Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Cherry Beach Express by Cathi Bond

Cherry St & Unwin, Photo credit: Liis Toliao

The payphone screamed like the gulls and Cope rocketed out of the car, running into the booth snatching the receiver. The tails of his long black leather coat nearly got snapped as the door folded shut. All I could make out was Cope saying, “About fucking time!” and then the closing door drowned out the rest of the conversation.

I got out of the car and started dancing around the Cougar. We were going to get high, oh me oh my, as high as the sky. Charlene started waving the red nail polish brush like a wand, telling me to stop drawing attention, but nobody was down here. Nobody but us chickens. That stopped my dancing. I got back in the car.

“What’s wrong?” Charlene asked, leaning over the back seat.


That’s what Granddad always whispered when the two of us played hide and seek up in the hay mow, while Mom wandered around trying to find us.

Cope shoved open the phone booth door and strode back to the car. He was trying really hard not to be mad. Cope was always copasetic, which is why he got the nickname Cope, but right now Cope was anything but laid back. He got in the car and punched the steering wheel.

Charlene reached for the back of his neck and said “Baby,” but he brushed her away. Hurt, Charlene dropped the nail polish wand on the floor and didn’t bother to pick it up.

I leaned over the seat. “So?”

“Drought,” he replied.
And then we stepped off the edge of an endless chemical run into the nightmare of a full-out crash.

These lines are part of an excerpt from NightTown, a coming of age novel by Cathi Bond about the mean streets of Toronto during the 1970s.
Clarke Beach/Cherry Street Spit was a hangout for drug dealers, users, bikers and cops during the 1970s. A lone phone booth still stands at the corner of Unwin and Cherry, and it is the setting for a brief excerpt by Cathi Bond; one of two contributions to that weave through the seedy streets of Toronto past. The booth stands as a tactile piece of physical memory from a day when drug deals frequently went down over public phones.

Otino Corsano offers another look for

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Pop Phreak: The Birds & Superman

When I think about phone booths in pop culture, two things spring instantly to my head: Tippi Hendron and Superman. Phone booths aren’t just street furniture they are an entire structure with (assumed) functioning communications technology, and four walls and a roof to separate you from the outside world.  When waiting for the streetcar in miserable or cold winter weather, like today, where there isn’t a transit shelter, phone booths provide shelter from the elements…  and in a world that is built by Alfred Hitchcock, a shelter from vicious, killer seagulls.

The creators of Superman must have also thought that a telephone booth could protect from prying eyes.  Clark Kent could easily change into Superman completely unnoticed in one of these booths.

Certainly when the writers came up with this device phone booths were plentiful, you could find them on most street corners.  I wonder what would Superman do today with such a decrease in options? Would he run to the closest Starbucks men's room?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Fun Booth, you beat us to the punch!

Photo credit: Brian Anderson

WeSeeInc. is the collective moniker under which Roy Kohn and Kate Vasyliw generate collaborative art projects. Fun Booth appeared at the north east corner of Lambertlodge Ave and Christie St in November and raised a lot of eyebrows, including ours! Seems as though we're definitely not the only ones who think phone booths need a little love and attention. We're thrilled to now have WeSee Inc on board. Here's what they have to say:

Phone booths were once novelties and quickly became an assumptive necessity. The advent of the cellular phone and its ensuing popularity relegated the booths to redundancy. The concept of Fun Booth was to transform a vandalized and ignored relic into something appealing. Fun fur and mirrored mylar were used to create a transient carnivalesque aesthetic. Now a miniature House of Mirrors the booth reflects the irony of becoming a novelty prop for cell phone snapshots.

We Understand Each Other on a Cellular Level: Overheard random cellphone monologues as slightly less random dialogue(s)

Booth at College & University, NE corner
Photo credit: Liis Toliao

Jessica Westhead chose a booth at College & University, at the northeast corner, by the subway entrance, to write an experimental and hilarious narrative. Here is a brief excerpt:

“Lots of shit going on at work. A lot of shit. The whole place blew up last week without me. And last week’s polling meeting that I scheduled, not everyone showed up to it.”

"So then I said to her, 'I'm not holding a grudge, I'm just stating the obvious.'"

"I don't think she thinks, is what I think. You know? It's like, no offense, but there you go."

Lady Cleaner

This image is part of a series called Lady Cleaner. We saw an ad in the supermarket for a lady cleaner, and I like that the words had been inverted; it reminds me of how I am sometimes an artist and sometimes a coordinator, and constantly switching roles. Here I asked Julie Voyce to clean a booth at Highway 401 and Yonge Street. Julie is a "cleaner of dirt and maker of things", and it seemed appropriate and odd to pay her to clean a booth for me.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Welcome to Hello? Are you there?

Booths at King St. E. & Yonge St.
Photo credit: Liis Toliao

This is and will be an exhibition and publication about locating the public telephone booth.

The ubiquitous use of personal cell phones in public spaces has paralleled the slow disappearance of Bell telephone booths from Toronto's street corners. What remains is a smattering of booths near bus stops, gas stations, and high foot traffic zones. This change has contributed to the way we interchange personal space with public space and how we perceive our democratic rights to easy access to communication beyond face to face. At best, we now search for free wi-fi in parks, libraries, buses and city squares to converse with people somewhere else.

Back in the day, the telephone booth was a great example of our propensity to design privatized public space. In particular, the Bell booth design stood as an icon for a unified platform for national communication. Today, it still is the symbol of a distinct national communications agenda, albeit gritty, dirty and street-wise. Many blue panels framed in brushed aluminum over steel frames, encasing a black phone stall were installed across a vast country - a distinct marriage of form and function. Today they maintain the iconic look but each one also changes slightly from the next. Some have lost much of the blue paneling and are made with long panes of clear acrylic, such as the one located at Yonge and Briar Hill, tucked in the northeast corner of St. Clements Parkette. Others are pedestals for light box ads hanging awkwardly off one side to face car traffic, such as the one located among a triptych of booths at King and Parliament.

What still draws us to the iconic telephone booth is the modular form, its ability to contain the person and give us a defined and perhaps nostalgic, perhaps false, sense of personal space and privacy within the busiest of streets. It also contributes to our delicate if temporal understanding that the democratization of communication is within reach for almost anyone who has 50 cents. Our ability to pay per call is swift and clear and it levels everyone to the same plane. An extensive menu of telephoning options does not complicate this basic mode. No long-term plans or contracts, time saving aps or free texting compromising "voice" altogether. There may be a deeper well of opportunities and choices, but our ability to make a call could be really, really, simple… Imagine you didn't carry a personal phone (just imagine!): locating a telephone booth when you need it is really, really hard!

Perhaps our response to the disappearance of the iconic telephone booths - and the fun of searching them out where the city is like a giant antiques market - is purely an exercise in nostalgia, and only one of a succession of losses of manned street furniture replaced by such things as instant teller machines, parking meters, mail boxes and newspaper boxes. All of these furnitures have their roots in services depots with actual people greeting the customer and collecting payment. Even the telephone booth had its beginnings equipped with a heavy door that allowed the attendant to lock the customer into the booth until the completion of the phone call. This prevented the customer from leaving the premises without making payment (See Appendix for a history of the telephone booth). And when the customer did leave, we can imagine a slight exchange: a nod of the head, the tip of a hat, the flutter of lashes, or the flip of a neck scarf over the shoulder toward the attendant.

Our rights to privacy today are nebulous at best. A scan of folks on any particular bus ride may include a soft romance into a headpiece, where we fill in the conversation's details by the glimmer in the eye, the slight smile, the flushed cheeks. Or we may have the good fortune to pay bus fare and receive a bonus theatrical monologue detailing intimate details of a stranger's sexual misgivings, albeit critically flat and one-dimensional. The personal telephone exposes the difference between the tell (to tell into the telephone) and the talk (to talk in and around the telephone). The tel(l) is for a singular and known audience, and the talk is for everyone else. One is personalized and private, another is impersonal and public, and the experiences are simultaneous. brings together artists of varying backgrounds to each perform and/or animate a booth in response to some of these ideas. Artists and writers are asked to consider the relationships between form and function, medium and message, telling and talking… and texting… and more. Specifically, artists and writers are invited to contribute a site-specific installation or short fiction that references a unique telephone booth location. Their work will also include a phone call somewhere, somehow. Once they have completed their "stories", the booth literally gets tagged and documented by us.

The installations are announced as they are completed over a nine-month period, and the exhibition culminates in a (phone)book form. The installations/stories will be collected in a publication by Tightrope Books, and launched summer 2012 to coincide with a exhibition and launch event at the Telephone Booth Gallery.