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'It's for you' at HCC art gallery explores telephone use in modern society
[February 25, 2011]

'It's for you' at HCC art gallery explores telephone use in modern society

Feb 25, 2011 (Connecticut Post - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- We use it for business and pleasure, to close deals and to open discussions, to make love and to make amends, to order pizza and to bring order to one's life, to access information or to impart it.

It's the telephone, that extraordinary instrument that connects us to the world that exists beyond our home or office, an instrument that is the focus of " 'It's for you': Conceptual Art and the Telephone" at Housatonic Museum of Art at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport.

The brainchild of curator Terri C. Smith, the original one-of-a-kind exhibition is on view through March 25 in the HMA's Burt Chernow Galleries in Lafayette Hall and in a few other spots around the downtown Bridgeport campus. A free public reception to celebrate the exhibit's recent opening takes place Thursday, March 3, from 5 to 8 p.m., and a closing event -- with "tour, talk and reception" -- is slated for March 25 at 5:30 p.m. Several months in the making, the exhibition is sponsored in part by the Werth Family Foundation of Woodbridge, the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism and Bob Schneider of Jimmy's Apparel.

Smith says the idea for the show occurred to her one day as she was traveling the HCC hallways. "It was inspired by our diverse student body. Just looking around, everyone is always on their cell phones, texting, talking, surfing the 'net, checking or sending e-mails or listening to music," she said, laughing.

It was that observation that spurred Smith to put together an exhibition of projects and installations "that use the phone as an artistic medium or mediator between artist and audiences." As one enters the Chernow Galleries, it quickly becomes apparent that this show is very different from most: Unlike conventional art exhibitions, visitors here are encouraged to touch just about everything. Artworks are not displayed on walls; rather here, videos are presented on projection screens and on large, clunky, analog television sets. And archival materials, sound pieces with headphones and other interactive projects using telephones are arranged throughout the galleries.

Dating from the late 1960s to today, the exhibit's objects and projects "resonate with the functions, technologies and physicality of the telephone" by more than 20 artists, including Yoko Ono, Maurizio Bolognini, John Cage, Bethany Francher, T. Foley, Lukas Geronimas, Christian Marclay, Rachel Perry Welty, Robert Peters, Pietro Pellini and Hannah Wilke.

In writing about the show, Smith points out that "many of the artists in the exhibition aim to democratize the artist/audience relationship, a quality that is intricately woven into the history of conceptual art." One such artist is Yoko Ono, who created a piece especially for the HMA show.

Her "Telephone Piece" -- a "promised gift" to Housatonic's extensive permanent collection -- consists of a black push-button desktop Cisco telephone that sits on a large yellow box. Positioned next to the working phone is a framed note written by Ono. It reads: "Telephone Piece for Bridgeport. Pick up the phone when it rings." As Smith explains, the telephone's number is known only to Ono, who may or may not call the gallery during the run of the show. "Will she or won't she call -- that's part of the tension," Smith says. And if she does, who will be standing next to the phone to answer it and will that person wish to converse with the artist? The exhibition "harnesses the familiarity of the telephone as a way of introducing audiences to a variety of conceptual art practices, which often include a mix of art theory and social critique," she says. "The exhibition, consequently, endeavors to connect concerns found in contemporary art with the objects, communication habits and changing technologies in our daily lives." The ephemeral nature of some conceptual art projects is referenced, for example, in Robert Peters' "Naming Others: Manufacturing Yourself." In this piece from 1993, the artist asked people to dial an 800 number from pay phones and choose which "stereotype phrases described them best." In Christian Marclay's "Telephones," a video seven and one-half minutes long, the artist has strung together scores of film clips of famous and not-so-famous actors and actresses in various scenes involving a telephone, many simply saying "hello" -- Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, Sean Connery and Katharine Hepburn among them.

Smith says that the exhibition is "also a way to get people involved in art . . . possibly introducing some students and people in the community to art through something familiar. And I think those who love history and science and technology -- especially engineers -- will love this show," as it demonstrates "how artists were using the technology of the time." And as regards "technology of the time," Smith is encouraging all visitors to comment on the exhibition using telephone-friendly interfaces such as Twitter.

WHEN YOU GO The Housatonic Museum of Art is at Housatonic Community College, 900 Lafayette Boulevard in downtown Bridgeport, exit 27 off Interstate 95 or exit 1 off the Routes 25/8 Connector. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursdays until 7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free; free parking is available to visitors in the HCC garage. For additional information, call Museum Director Robbin Zella at 203-332-5052 or visit

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