An aseptic space. One white table and on it a printed directory, accompanied by an apparently normal looking telephone. It would seem the right environment to make a call. And calls are, in fact, made. The phone operates automatically, dialling random numbers from the many listed in the phone book . The diffused audio allows visitors to listen to the classic dialling sounds, followed by a precise dead tone or a message saying, in varying languages, ‘the number you dialled does not exist’. The process repeats itself tirelessly; another number, another country, another language. A loop of sounds and dead time; a form of a dance, a ritual. A monologue or perhaps a soliloquy. No matter which of the many available numbers are dialled, it is certain that no calls will ever be answered because the list of numbers is officially exposed as The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers – an extensive list of numbers certified as non-existent and neatly divided into geographic areas of the world. The compilation of this phone book includes official requests from telecommunication regulators in different countries. The artwork, resulting from research by the British artist John Martin Callanan and presented first in Spain and then at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, is indefinitely offered as a resource for use in drama or film productions so that unsuspecting people aren’t disturbed by inquisitive viewers. Art in defence of privacy?
Privacy is something that is becoming more and more scarce in today’s electronic society. Where it doesn’t seem to bother some, others will go to great lengths to preserve what shreds they have left. Artists mirror the varying public opinions on this matter. Some such as Roch Forowicz want to bring to the attention of all that their privacy is being invaded without their knowledge or rather without their attention. It is general knowledge that there are surviellance cameras watching us when we enter certain areas. Without a second thought we pass by them and don’t think about them again. But if you do stop and think about it, our image is being captured, our actions are being recorded. The thought of Big Brother may cross your mind. It should, because you are being watched and you have no control over that record of your actions. That moment of your life no longer belongs to you, not alone at least. Forowicz saw the error in this and wanted to express his frustration in being observed. He transplanted a surviellance camera from one area to another. While not changing the function of the camera he did change its purpose. Generally the camera is not meant to allow the observed to become the observer. He projected the observed images up on the wall of the subway station they were walking into. This enabled them to immediately recognize the fact that they were being monitored. Because this was all deemed illegal, this act was short lived but very effective. On the other end of the spectrum there is British artist Ellie Harrison who is willing to share her private moments with anyone willing to log on. Everyday since January 1, 2006 she has faithfully made entries into her online journal. Entitled Tea Blog, appropriately Ellie Harrison records the first thought she has while enjoying her first warm beverage of the day. While not very informative it allows for a brief glimpse into the inner workings of her mind. Something that most people wouldn’t say out loud let alone share with the world, she puts it out there freely for all to read. Martin John Callanan also gives up his privacy freely. Through his work entitled Location I, he has enabled anyone to be able to learn his location at anytime. He has labeled himself an “absolute citizen”, he has made himself everyones neighbor although not physically. He wanted to make himself accessible for anyone to talk to, work with or just be able to contact him whenever and where ever he is. While all of these are taken to be true there is the possibility of false statements being made. We take it on good faith that the thoughts that Ellie Harrison are making in her Tea Blog really are her first thoughts, and that Martin John Callanan is where he says he is. These thoughts maybe intriguing, it may add an element of suspicion to the situation. There is room for interpretation and specutlation of the private lives that we are getting glimpses of. Whether it’s guessing the destinations of the people walking in and out of the subway, or the first thoughts of a women you’ll never meet or the location of a man you have no intention of ever contacting. It is interesting to have the knowledge and the ability to know more. The artist Ethan Ham recognized the interest in the stories behind the faces. He created art with a program that attempts to make facial recognitions. With this program he coupled photographs with short stories written by Benjamin Rosenbaum. Through this collaboration he created Anthroptic. While a photograph of someone of something appears you can listen to a story behind the photograph. Whether it is about someone they met or about the thoughts that were triggered by the photograph. There is a continuity between the story and the photograph that seems to bridge the gap and fill in the history. While watching the display there is no doubt that the two are meant to go together, it is a voyueristic experience. Like listening in on someones private conversation. Then you find out that it is actors reading Rosenbaums short stories and the photographs are random and the stories are not related. Privacy is the key to all of these works of art. Whether they are trying to preserve it, give it up or layer it beneath falsehood, privacy is a topic that all can relate to. I also believe it is human nature to be interested in others lives, it can be like reading a good book. Always wanting to learn more about others, it may help us to understand ourselves.
Callanan has labeled himself an “absolute citizen”, he has enabled anyone to be able to find him at anytime. Through the digital world anyone can find him, work with him and even speak with him if that is what they desire. This sacrifice of privacy has allowed him to become everyones neighbor. Callanan is creating a global village, in his digital world there may not be physical contact but there are connections being made.