Artist Callum Preston and his recreation of a 1990s video store
Artist Callum Preston says his recreation of a 1990s style video store is a kind of 'time travel'. Image by HANDOUT/IMMIGRATION MUSEUM
  • arts, culture and entertainment

Artist rewinds tape to 1990s with video store replica

Liz Hobday February 4, 2024

When artist Callum Preston was growing up, Friday nights meant choosing a flick at his local Video Busters store, while he waited for the fish and chips.

“It was definitely part of that ritual of childhood – if you were having a birthday sleepover, you would take the whole gang down,” he told AAP.

Of course, it was the 1990s – the era of grunge, low rise jeans and planning ahead or just turning up … because mobile phones were not a thing.

For anyone who missed all that (due to not being born yet) or can’t remember it (due to the – gulp – 30 years since) Preston, 39, can help with a ticket to the past.

He can even hand you a laminated membership card to Callum Preston’s Video Land.

The 1990s era video rental store recreated by artist Callum Preston
 VHS tapes for the installation were found by Preston in op shops and online all over Australia. Image by HANDOUT/IMMIGRATION MUSEUM 

The artist has recreated a life-sized video store, complete with VHS tapes, for an upcoming show at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum, one of seven new commissions featuring Victorian artists.

The theme of the exhibition is joy, and Preston sees his installation as a kind of short-distance time travel to the joys of 1990s nostalgia.

“All those memories can come flooding back … it’s like a giant time machine, you walk in and you’re just transported into those periods,” he said.

Preston figures that if people want to learn about the gold rush era they can visit Sovereign Hill, but they also need a place to revisit, say, 1997.

He found VHS tapes – still sporting stickers from the stores that rented them out originally – in op shops and online, from all over Victoria, parts of NSW and even Alice Springs.

He spent months building the store in his workshop and designing its visual language, right down to the carpet.

“It’s weird, I’ve been secretly living in this world of owning a video store of my own and no one has known about it,” said Preston.

Visitors can’t actually borrow the videos though, and Preston says the artwork is more about remembering what it was like to wander through the shelves, an experience lost to most with only a handful of video stores left in Australia.

Preston has a longstanding fascination with nostalgia. A previous piece recreates a milk bar he used to work at growing up in the Melbourne suburb of Westmeadows, near a strip of shops with a fish and chipper and of course, a video store.

He’s also on the record as a committed Back to the Future (1985) fan since his 2015 exhibition that featured a life-sized replica of the film’s DeLorean time machine.

As for the top nostalgia-inducing feature films of the 1990s, Preston names Point Break (1991) and Jumanji (1995) – but there are many, such as the slapstick Police Academy series, that were part of the culture without audiences even watching them start to finish.

Yet the artwork is more about the feel of the era rather than the films themselves, while for others such as Preston’s nieces, aged 8 and 10, it’s about working out what a VHS tape actually is.

“They kind of understood DVDs, and it’s like a DVD but it’s not – it was quite funny,” he said.

“It was like I was speaking a different language.”

Joy opens at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne in March.