The Exchange

From fears of eavesdropping on the party line to alarm at rising rates of ‘nomophobia’, the telephone taps into some of the key social, cultural and political concerns of the modern and contemporary age. But in what ways can bringing together art and technology help us to understand the role of the telephone in how we talk and listen across cultures?

Created for the Science Museum Group as part of the Crossed Lines project, we commissioned a diverse group of artists to explore the role of the telephone in cultural production and reception. Inspired by objects in the Science Museum Group Collection, The Exchange features art, poetry and spoken word by novelist and journalist Will Self, artist Maya Chowdhry, beatboxer Danny Ladwa, poets Lisa Kelly, Serge ♆ Neptune, Nadia Nadarajah and DL Williams, and sound artist Aura Satz.

Commissioned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflecting a turn towards calling in lockdown, the project takes inspiration from a long history of creative engagement with the telephone: musicians, writers and artists from Mark Twain to Lady Gaga have turned to the apparatus as way of investigating notions of intimacy, voice, mobility, power and desire.

But by responding directly to objects in the collection – including an undersea cable, a manual switchboard, and a rotary dial – these artists not only open up ways of interacting with our cultural heritage, but also think through how, where and why communication takes place. In so doing, the project demonstrates the value of fostering exchange between technology and the arts in order to remember our pasts and imagine our possible futures.

Please use the drop-down menu in the navigation bar or click on the names above to access each artwork.