Joy and nostalgia: inside Callum Preston’s Video Land

Growing up in the 1990s in the suburb of Westmeadows, near Melbourne Airport, Callum Preston was “sneaky, naughty but not bad”, an outdoorsy kid who loved skateboarding and graffiti and hanging out by the creek, with online access slowly emerging in that decade via clunky dialup modems. “The local video shop was my internet, in a way,” he recalls.

This year, the artist turns 40, but monuments to nostalgia have long figured in his solo art shows, from his 2015 exhibition Bootleg to the Future, a homage to Robert Zemeckis’s 1980s futuristic sci-fi trilogy Back to the Future, which Preston first encountered on VHS cassette, and on to his 2017 show Callum Preston’s Milk Bar, which recreated the local family-run grocery businesses once abundant in the burbs.

Now comes Video Land, in which Preston calls again on childhood memories to construct an entire video store, featuring 2200 video tapes, movie posters from the 1980s and 90s, and VHS machines plugged in for returned cassettes borrowers have neglected to rewind. Preston’s latest nostalgia-fest is rendered in eye-popping colours he admits are a little more vivid than the paler, fluorescent-lit libraries that existed before streaming killed the video store.

Callum Preston's Video Land. Photo by Phoebe Powell. Source: Museums Victoria.

Video Land is part of the Immigration Museum’s biggest exhibition, Joy, in which seven Victorian artists express what joy means to them in room-sized installations, including Elyas Alavi (with Sher Ali), Spencer Harrison, Nadia Hernández, Nixi Killick, Jazz Money and Beci Orpin.

“Nostalgia, by definition, has a hue of sadness, and a lot of people think about nostalgia as a longing for the past,” says Preston.

“But being a pre-internet child, I really want to celebrate these things that were so universal to everyone, like a milk bar or a video store, but they were also so mundane and every day that we didn’t realise the charm in them until they were gone.”

Audiences have bathed in Preston’s nostalgia: adult visitors to the installation can be overheard explaining a video store to their Netflix-addicted children, remarking on how working in such a setup was mum or dad’s first job. “The kids are mind-blown there was so much rigmarole to go and watch a movie,” Preston laughs.

“They were so mundane and every day that we didn’t realise the charm in them until they were gone.”

Preston recalls his 10-year-old self as thinking the person behind the video counter was “cool” and a “gatekeeper – they were Google, I guess, a wealth of knowledge”. His local store was “very suburban”, one of the Melbourne-based Video Busters chain, decked in pink and marron, a place he would call in with his older brother after his parents ordered Friday night fish and chips takeaway, or on a Saturday afternoon for longer periods searching.

It was a “ritualistic” place, he says. “I would also ask if I could buy the posters on the walls, so they would put my name on the back of the poster, and when it was coming down, they would call and say it was ready.”

Callum Preston's Video Land. Photo by Phoebe Powell. Source: Museums Victoria.

The artist was determined to keep his installation as a VHS rather than DVD universe, likening the tactility of the big cassettes to a vinyl record. The space is one where the audience is encouraged to touch: some visitors have even rearranged the tapes into alphabetical order. He sourced the tapes from Facebook marketplace, Gumtree, op shops and the occasional garage sale.

Many visitors to Video Land have told Preston they know the films on display, but not necessarily how or whether they can be accessed in today’s streaming world, “because the algorithm tells me what I’m thinking of watching”. He has witnessed conversations sparked between strangers in the installation, when one visitor asks another whether they too remember a particular film. “I love creating a platform where people get transported instantly,” he says.

Callum Preston's Video Land. Photo by Phoebe Powell. Source: Museums Victoria.

Preston talks about the joy of nostalgia, but does he feel melancholy about the passing of technologies?

“I’d be fooling myself if I said I didn’t feel some slight tinge of sadness in those things, but universally, I think that’s just getting older, and realising that those golden times, it wasn’t necessarily what you were doing, it was how much you didn’t know about the world.

“As an adult, you’re paying bills, mortgages. As a kid in the video store, you’re so carefree … I suppose there is a sadness to [nostalgia], but it’s like a movie—Stand by Me or The Goonies—childhood friendships and adventure was a part of it, a whole world to us. It was cool.”

Immigration Museum
On now—29 August 2025

Feature Words by Steve Dow