Eight rotary phones – an art installation

Late last year, I helped run the University of Sydney annual graduation exhibition for the Architecture faculty. One of the things I was responsible for was helping set up an “artistic” installation. Architects have strange concepts of what is and isn’t art, and apparently an isolated network of eight rotary phones qualifies.

An old rotary phone

The concept was simple: throw eight hipster phones around with a few numbers and see what happens. You could call each other around the building. I’m sorry, were you expecting more? Nope. That’s art for you.

It did, however, give me an opportunity to learn the basics of traditional phone systems – from things like pulses, tones, VOIPs, PABX, switchboards, right down to the physical labour of installing more than 200 meters of phone cable across a building.

On the night itself, I’m happy to say that the installation (in both the technical and artistic sense) was a success. I’ve never heard such creative instant role playing or even inappropriate words said to would-be employers.

… I wonder how long I can keep that phone network running before people realise it’s not a legitimate part of their system?

Dion Moult

I've been developing software for well over 10 years, work as an architect (not the computer kind, the regular sort), and am classically trained as a pianist. I try to do the right thing when I get the chance in my field, such as through contributing to open-source communities and promoting sustainable living.

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  1. Pulse dialling was still common a decade ago in India. Rotary phones went out of fashion slowly around the mid to late 90s here.

  2. That’s interesting – in Australia they went out of fashion much earlier, and the building I was installing it in didn’t even support analogue anymore – only digital with VOIP. And in Malaysia I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single rotary phone.

    Perhaps I should’ve set this up in India instead :) then it would’ve been a breeze!

  3. Yes, the telecom revolution here has been quite sudden and we’ve gone digital too. Although 3G penetration is still mostly limited to cities and semi-urban areas.

    But I guess in India you won’t find too many people who find rotary phones a novelty. :)

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