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"It's For You" Dials In

Smart phones have now elbowed out most other phones but the telephone as we used to know it has inspired many artists. Some of their works make up Housatonic Museum's current exhibit, "'It's for You,' Conceptual Art and the Telephone," on view Feb. 25 -- March 25. Displayed are artworks that pinpoint the phone as an artistic medium or subject, including works from the late1960s to today, in sound pieces, videos and more, all focusing on the phone's functions, technologies and ways we use it. Contributing artists include T. Foley, Lukas Geronimas, Jeremy LeClair, Christian Marclay, Yoko Ono, Rachel Perry Welty, Robert Peters, Pietro Pellini, and Hannah Wilke.

As with other conceptual art, Yoko Ono's "Telephone Piece," hopes to fashion a more equal relationship between the artist and viewer. She began creating her phone-centric series over a decade ago. Typically, she presents a phone on a pedestal or desk. Only Ono knows the phone's number and, once the work is installed, she randomly calls it, to speak with passersby. (No word yet on whether she's called in to "It's for You.")

For T. Foley's piece, "Locally Toned," students created their own ringtones. Artist Robert Peters provides his unusual 1993 work, "Naming Others: Manufacturing Yourself."  In it, the artist set up an 800 number for people to call from pay phones and choose which of several stereotyping phrases described them. Chicago Reader explained the artist's inspiration. "Peters [had] been thinking about the way we slice and dice each other with language. Inspired (and troubled) when he stumbled on a 30-year-old list of "Terms of Abuse" used by Chicagoans, he devised a questionnaire and began his own survey, collecting the names we now use ... He says we build our own identity by applying these monikers to others: we can say to ourselves, 'Whew! At least I'm not that.'"

If we take for granted the many ways that phones connect us, even pre-smart phone ones, "It's for You" will remind us of how this pioneering social medium did double or triple duty in our lives. The exhibit is free. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. For more information, visit the Museum's website .

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