I sent this proposal to Apex Art six months ago. Nice to see that in the past six months, Matthew Ostrowski presented a new version of Western Electric. Invite me to do this show somewhere? Maybe even as an imaginary show, an Exhibition without Objects, just a Powerpoint with a Soundtrack? - Lex, June 2015
Hello? Is there anybody there?
The invention of the telephone, its invasion and reconstitution of everyday life, changed affairs. It was so unnatural to speak into the machine that people were more inclined to say “Hello?” than “Good day.” Since the presence of another could no longer be assumed, it seemed appropriate to call a question into the voice. And that question-call is what we have unknowingly inherited.
– a greeting from nowhere
Hello examines a series of works that use the telephone as material, as well as one work with the telephone as content, to ask “What was the telephone?”
“The essential elements of a telephone are a microphone (transmitter) to speak into and an earphone (receiver) which reproduces the voice of the distant person. In addition, most telephones contain a ringer which produces a sound to announce an incoming telephone call, and a dial used to enter a telephone number when initiating a call to another telephone.” – “Telephone” Wikipedia
Thomas Watson’s act of listening to the natural radio via the telephone line originates the telephone as art, even if he did not understand it as such. Nearly a century later, Ken Friedman’s In One Year and Out the Other (initiated in 1975), issued Fluxus instructions for telephone conversations. For the second issue of “Voicespondence” [The Telephone Issue (1976)] COUM, AA Bronson, Robert Fillou and others published telephone conversations directly. The following year, Max Neuhaus eliminated the voice by turning the “round robin” of telephone lines connecting NPR stations into a massive electrical circuit in Radio Net.
Hello? Will you stop looking at your phone?
In 1995, Sprint PCS built the first “Personal Communication Service” in the United States, initiating the great unplugging which would eventually redefine the word “phone” to mean a “personal media center” (or more triumphantly, “a Celestial Jukebox“), a miniature television which could send-and-receive still and motion pictures. That same year, Christian Marclay produced what could be seen as a eulogy for the relationship of speaking at a distance. Telephones is a video collage of 130 Hollywood films, divided into the building blocks of dialing, ringing, greeting, conversing, farewells and hang-ups. Janet Cardiff’s telephone pieces, Dreams, Kathmandu Telephone (2008) and others, long for the intimacy between voice and ear that the telephone offered. Matthew Ostwowski’s Western Electric #1 (2012) physically repurposes vintage bakelite telephones into musical instruments in a generative composition. Finally, Phil Collins, my heart’s in my hand, and hand is pierced, and my hands in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught (2013) provides a free telephone on the street in exchange for revelations to museum-goers.
– Alexis Bhagat, December 2014