This past March, in the city of Laguna Beach, California, a tribute to the past was wryly transformed into a work of art by Michael Graham. As in years past, he decided to respond to the city’s call for a new temporary artwork that will remain in situ for roughly two years. For its site, the artist proposed to create a sculptural ode to the telephone era, which has predominantly been replaced by digital technologies
Indeed, through the late 90’s perhaps, a telephone booth had been languishing on the city’s predominantly toney street of Forest Avenue, in the downtown area. Indeed, the original booth had become downright grubby. And, to judge from the smell, it was probably used as a shelter from the cool ocean breezes at night by an indigent or two, even though the city offers shelter accommodations for the homeless.
The new telephone booth, as recreated by Graham, and positioned on Forest Avenue, is hermetically sealed and addresses multiple issues at the same time. The new booth functions as a trope of the past, accentuating personal communication before the era of cell phones.
Conceptually, it thus underscores the passage of time and the changes in technology that have made phone booths obsolete as a means of communication. Simultaneously, the artwork also “resolves,” for some, the plight of the poor who had become an eyesore in relation to the city’s reputation as a toney resort by the sea. Thus, in a knowing way, Graham’s work addresses both a city’s social problem and the incarnation of new means of personal communication, which has jumped into the digital age.
Of course, it is the obsolescence of the phone booth that is meant to be the subject of this work. But, the subject is more complex than that, because the terrain is not as simple as it appears at first glance.