Celebrating Valentine’s Day All Month Long with Wendy Clarke’s Love Tapes

Ashton Leach

The snow outside is melting and hearts are growing warmer as Valentine’s Day quickly approaches. The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research is overjoyed to join in the love-filled season by sharing the work of video artist Wendy Clarke. The team has been hard at work digitizing, organizing, preserving, and preparing to present the work of Clarke since receiving a wonderous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2023.  With hearts aflutter, we are excited to begin showing some of the wonderful work of Wendy, starting with the perfect Valentine’s Day viewing—the Love Tapes!

Wendy Clarke recorded some of her own reflections on love and shared the video, called Chapter One, with her mother’s film students at UCLA in 1977. The students were encouraged to make their own tape, with a song playing in the background to provide a beginning and ending point, and the Love Tapes were born. Since then, the Love Tapes have captured over 2,500 reflections of love across the world. From New York to Miami, from France to Hartford, booths were set up for participants to select a song and gaze into a video camera for 3 minutes as they reflected poetically on exactly what love means to them. Regardless of sexuality, race, class, age, or gender identity, people came to tell stories of their greatest loves and their most devasting heartbreaks, to read their poems and sing their songs, and to share their laughter and wipe away their tears in an effort to put into words what exactly love is. Clarke’s work moves participants and viewers as she provides space to share their experience of love, including marginalized communities whose reflections on love are not often presented in mainstream media or the historical record.

The tapes were often recorded in free public places, such as museums and the World Trade Center, however, Clarke was well aware many communities were exiled from such spaces, and instead of ignoring their reflections on love, she brought the booth to them. Prisons, nursing homes, hospice care centers, and schools are just some of the places Clarke traveled to in order to give space to those communities to express their experiences of love. This form of participatory video empowers both those who create tapes and those who watch them, validating the voices of participants and submitting them to the collection, and history, as real experiences of love in life, something that might not have been taught in a standard high school history class, but could only travel through the expression of the person sharing.

I have loved working with Clarke’s collection and am amazed daily by the warmth and passion that Wendy has put into her work. Her intense care for both the art and the participants is unmatched by any other artist I have encountered, and I truly believe that Clarke’s work with the Love Tapes and beyond can challenge the way that we think about saved histories, engagement with art, and love itself. I am thrilled to continue working with this collection, and I enthusiastically await sharing more of Wendy Clarke’s work with you all.

The Love Tapes will be shown in the lobby of the Wisconsin Historical Society throughout the month of February. Screenings are free and open to the public.


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