mr-jones home Tavofono | Telepafono
Crispin Jones with Sara Manazza

This pair of projects was produced with Sara Manazza for a show at the Telecom Italia Future Center in Venice for the E1 exhibition unit at Interaction Ivrea. The exhibition was aimed at children and making interactive workshops for them to engage with. For various reasons it was not exhibited at the show.You can read about the show here

The user of this installation can record audio into the buttons that make up the table surface, they then write on the button what they have recorded. They can then make a telephone call, but they cannot speak directly to the person they are calling, rather they must utilise the audio they (or others) have recorded into the different buttons on the table. Over time the table becomes an encyclopedia of telephone conversations.

Watch video (8mb)
The photographs were all taken by Walter Aprile and the video was produced by Simone Muscolino with Crispin Jones and Stefano Mirti.

There were a number of ideas that underpin this installation - firstly we were interested in the essentially repetitive nature of most telephone calls. Whilst some psychologists and linguistic analysists argue that all conversation is improvisation others, notably Ervine Goffman in his book "The presentation of the self in everyday life", argue that conversation is highly constrained by the cultural 'scripts' that we learn. We were interested in the notion of an underlying structure - how often do we take conversations (especially telephone conversations) down the same lines? This idea is well illustrated in the cartoon opposite.
We were inspired by Andy Warhol's pre-recording of his answers to an interview on a cassette recorder in "Andy Warhol Television". We understood this gesture as both Warhol's way of highlighting the formulaic nature of the interview and also as his solution to his own personal phonophobia (well documented in his diaries) - his fear of speaking aloud.

Another central idea is that of identity theft, a crime which has been much facilitated by our widespread adoption of digital technology. Whereas in the past our transactions (financial and personal) were verified with the signature - a mark left by the specific movement of our bodies, today the digital transaction carries little, if any, trace of our presence. We were curious as to what this sensation of identity theft would be like in a telephone call - one of the few remaining communication space where our own physical presence is essential. This is not to say that the telephone is infallible - the familiar trick of imitating someone else's voice means there is always room for subversion.

The installation was originally constructed for an exhibition for children at the Telecom Italia Future Center in Venice. We were excited to be able to facilitate the way children use the telephone for prank or hoax phone calls within the object. Indeed as a tool for prank phone calls the installation is very successful - there is no danger of laughing during the call and giving yourself away to the victim, also the prankster can adopt the voice of anyone who has recorded words on the installation.


Functional description

The installation consists of a table with a wooden board dividing the two ends. Participants take on the role of either the transmitter or the receiver. The transmitter is given an iconic printed image. The receiver is given a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Both transmitter and receiver don special helmets and for one minute the transmitter concentrates on the image in front of them, attempting to send it to the receiver. In turn the receiver must draw whatever he or she believes that are receiving. At the end of the minute the drawings are compared and then displayed side-by-side.

Watch video (2mb)
The video was produced by Simone Muscolino and acted by Walter Aprile.

We wanted to push at the boundaries of what exactly could constitute a ‘future’ communication device. Arthur C. Clarke posited that, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (from "Profiles of The Future", 1961). We wanted to explore this esoteric notion of combining technology with the paranormal, something which harks back to the very earliest radio pioneers – for example Nicolas Tesla apparently expended much energy on attempting to tune the newly discovered radio to communicate with the spirit world.

Although the installation is intended to be provocative and somewhat absurd there is a precedent within the prosaic world of consumer electronics. The Sony corporation in Japan undertook a seven year research effort into the paranormal at their Extrasensory Perception and Excitation Research laboratory (ESPER). Their particular area of focus was on clairvoyance – the transmission of images using only the power of the mind and they conducted experiments in a similar format to Telepafono (with an unbelievable high percentage of successful results).

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