Exploring the Artistic Romance of the Age-Old Landline Telephone

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Rachel Hanlon Off The Hook

Landline telephones were an indispensable part of our lives till the late nineties. Although its value has now been reduced to that of an obsolete object, at that point of time, it had an entirely different appeal. It was not merely an object back then, but rather an artifact that elevated our emotions and compelled us to contemplate and retrospect about our old selves.

But what is the value of a landline telephone now? What happens when a particular object, that was once indispensable for an entire generation, loses its purpose and value? Well, these are the questions and psychological probing that Rachel Hanlon explores in her ‘Call Me’ art series that has been exhibited in the Etch Gallery in Geelong, Australia. The ones who are old enough to recall the pop songs from the eighties will definitely happen to remember pop artist Blondie’s song ‘Call me’ as they view the works of Hanlon.

Rachel Hanlon is a budding artist, exploring the field of media archeology. Through her works, she delves into the intricacies of the true relevance of a landline telephone in the modern society, while reflecting on her personal attachment with the telephone. The ‘Call Me’ art series is replete with metaphors and multi layered symbolism that reinterprets the obsolete technologies that have been intensified by our cultural dependence on them. The relevance of a telephone and its relationship with the changing times, rituals and culture, cements its value as an object that once reflected our cultural voice.

One of the most remarkable works from the series, ‘Off the Hook‘ is a beautiful installation of bright and resplendent handles that are modeled on the classic shape of the outdated telephone. Viewers can pick up the handsets and listen to the several messages recorded by anonymous people on Rachel’s answering machine. These messages range between stunning recitals, narrations of dreams, snippets of childhood, quotes from movies and contemplations over the true meaning of life. The messages play on a low volume and it appears as if the phones have been kept ‘off the hook’. The work was prompted when Rachel could not understand why she couldn’t renounce her age-old landline telephone, even though it did not have any useful role in her life.

Hanging Telephones

In another similar work, viewers can observe old and classic landline handles from the private collection of the artist that has been arranged on the plinths of the gallery walls. In this installation, Rachel explores the transformation of a useful object into an obsolete item.

“Can someone get that” is the final work from the ‘Call me’ series where three obsolete landline handles have been set on a vintage telephone table. This installation pinpointed that space of our homes that was specifically set aside for attending phone. It was a space that was aloof from the problems and possibilities of the mundane domestic life. As the phones rung, we used to feel compelled to answer them. Here, Rachel has incorporated several phone conversations from movies that have been transcribed, voiced and finally revamped to come up with a new narrative. A video projection of these telephone tables further highlights the mode of narration and the varied conventions that were associated with the old landline handle. It also reflects on the repetitive nature of dialing with the help of the rotary dial.

By rendering an experience with which the viewer can once again connect and interact with the re-animated, originally in-animate object, these series of artwork aim to rekindle a range of emotions within the viewer, affirming of the existing relationship between the passage of time and the appeal of the concerned object. The re-animation in this existing work will also reflect on a re-interpretation of the varying cultural perspectives by closely observing the passage of time, our transforming selves and the changing rituals.

The exhibition will amuse anyone who has been enchanted by the classic romance of the age-old telephone handle. It is also bound to rekindle a plethora of memories and emotions about the old landline telephone. Communication technology is an inherent part of our changing culture. With the rapid transformation of this technology, this exhibition pays a tribute to every such technology that is now obsolete but also considered as the archive’s function. And, as rightly stated at https://artingeelong.com/2014/02/03/call-me-installation-by-rachel-hanlon/, ‘For those who like to dig a little deeper, there are many layers to explore in this carefully considered work.’

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