Media Production, Los Angeles
Watchtapes is more than just an ongoing multimedia project. By chance, co-creators Alex and Kris stumbled upon a massive collection of Porn and Hentai VHS tapes. Rather than just featuring the content as erotica, they curate, recontextualize, and preserve the media as artifacts of technology and culture. Hentai (understood now as a genre of Japanese animated porn featuring sexual activity commonly between human women and various inhuman entities like robots, aliens, monsters. With its vast global consumption beginning with distribution in the 80s and 90s, Hentai teeters the line of niche and mainstream, the transition of analog to digital, and the depiction of sexual fantasy and expression. Watchtapes aims to explore the relationship and contradiction of reality and unreality within the media.
What is Watchtapes?
WATCHTAPES is an ongoing multimedia project that curates, remixes, and recontextualizes XXX VHS tapes from the 1980s and 90s. By presenting the tapes as aesthetic artifacts, not just as erotic objects, we believe that they offer a unique window into the unconscious depths of media, technology, and culture.
Hentai is very unique and taboo media. Would you care to explain it to people that might not know what it is?
The word ‘hentai’ has had shifting meanings over time — etymologically, it comes from the kanji for ‘transformation’ and ‘sexual perversion,’ with roots dating back to at least the 1800s — but today, it’s most widely understood as a genre of Japanese animated porn. It’s particularly well-known for its depictions of sex between humans (particularly human women) and demons, robots, aliens, and tentacle monsters. Though it may once have been a relatively niche erotic form, it’s now consumed pretty much globally, largely thanks to the distribution of hentai on VHS in the 80s and 90s.
What drew you to begin collecting? Why tapes? Do you collect in any other formats?
What got us started collecting tapes was basically a matter of chance... we stumbled on a massive, weird, and unwanted collection of VHS porn tapes, and immediately realized that we had something special on our hands. VHS tapes occupy an important space in media history — they represent this transitional moment between analog and digital, theater and home video, local and global distribution. Porn, in its way, is also a deeply liminal medium, riding the line between public and private, mainstream and underground, high and low culture. And the two things feed off each other… porn made VHS a dominant medium and VHS tapes brought porn into places where it hadn’t been before. We’ve always been collectors, especially media collectors — we love cassettes, records, games, books, and old electronics — but porn tapes are something different, and something special.
Based on your knowledge of Hentai, how would you depict or interpret the nudity featured?
We wanted the shoot to explore the relationship between illustrated 'nudity' in hentai and the photographed nudity of a real human body. Hentai is usually drawn from human models, but it’s mediated by technology, style, and censorship (the use of tentacles in place of penises, for example, became popular as a workaround for Japanese censorship laws forbidding certain depictions of ‘real’ human genitalia), and often leans into the fantastic and even demonic. It’s at once intensely unreal, and immediately recognizable as an authentic expression of human sexuality. We wanted to take that contradiction — the collision of the real and unreal — and make it visible.