Hotline mediates between user and the other, between call and response, the promise of transmission, of connection.

Penrose/Bontrager are interested in the situation of technological discontinuity, of layered symbols and nested meanings that come into play when technology mediates our intended actions, and augments both the reach of the individual body, and also the reach of cultural, economic and authority structures.

The image of the red phone in both film and folklore is a powerful image. The red phone is the hotline, the direct line. It demands an engagement that is sober, deliberate, and measured.

In Hotline, Penrose/Bontrager propose to install a red telephone in a gallery. The phone will be alone, solitary, dominating its environment with the connotative memes of authority. Pictured above, the conceptual rendering shows the phone atop a single white pedestal as it fills the clean space, begging for interaction. The red phone will function as an interface between the user and an automated dialing system that will dial The White House. The user will not reach the President, but rather the outermost ring of institutional buffers that keep the user as distant as possible. We intend for this situation to activate a kind of discontinuity between hope and disappointment, intentionality and inevitability.

What interests us about this performative gesture is that it requires the user to complete their experience of the work, though this requirement activates a kind of absurdity in the interaction. It questions the nature of technological mediation, and general interactivity in our contemporary experience. The red phone, in a popular notion, is a phone that is used only rarely. And yet here it is, silent and waiting. Does the user overcome the anxiety of the unknown to try, or wait and watch others for clues? How does it feel to perform the action? Does one have the right to initiate the call? What would one say?


CONFLUX; Pearl Conrad Gallery, Mansfield, Ohio. 2012. Curated by Kate Shannon.