A Call To Action is an ongoing (more-or-less) solo series I’ve been working on sporadically since mid-2014.
Put simply it is me making calls in public space and drawing attention to it by marking up with chalk, which ends up looking much like this:
The idea behind this exploration is to ascertain whether the act of making a phone call constitutes a performance in-and-of itself. Certainly a loud phone conversation in a public space can draw negative attention (attention which in some instances is intentionally performative), but is it just the volume that dictates performance, or can “polite” users be equally performative – and if so, does this make every phone call a performance?
Clearly the question gets muddier if we remove the public aspect of the conversation (say, a call between two people, where each interlocutor is home alone), does this deny the performative capacity of a phone call? If a performance at it’s heart requires someone doing and someone being done to (pretty much the stable formula for one-on-one or intimate theatre), then this is true of every interaction.
The question I suppose then is when a call occurs in public, who is the audience? The people watching me talk – or the person on the other end of the line?
In this series, I aim to tease out that notion somewhat. I commenced with single phone calls to single people, writing single names in single chalk squares to bring the attention of passersby to the fact that I’m making a call (For a really lame video that shows this in action – along with shameless promoting of RMIT – have a look here).
The problem I found is that when making one call to one person at a time, unless it is a super-loud or exciting call, the “public” don’t seem to take much notice – if any at all – of the call as it occurs. A series of single calls leaves a trail of chalk squares with names in them, but unless you follow the breadcrumbs to their source (me), it’s just a disconnected mess.
In terms of developing the idea, my breakthrough came (as breakthroughs usually do) by accident, when Sally handed the phone over to Ben – and Ben passed it back to Sally.
This was gold. I’d also become so accustomed to the routine of marking my conversations that I’d dropped the “act” long ago, so aside from initially outlining my space (the conversant’s name) I wasn’t doing anything other than speaking on the phone in a stationary position.
This time however I could move while on the phone – even if it was just between two spaces – and this movement reminded me that I was in effect performing. Like making certain to hit your marks onstage, I now had specific places to be depending on who was on the other end. Neither Sally nor Ben had any idea, but as our conversation went on, I kept trying to get them to pass the phone as often as possible – and passersby started to look at this clown hopping from foot-to-foot.
This got me thinking less about phones-as-performance and more about phones generating performance, and again by fortuitous accident I had another breakthrough.
While at a party in Melbourne, I received a call from a friend at another party in Sydney. I stepped outside to take the call (not wanting to disturb my proximal companions) and by pure chance my current location was equipped with coloured chalk. My friend in Sydney was also with several of my own friends, and her phone was passed around so I could chat with them all, which ended up looking something like this:
Nobody at my current location came out to disturb my call – because (unbeknownst to me) they were all inside watching me jump around my hopscotch board, wondering what on Earth I was doing! Realistically, I was just amusing myself while on an extended phone call, but apparently I was entertaining about a dozen local audience members. The fact that they couldn’t hear my conversation only made it more amusing for them and my ignorance of their viewership meant I was never actively performing for an audience – the performance was merely incidental.
In a way, my usual role as the instigator of the supposed performance was reversed – I was the person being called; I was the “other” on the other end of the phone. This in turn started me thinking about different ways to approach the various divides between actor/audience, mobile/stable, voice/action (and more) but it certainly cemented the notion that trying to perform with mobiles is not the same as creating performance from mobiles – at least for me.
The other thing that this progression seems to point to – again, for me at least – is that duration is extremely important to performance. This isn’t to say that a great performance can’t be a few minutes (or even seconds) long, but durational performance offers an entirely different way of looking at movement and stillness, voice and silence and need not be restricted to “live” settings. One might even view a PhD as a durational performance…
The next step for me is to develop A Call To Action into a more time-based work, which leads into my next exploration, tentatively titled Phonebook.