Joep van Liefland

Galerie de Praktijk

Since 2002, Berlin-based Dutch artist Joep van Liefland has installed more or less ephemeral franchises of his Video Palace in places ranging from parking lots to art galleries. Although no two incarnations are identical, they always include shelves of old VHS cases for films from a variety of exploitation genres, as well as monitors or projections that show either a montage of appropriated footage or an “original” Video Palace production, usually some sort of quasi-porn starring van Liefland. Each Video Palace is accompanied by posters and slogans that tirelessly proclaim the stunning quality of Video Palace products, its friendly service, its astonishingly low prices. Like the design of these ads, the architecture of Video Palace installations is always shoddy to the highest degree.

This exhibition was dubbed an “Electric Showroom”; in other words, it showcased various Video Palace products rather than directly mimicking a video store. Along the right wall of the front room stood three “VP Video Cabins” (all works 2006), whose similar but not identical construction suggested that Video Palace had to use whatever free or cheap materials it could get hold of; one showed nondescript Reisevideo (Travel Videos), one showed Dauerwerbung (Nonstop Commercials) for Video Palace and its sensational, low-priced products; and the third showed a van Liefland film called Tiergarten. The film depicts the artist moving through a wooded landscape—presumably Berlin’s Tiergarten, a well-known cruising ground—wearing nothing but a pair of Mickey Mouse ears and white gloves.

The opposite wall sported a series of posters for various Video Palace productions, ranging from cannibalistic horror films to “Broccoli Hardcore—the video you don’t want to see!” The aesthetic of these posters is clearly indebted to the many genuine “vintage” video cases that could be found on the shelves of van Liefland’s previous VP installations. In contrast to these undoctored sleeves, those on a small shelf in the back room of the Galerie de Praktijk were written over, cut up, and collaged, while one bare yellow PVC case sported a drawing of Karl Marx. Clearly, Video Palace aims to bring the average consumer products that are nothing short of revolutionary, presenting itself, ambiguously, as “Meester van alle klassen” (Master of all classes) on the poster for the VP Rocco Sitzecke (VP Rocco Sitting Corner). Consisting of three cobbled-together benches, one clad with tinfoil, this construction is exhibited on a platform with lights and a large poster that praises its virtues: easy to clean, contemporary colors. This sub-IKEA product brings to mind Russian Constructivists’ attempts to create an alternative for plush bourgeois furniture that would lead to a more active and dynamic use of the body: VP Rocco Sitzecke would certainly make for a rather active and restless viewing experience.

A wall of black VHS cassettes separating the gallery’s front and back (Fronten-Wechsel-System [Front Panel Exchange System]) focused exclusively on the material side of the medium, but mostly van Liefland’s media archaeology engages with the medium’s cultural history—focusing on aspects which even the most eagerly slumming academics tend to shun. On the one hand, van Liefland could be seen as a Baudelairean ragpicker who celebrates the beauty of ephemeral trash; on the other hand, Video Palace’s ludicrous praise for the exciting and glamorous qualities of its discount products also raises doubt about the “real” glamour produced by the more prestigious segments of the culture industry: Is it not equally phony, just blessed with higher production values? Perhaps the differences between the latest DreamWorks blockbuster or Mathew Barney film and the plastic debris collected on Video Palace’s shelves are much smaller than they seem. Maybe all the world’s a Video Palace.

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