Last Saturday Katie Shipley, Kate Lynch and I were commissioned by Rednile to carry out 'Call the Operator.'
We were really pleased to get this commission - because two weekends before we had gone along to the Factory Night at the old telephone exchange and been really inspired. (see previous post).
The call for commissions and time frame in which the project needed to happen was very tight, and we didn't actually find out until two days before the event that we had the commission -this meant that we had to make preparations/gather materials before we even knew if we would be commissioned. We were really glad that we were selected, because we all got quite excited about what we were going to do.
The other reason we were so pleased was that we are planning on working on a larger (self-initiated) project in the new year - and so this was a good opportunity to see how we work together and also it could help with funding bids if we have worked on a project together before.
We decided to focus on drawing out the historic, architectural and personal stories around the building - each responding in a different way.Katie found a few ex-trinity workers - and gathered personal stories about the exchange.These were then played through an old telephone situated on the bar in Fat Cats, which Andy helped to rewire.
Kate created this lovely telephone directory - one was placed on each table. On the cover was a small illustration of a traditional old fashioned telephone receiver - which represented Kate - referring to the old style of the directory. The middle illustration represented Katie - showing an image of her old black telephone. and then the modern mobile phone on the end representing me - as the public interactions would use modern technologies - mobile phones. Inside were instructions to select an number from the directory - there were 3 headings: Architectural, Historical and Personal - with a clue by each number. The public could call my number and I was waiting in the side room (originally the room where the public would come to pay their bills.)I was waiting for the calls to come in, and when they did I would say:
'Hallo Operator, which number do you require?'
and then the person on the other end would ask for a number, relating to a piece of information, for example: Caller: 'Number 3 please operator.'
Operator: 'You require Architectural number 3, please hold the line while I try to connect you - thank you - architectural number 3 - Towers have decorative terracotta panels and corbel table and bell-cast tiled roofs and leaded turrets carried on bulbous balusters. Central dormer in roof of 3-lights with pediment. These towers were actually to house pigeons – in the event that the technology should fail, a carrier pigeon could be employed to deliver the message.
Thank you, do you require anything else today sir?
Caller: No that's all thank you operator.
Operator: Have a lovely day, Bye.
Through our research we discovered that the 1960's were the heyday of the telephone exchange, and being an operator was seen as a very prestigious job. That meant the Operator should be well turned out - and so a particular shade of pink lipstick and nail varnish was selected to help with the character.We had 'Call The Operator' posters everywhere in the building and even managed to get them displayed on the television screens.
We had a really great day, and we were particularly pleased with the way the interactions took place, and the interventioist nature of the works - which worked quietly with the buildings history - not jarring against it.
Somone asked me why I needed to be dressed up to do the performance - since noone would see me down the phone. I am not sure why - perhaps just to feel like I was the operator - or perhaps just because I like dressing up?