For those old enough to remember pop songs from the eighties, ‘Call Me’ by Blondie might come to mind when viewing the work by Rachel Hanlon currently on exhibition at Etch Gallery. Rachel’s installation of the same title, and referencing in part the same era, explores her personal connection to the telephone, in particular telephones that are now obsolete. She asks: what happens when an object, once significant to a whole generation as a technological device, has passed its intended purpose and use?
One of the most striking works, Off the Hook is an installation of colourful hanging handsets, modelled on the now outdated landline telephone’s classic shape. The viewer can pick up a handset and listen to messages from anonymous people which Rachel recorded from her answering machine. She received these messages after distributing business cards with “Call Me” printed on them along with her phone number and a website for further information (http://callmeonthelandline.wordpress.com/). Rachel received 350 messages ranging from recited poems and narrated dreams to quotes from movies, memories of childhood and musings on the meaning of life. Rachel says she continues to receive messages and has another 43 messages that need to be added to the installation.
With the messages playing at low volume, it sounds like the phones have been left ‘off the hook’, a redundant phrase as we no longer need to remove the telephone receiver from its cradle when we don’t want to be disturbed – now unanswered calls are directed to message bank.
The work was prompted in part by Rachel’s need to understand why she was reluctant to relinquish her landline phone, even though she no longer needed it. And the concept of the project grew to explore the act of communication itself.
In another installation, Re-Call Me, old phones from the artist’s private collection sit on plinths around the gallery walls. In this work, Rachel examines the transition of an object from a useful device to an obsolete ‘thing’. Rather than label the phones with its name, date and description, as we would find in a museum catalogue, Rachel has written what the phone means to her or others, detailing its presence as a ‘thing’.
In the Yellow Room, Can Someone Get That is an installation of three obsolete landline telephones placed on vintage telephone tables (complete with side seats), on carpet. It refers to that area of the home that was set aside for the phone, a space and way of being that has disappeared from today’s domestic life. The phones ring and we feel compelled to answer them, even sitting down to take the call. Here, played through the phones, Rachel has used phone conversations from films which she transcribed, recorded and reworked to form new narratives. She did this not only to highlight outmoded phone rituals and vernacular, but also “as a comment on the personal interpretations of the historian / archivist always being a variable to contend with.”
A video projection above the telephone tables highlights the language and conventions associated with the landline phone, as well as the repetitive physicality of dialling using the rotary dial.
Katrina O’Grady takes a call in Can Someone Get That. Frank answers the phone in Out of Change. Photos: Helen Lyth
The once ubiquitous phone booth, a unit fast becoming extinct with the rise of the mobile phone, is also represented in the exhibition with Out of Change, a red phone booth Rachel constructed, referencing a 1972 Spanish film ‘La Cabina’ in which the protagonist is locked in a phone booth and no one can help him to get out. The installation encapsulates the dichotomy the phone booth presents: a private space to hold a conversation, only audible to the two people talking on the phone, but in a public place and visually exposed.
This exhibition will delight anyone enamoured with the romance of the phone and will surely trigger memories and stories about the old style landline phone. Communication technology, an intrinsic part of our culture, is changing rapidly and this exhibition pays homage to those technologies now rendered obsolete while it also considers the function of the ‘archive’. And for those who like to dig a little deeper, there are many layers to explore in this carefully considered work.
Artist Statement – Rachel Hanlon
What happens when an object, once significant to a whole generation as a technological device, has passed its intended purpose and use?
Rachel Hanlon’s work explores this question our modern day society asks itself by reflecting on her own personal connection to the telephone. Her works make available many layered metaphors and meanings through reinterpretations of the now obsolete technologies that are heightened by our cultural reliance on them as a part of the narrative of our times. Her installations stimulate thoughts regarding objects/things in relation to the passing of time, changes to our ‘selves’ and our rituals, cementing the telephone as an object that verifies its place within our history as part of our cultural voice.
Rachel graduated from Deakin University with a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Visual Arts) in 2012, and was awarded ‘The Wooly’, First Prize in the Deakin Graduate Exhibition. In the same year she was offered membership to Deakin’s Golden Key International Honour Society for academic results in the top 15% of the university. Last year she completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), graduating with first class honours. She plans to continue her postgraduate studies after taking a year off in 2014.