Rani Deighe Crowe
Filmmaker and Theater Artist
from the Telephone Booth Project
Artist hopes to make connection with phone booth
By JAMES HANNAH Associated Press Writer
Published on Thursday Oct 22, 2009
It has nearly vanished from the American landscape. Some teenagers have never even seen one before.
But the once ever-present telephone booth has popped up on a street corner in this southwest Ohio village as part of an unusual art project and a statement about private communications in the let-everybody-know-what-I'm-doing age of Twitter and MySpace.
The project is the brainchild of Tokyo-born artist Migiwa Orimo, who had to search high and low for a phone booth before finding one in the Windy City.
"It was really in bad condition," Orimo said. "The whole thing was black, pitted from Chicago weather on the street."
Orimo polished up the metal structure, replaced its broken panes of glass and installed a mustard-colored telephone with a black rotary dial.
But it's not a working phone booth. It's a living interactive sculpture that will serve as a stage for poetry readings, light shows and dance performances over the next year.
Beginning Saturday, people will be able to walk into the phone booth, pick up the receiver and listen to a recorded rendition of the Spoon River Anthology, a collection of short poems published in 1915 that describe the life of a fictional small town. Seventy actors and others with ties to Yellow Springs were recruited to read the poetry.
"I like the intimate performance space," said Rani Deighe Crowe, who came up with the poetry project. "You listen to this over the phone, which gives it that extra personal confessional quality."
Crowe said she rejects the notion of trying to reach the largest possible audience, opting instead for a performance that can only be delivered to one person at a time.
"I've been really interested in trying to reach the smallest possible audience," she said.
Orimo said she is trying to break the traditional boundary between the artist and audience, where people taking in the performance at the phone booth also become part of the art.
Orimo said the project is her reaction to Twitter, MySpace, surveillance cameras and other technologies designed to enable people to view and be viewed by others.
"Knowingly or unknowingly we do that every second of our lives nowadays," she said. "But it's all in a different kind of sphere _ a virtual sphere. I wanted to sort of bring that question once again to the physical level by letting people see this piece on the street corner, which is not going to move anywhere."
Kathy Thorne stopped to take a look at the phone booth earlier this week. She acknowledged that she is a bit overwhelmed by high-tech communication and yearns for the past.
"I wish I'd get letters from people from the mail instead of stupid e-mail," said Thorne, of Sarasota, Fla.
U.S. pay phones _ including telephone booths _ numbered 2.6 million at their height in 1998, according to AT&T. The decline in pay phone usage was in part due to the growth of other communications channels such as cell phones.
While the Yellow Springs phone booth had a nostalgic effect on people old enough to remember them, it was a mystery to young people who passed by. One teen didn't know how to open the folding door. Others commented that they remember rotary dials only from visiting their grandparents.
But Orimo has made a concession to the Twitter generation.
Inside the booth above the telephone is a digital clock/calendar. Orimo hopes that those who experience the phone booth art will record their thoughts on a log inside the booth. She plans to document what effect the phone booth has on the community over the next year.
"It redefines the notion of what an art space can be, while appropriating an everyday public facility as a place for intimate contemplation and even inspiration," said Anne Pasternak, director of Creative Time Inc., a New York City-based organization that commissions and presents public arts projects.
Other artists have used phone booths to make statements.
Last year, Dylan Mortimer installed phone booths in New York City, Jackson, Tenn., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that were designed to resemble confessionals. Outfitted with flip-down kneelers, the booths were aimed at sparking dialogue about prayer.
The Yellow Springs phone booth sits on a downtown corner next to an ice cream shop and an array of wooden cafe tables. And even though it's only been on the street for a few weeks, the phone booth has already made a splash.
Someone put a helium balloon inside the booth. And a cardboard robot appeared there last week and then vanished as quickly as it came.
"People are already finding a relationship with it," Orimo said.
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LABELS: AP STORY, MEDIA