Speech Acts
2009
Series of works on a telephonic theme

Commissioned by the Contemporary Art Museum St Louis
   
   
 

Speech Acts, a solo show of works on a telephonic theme, was installed at at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis from May 8 to Aug 2 2009. The main element of the show was a series of ‘call centre art works’ that were accessed by phones installed in the museum. The works feature many of the familiar elements of a call centre - such as live agents, scripted or pre-recorded info, call waiting and menu options. These are modified by including absurd, poetic and critical content, giving them a twisted utility. The caller’s experience may range from the uncanny to the playful and, in places, the unexpectedly cinematic.


The museum’s boardroom, with its generic modernist design, was the main installation space for the show. A line of spotlit telephones awaited the viewer, each one housing a different artwork and linking direct to a local call centre and its agents. Key to these works, and to the show as a whole, is the contrast of the concrete physicality of the museum and the hypertextual, performative labyrinths to be explored and interacted with by the viewer via the phones. The works act as negative spaces which reflect, invert and critique the exhibition site while alluding to the corporatization and globalization of culture, as well as the importance of agonism and rhetoric to the artistic context. Viewers sitting next to each other have profoundly different spatial experiences whist using the works. Sitting in a relatively empty, theatrical setting, the viewers are aware of themselves as providing the (verbal) action in the space - the viewer as performer providing some of the content of the works.

List of works:

It's for You, 2009

Vinyl text
Dimensions variable

Entering the museum, visitors are greeted by a large-scale black wall text: “friendly, honest, straightforward, refreshing, dynamic.” Suspended above the Visitors’ Services desk, this generic corporate statement of brand values was appropriated from an international telecoms corporation. Displacing the text to the walls of the museum, the artist offers the language of strategic optimism as the institution’s own friendly salutation.

The following works were available from telephones located in the gallery's boardroom (one work per phone):

Follow the Protest, 2009
Audio recordings, call centre software, direct dial telephone connection, telephone, chair, table.

Follow the Protest uses a call centre interface to offer recordings of interviews and other sounds recorded by the artist at the G20 protests in London in April 2009. The piece contrasts the architecture and aural experience of the typical corporate interface with the sound, passion and ‘liveness’ of direct action protest. The recordings include various protest chants, speeches and interviews with a variety of attendees, including a TV journalist, a protest organiser and local workers from an investment bank.

Welcome to the Museum, 2009
Professional call centre agent, script written by the artist, audio recordings, call centre software, direct dial telephone connection, telephone, chair, table.

This piece plays with the typical kind of call centre interface one would experience calling any large museum, but instead offers access to a fictional - and somewhat strange - museum. The fictional organisation offers a labyrinthine sonic hypertext to be navigated by the caller.
The caller is offered a range of telephone options, which offer departments and then sub-menus of recorded info, further menu options or the chance to speak with a real staff member.

This work is probably the most overt reference in the show to Marcel Broodthaers' work, particularly his 'Musee d'Art Moderne', but also references systems art and visionary architecture in general, as well as Kafka, whilst weaving these elements into a loosely sketched, but in parts highly detailed bureaucracy.

Monster Flat Out, 2009
Professional call centre agent, script written by the artist, direct dial telephone connection, telephone, chair, table

The title of this work comes from the field of theoretical physics. The term ‘Monster Flat Out’ was invented by the physicist Ernst Mach, and refers to an entity which can be formulated but not observed. To experience Monster Flat Out, callers pick up the telephone receiver and are connected directly to a call centre agent who answers with the title of the work, and then tells the caller that they can decide on the subject of this piece. Callers are offered the opportunity to choose a new subject (for which they must offer an explanation of their choice), to hear a list of past subjects, or to revise the current subject to one of the earlier subjects. In a sense, the work offers a kind of ‘drop box’ for callers to leave their idea, and refers to earlier works by Young which have left the content of the work totally open and trusted the viewer to participate and collaborate by offering the content of the work.

The subjects of the work chosen by callers have included:
Minimalism
Conceptual Art
Freemasonry
Misdirection
Inclusion
The Artist as Art
Art as Place
Context
The Socratic method

Transfers of power

Reclaiming lost time

Dissatisfaction with 'today'

Call Waiting, 2009
Audio recordings, call centre software, direct dial telephone connection, telephone, chair, table. Actor: Morgan Deare


Call Waiting involves a script read by an actor. The script offers an articulation of telephonic nothingness and telephonic silence, and a meditation on the idea of ‘call waiting’ – where are we when we are ‘on hold’? what does it mean to be suspended in globalised telephonic space?


Nothing Ventured, 2000 and ongoing
Professional call centre agent, script written by the artist, direct dial telephone connection, telephone, desk, table, chair, cassette recorder and tapes, transcriptions of resulting conversations (ink on paper.)

Picking up the receiver for this piece, the visitor is connected direct to a telephone call centre agent who has been trained to ‘represent’ the artist. From a script written by the artist, the call centre agent answers with the artist’s name and the title of the work, and then offers the caller limited generic information about the artist, such as information on her past work, her CV or reviews of past shows. The conversations are recorded and transcribed and form the documentation of the piece, which has subsequently been exhibited in its own right on a number of occasions. From the documentation it is evident that the temptation for the callers to break out of the generic monotony, and to speak about other topics (often strangely related to concepts in the work) proves irresistible for both parties.

For images of this work staged in other exhibitions click here.


The Representative, 2005 and ongoing
Professional call centre agent, direct dial telephone connection, telephone, chair, lamp, table, area rug, framed photograph of call centre agent.

The Representative (first staged in 2005, see here for further info and photographs) is a ‘portrait’ of a call centre agent, which the agent offers over the phone to a caller seated in a lounge-setting. To make this piece, a number of agents volunteered, and I selected the candidate whose interests and experiences seemed to have some connection to my life and work. After extensive interviews (during which the agents were free to disclose their own choice of information), I created a ‘script’, which covers selected topics about the agent’s life – a ‘vignette’. The caller can ask the agent further questions, but cannot go ‘off topic’ since the menu of choices is my ‘portrait’ of the agent. The Representative, at its simplest level, offers a view of the life and interests of a call centre worker whose identity and individuality would normally be denied to the caller. The calls exist somewhere between a personal chat, an interview, the reality-TV style exposure of a ‘ civilian’, a script, an exposé of working conditions, a piece of journalistic research, a portrait and a service, with the caller put in the position of researcher, audience, voyeur, client and potential friend.

 

 

 


It's for You

Carey Young

2009, vinyl text

photo: David Ulmer


Speech Acts

installation view at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: Carey Young

 

Speech Acts

installation view at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: Carey Young

 


Speech Acts

installation view at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: David Ulmer



Speech Acts

installation view - gallery visitors at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: Peter Wochniak

 

Speech Acts

installation view - gallery visitors at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: David Ulmer

 

Speech Acts

installation view - gallery visitors at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: Peter Wochniak

 

Speech Acts

installation view - gallery visitors at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: Peter Wochniak

 

 


The Representative

Carey Young

2005
installation view at Contemporary Art Museum St Louis

photo: Peter Wochniak