Sick of endless online meetings and video chats? VCU’s Institute of Contemporary Art has an artistic solution for you. Just dial 1-844-NOT-Z00M.
For those who might be struggling with digital fatigue during a time when many daily activities have been sent online, the Institute for Contemporary Art has a solution: 1-844-NOT-Z00M.
This new project is a hotline that allows audience members to dial in from wherever they are to hear a range of auditory art, ranging from poems to songs.
Associate Curator Amber Esseiva worked on the project, which came about originally in the early days of quarantine, when the ICA was figuring out how to continue programming safely.
“We were doing a rapid transition into a lot of Zoom calls, and a lot of Zoom interviews,” Esseiva said. “I think a lot of institutions, particularly art institutions, were thinking about how to engage with their audience creatively, and I think a lot of time the engagement just took the form of in-person talks — but on Zoom.”
Esseiva found that those Zoom talks took a lot of effort from the audience, who would have to carve out several hours from their day.
“We were thinking about how we could continue the spirit of our commissioning program at the ICA, but do it in a way that engaged the audience but didn’t ask too much of them,” Esseiva said. “That actually gave them something, at a time when there was a lot of burnout.”
The first volume of 1-844-NOT-Z00M was thought of as a pilot phase, and the ICA invited six people to participate. These eventually filled out what would become the first two volumes, with three artists participating in each.
The ICA sought to recruit a broad range of participants, ranging from visual artists to poets and musicians. One benefit of the dial-in format was that artists across the country and even the world were able to participate, such as Kevin Simmons, who is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“He gave us an incredible recording with his mom in a nursing home at a time when he just couldn’t visit her,” Esseiva said. “It was just this beautiful, tender and important contribution.”
The project also developed from a wider goal of the ICA, which was to look at the idea of public study and art.
“What does it mean to be in conversation and research with artists, and with the public at the same time?” Esseiva said. “This became a way to ask artists to show us what they’re working on to audience members early on — and everyone has access to it if you have a phone.”
Esseiva and her colleagues drew inspiration for this idea from other artistic projects created in previous eras.
“There’s a lot of historical predecessors to this,” Esseiva said. “There was an artist in the 1960s, John Giorno, who made a program called Dial-a-Poem, that was Beat poets who were creating poems people could call in to listen to.”
Currently, dialing 1-844-NOT-Z00M will allow you to hear Volume 2, featuring contributions from New Mexico-based artist Annie Bielski, Richmond musician Kenneka Cook, and graphic artist/writer Taylor Simone, who received her MFA from VCU and now teaches at Bowling Green State University. Autumn Knight, an artist who works with text, performance, and installation, provides the sardonic voice of the operator, offering a menu of extensions that is an art form in itself.
The current volume will remain in place through the end of the month, and there will be another seven volumes over the next seven months. However, the project could extend past that.
“A great thing that has been happening is that we’re inviting people to submit whatever they want,” Esseiva said.
Esseiva aims to continue to recruit a wide range of artists from across the globe.
“We hope to keep having that breadth of offerings, So there’s no regional specificity at all,” Esseiva said. “That’s the beauty of the dial-in service; we don’t have time zones, and anybody can contribute.”
Top Image via VCU Institute of Contemporary Art