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?
Martin John Callanan is currently showing a new piece entitled The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers in Extimacy, at the Museu d’Art Modern i Contemporani, Palma.
With rigourous visual austerity the piece consists of a book of telephone numbers lying open on a nondescript table, next to an equally neutral telephone. The phone automatically dials numbers, with the key notes, the dialling tones and subsequent automated messages played out on the handset’s speaker.
Callanan describes the content of the book as follows:
The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers is a collection of telephone numbers that are designated never to function. Their purpose is to be reserved indefinitely for use within drama or film productions so that unsuspecting people aren’t disturbed by inquisitive viewers. Nation states organise telephone systems with ‘numbering plans’, identifying geographical areas or service operators with number prefixes and corresponding number ranges. Some plans hold – forever-reserved – ranges of numbers varying from one hundred (some states of the USA) though to one hundred thousand consecutively ordered (Ireland). Explicitly for use in film and television programmes, producers pick from the designated ranges. The chosen digits appear fleetingly in films, or frequently over years of a serial. Enquires were made to the telecommunication regulators of each nation state. All possible numbers for each country with such reserved ranges are ordered and listed in The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers.
The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers. That’s a title that brings about an instant vortex of images I can’t quite see – their speed and variety and the worlds they cause to collide are more numerous than I can count. Borges is there, with his garden of forking paths, as is Auster’s country of last things and Kobo Abe’s man with a box over his head, the panels of which are covered in scribbles and notes and intractable drawings. At the same time, the fact that these numbers are ringfenced for TV and film use instantly fills every inch of the piece with a thousand filmed moments and the conjured worlds they occurred in – everything from Hawai Five-O and Le Miel et les Abeilles to psychological thrillers, Del Boy and a great part of Christian Marclay’s early output. There’s always a missed call, an unknown number, the stalker breathing down the line. This mental rush meets a clinical dead-end in the physical appearance of the piece, in its utterly and purposefully emptied aesthetic and the repetition of numbers upon numbers, key notes after key notes, ringtones that cannot waver from their reduced synthetic voice/oscillator palette.