fold in a bit of a story. I also wanted to continue the theme of food which seemed to have become a constant in our volleys, and since my film was not very food-related, I would need to do something culinary with the packaging. The title of the package, I decided, would be How to Eat a Film.

The first thing you need for a story is a good central character. I found mine in a one Mr. Vedislav Andreyushkin, an experimental filmmaker and Russian immigrant to Iowa. The package would center around a series of letters he wrote in 1959.

What do I do? I was amazed, but is it enough to merely be amazed? I have hope, at any rate, that my research will at last provide me with some real insight. It really is a remarkable mechanism. It would be unwise if me to reveal in writing the true nature of its mechanics. You do understand, don’t you? It would be very technical anyway, and truth be told, I don’t understand some pieces of it, that once belonged to Cecil. He’s getting worse, spreading himself too thin. His doctors don’t know the real extend of the damage and to be honest they are not even paying attention to him at all, we are thinking about contacting <a href= where we know we will find a solution. I’m afraid it won’t be long now, although he himself can’t see it. but his eyes are dull. His latest has been too much, on top of his work with the Machine… When are you coming back to Iowa? I want to see you again. I was in California for the year, but I’m back now, and with my latest project in turn-around, there’s nothing to do but hunker in my laboratory and tinker with the Window. Please come and visit me. I miss you.” width=”1280″ height=”1920″ />

Vedislav's second letter, February 1959Vedislav's willVedislav's will – reverseVedislav's will – detail – witness signatures
Vedislav's doodles
Vedislav's doodles – reverseVedislav's listVedislav's list – reverseVedislav's list – detail – cake schematicVedislav's list – detail – cake diagram

The letters narrate Ved’s exploits with some kind of device (“the Window”) that allows him to meet and speak to other filmmakers from various different times and places, and the death of his friend Cecil. Ved’s research becomes more dire and he is forced into an existential crisis, before he suffers a mishap with the Window and accidentally transforms himself into a cake.

After appropriately aging them (green tea and an oven yield pretty good results), it was time to consider the rest of the package.

I let my students in on the work in progress last fall. They had worked with Vvinni when he came to Sioux City for the production of Write In 2012, and they were quite taken with his surreal intensity. Two of my students wanted to make their own short films to include in the piece (I may or may not have offered some extra credit for such an endeavor), and I decided to include those films as solid-state appetizers to the analog main course.

I put one film on a stripped-down USB drive, coated it in a thick layer of wax, and froze it in a jar of beet vinegar, along with the page from Vedislav’s will. I put the other film on a MicroSD card and baked it into a cookie. I baked one of Vedislav’s letters into another cookie.

USB drive and will in beet vinegarCookie with document

Furthermore, it was my students who gave me the best idea for the whole package: I had to bake the tape inside a cake. Brilliant! How could I not have seen it before? Of course, this raised a few logistical quandaries, not the least of which being that the Curie point of videotape (the temperature at which it becomes demagnetized) is roughly 266 ˚F, so actually baking a tape into a cake was not a realistic option.

As an aside, I should mention that I have some experience with cakes. I have eaten a lot of cake in my life, and last summer I was shanghaied into taking a cake decorating class. It’s a long story.

I solved my melting/demagnetization problem by sculpting an already-baked cake. After concealing the tape inside, I gave the cake a generous icing of tempered chocolate and inscribed it with the lovely, heartwarming sentiment “I AM DEAD.” Finished off with a trio of black roses and a couple calligraphic swirls, the end result was downright beautiful.

Cake: Tape concealed inside cakeCake writing practice runA beautiful hard shell of tempered chocolateI remember how to make roses!Cake in shipping crateI knew that the long silence between Powerful Magics and How to Eat a Film obligated me to make a grand gesture of some kind. I settled on destroying THE TAPE and transplanting its brain. The original tape was a Kodak T-180 containing a home recording of the SciFi miniseries Earthsea. It was quite recognizable due to some messages and runes that had been applied to it in previous epistles.

So what I did, see, was I dubbed the contents of the original tape onto a copy of Home Alone 3 along with my new film, then I smashed the original tape with a hammer. That new tape was what I had concealed inside the cake.

Aside: Did you know that you can record onto a write-protected VHS tape by placing a strip of Scotch tape over the square indentation on the tape’s spine? Apparently Vvinni doesn’t!

My care package was almost complete: a cake, cookies, and pickled paper were all packed up and nestled with care into my handmade shipping crate. But it still needed one thing.

It needed a Jello mold.

I took the pieces of the destroyed tape and suspended them in a cloudy yellow aspic, molded in place in a compartment directly above the cake. I actually didn’t use gelatin, for two reasons:

  1. Vvinni is a vegetarian. If he decided, in some fit of rage, to actually eat part of the aspic, I didn’t want him violating his own moral code.
  2. Gelatin melts at room temperature.

Instead, I opted for an agar agar solution. For those of you not in the know, agar agar is a powder derived from seaweed that can be combined with water to produce a gel that remains non-liquid in temperatures up to 87 ˚F – hopefully just enough leeway to prevent the package from becoming a wet, gooey mess in transit.

The smashed tapeThe smashed tape, reassembledFirst pour of agar. Orange juice added for color.Solidified aspic, complete with title.

The package was, at last, complete.

To see how it survived the journey, see Vvinni’s unboxing below:

And read Vvinni’s analysis of the package on his blog, right here.

My next post will take a look at the film component of this project .

One thought on “THE TAPE travels again: How to Eat a Film

  1. Pingback: THE TAPE travels again: The message within | Exploding Goldfish Films

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