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?
Merkske will be with Slade Press for the fourth edition of The London Art Book Fair at the Whitechapel Gallery, it takes place from the 21–23 September 2012.
Merkske published Text Trends: Though Text Trends, Martin John Callanan deals with the spectacularization of information. Using Google data he explores the vast search data of its users. An animation takes the content generated by search queries and reduces this process to its essential elements: search terms vs. frequency searched for over time, presented in the form of a line graph, 16 of which are reproduced in this book.
Structuralist and post-structuralist linguistic theory has it that the relationship between the name (signifier) of a thing and its essence or identity (signified) is an essentially arbitrary one – there’s no reason why a thing should be called by one name and not another, save for habit or convention. In his performance Deed Poll, Martin John Callanan shows in an imaginative and quietly witty way how things aren’t necessarily so straightforward. By changing his name from Martin John Callanan to Martin John Callanan using the eponymous legal procedure, the artist demonstrated to a live audience at London’s Whitechapel Gallery the vectors of legal, political and religious power that underpin the day-to-day performative use of names in Western societies. The various hoops to be jumped through in order to satisfy banks and government bodies, including swearing on the Bible, spoken declarations, testimony from a responsible third party, signatures from witnesses, and the stamp and signature of an official registrar, are a far cry from the free movement of signifiers imagined by the post-structuralists.
Callanan’s performance accompanied the presentation of two of his works, International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers and Letters 2004-2006, in The Whitechapel’s summer exhibition, The London Open. The gallery’s stated intent was “to showcase the most dynamic work being made in London in 2012”, with works being selected through an open submission process. The result is a mix of the poetic, the intelligent, and the tedious. Besides Callanan’s contributions, the intersections of power and language were also explored by Sol Archer, whose video work Palace in the Left spun a dazzling web of references encompassing hummingbirds, particle physics, Mayan rituals, neurobiology, and more. Just at the point when you are ready to believe in the interconnectedness of everything, however, the video concludes with the promise that all this is “coming soon to your future home”: networks of meanings made possible by their subsumption under the category of consumer product.