This article examines the use of the telephone as a medium for artistic practice; from its early development to a case for alternative application. The theme of democratic communication is introduced as It relates to the potential audience for telephone art. The proliferation of telephone technology and use of voice mail systems are Identified as infrastructure that is already In place. The listener is challenged to participate in an exciting, intimate, yet public exchange. Included in this article are descriptions of some of the telephone based installations by Ian Pollock/Janet Silk.
Pick Up The Phone. Visionaries with ringing in their ears take the higher calling. Heidegger took the call. Bell took the call. The flame dances inside the machine. The flame is controlled by the vibration of the voice interpreted by a membrane separating the two worlds: the world of the speaker and the world of the listener. The telephone communicates between two worlds, the world of fiction and the world of reality. Take the Call We are artists using the telephone as a medium for transmitting our work. The telephone, different from radio, is unique in its structural intimacy, the impact of the work is heightened by the physical relationship of the phone to the listener’s head. What’s your number? The phone is an ideal tool to locate issues in our society concerned with the mythologizing of technology and the pervasive narrative of Science. Our installation, Museum of the Future specifically targets these issues by relaying narratives about fantasies of the future in the past and the present via a voice mail system. Another telephone installation, Area Code utilizes the public phone as a transmitter of local histories, engaging the listener with perceptions of the site over time and contemporary social issues that are traced across time in an ongoing political discourse. For Local 411, we will be using the phone as a transmission device to call out into the newly opened Museum of Modern Art and Yerba Buena Center for theArts. We will be delivering stories about the residents who were forced to give up their homes for the expansion of these cultural institutions. I’m cutting down to 10 calls a day. A very transparent medium, the telephone is often overlooked as a technological device. Its use is pervasive, telephonic art implies a world-wide audience. In the early development of the telephone, there was much discussion about its impact on existing social structures. Laws and social etiquette were questioned and eroded as the phone became a means to contact anyone at all times across class, race and gender boundaries. Our voicemail installations engage with a broad audience, encourage feedback and integrate response into the piece itself, or allow for a listener critique. Look at me, I’m talking to you. The first phone to transmit pictures as well as sound was demonstrated in 1927, AT&T spent over $500 million on development of a “Picturephone,” but sold only a few hundred devices. Ultimately, the Picturephone failed. No one really wanted to see the person they were talking to. I have another call coming in, can you hold please? Rigidly coded concepts of what is appropriate phone use predetermine its ability to exist as a medium for art practice. In the early years these lines were less defined. Throughout its short history, there are many interesting examples of using the phone as a transmitter of cultural and entertainment programs. An open-ended channel of communication – a line whose limits are only the result of the fears of the society it exists in – telephonic technology, like other technologies, reveals that the initial intention which fueled its development was greater than its final form of expression. We hope to remind people of this paradox. Contrary to the dominance of visual culture, the telephone is a refuge for an intimate exchange between artist and audience. Close to your ear, the artists are confessing their desire to connect with you. You have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service, if you feel that you have reached this recording in error, please hang up and try your call again.
- Janet Silk & Ian Pollock, USA
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