Chat Box Review

At a time when the online social networks Facebook, Myspace and Skype, are becoming increasingly fashionable, Rebecca Gamble’s Chat Box endeavours to celebrate these forms of social interaction.  Although they have been heavily criticised and a number of offices have banned them as an excuse for procrastination, Chat Box highlights them as a symbol of human interaction.

As you enter the gallery space at Falmouth University, a large, pure white telephone box has been constructed, entitled ‘Chat Box.’  The inside is wired to the online communication method of Skype, and the audience are invited to call or text friends or strangers.  Turning on the webcam makes for a more personal, or uncomfortable call.

Social networking can often go unnoticed in everyday life, taking for granted that we can chat to our friends online, or speak to them on the telephone, social dimensions intertwined in our everyday experiences.  The way we begin conversations with others and how we deal with uncomfortable situations ultimately brings to light the realisation that how we interact with other humans underlies our whole existence.

Chat Box encourages collaboration from the audience, in an attempt to break down the barrier between artist and viewer.  As participants make and receive calls they experience becoming part of the art piece, rather than simply a distant spectator.  Just like the Fluxus and Situationist movements of the sixties, Rebecca Gamble’s work obscures the division between art and its onlookers, allowing everyone to become involved in the art piece, a challenge to the traditional view of the artist.  A contemporary artist who works with a similar concept on city walls is the graffiti artist Banksy, who has created numerous pieces in public.  Banksy works on the notion that art is for everyone – anybody can enjoy guerrilla art without paying, and it does not have to be approved politically or artistically.

But is online interaction really social?  Online networking does not underpin all forms of socialising, but in fact represents communication methods amongst the richer, more Western parts of the world.  For those who don’t have access to a computer, this would be the antithesis of social interaction, with perhaps a focus on dancing, drinking together and chatting, or passing on stories between generations.  With online networking growing rapidly, communicating is becoming more and more virtual, and less and less personal.  Networking online becomes an artificial way of keeping in touch with someone, where you may speak to their computer everyday but never to their face.  Is it really social interaction for people who don’t get out enough?

Chat Box also suggests a significant development in the use of the internet – is the future with websites and blogs?  Newspapers are turning more and more to their online websites and further and further away from print.  Short articles now exist in the newspapers which refer you to their website if you are keen to read about the subject in more depth.  Are we witnessing the loss of the crisp rattle of newsprint on the bus, to be replaced by the jingle of mobile phones, the thumping of headphones and the loss of a chance encounter?

Rebecca Gamble’s work is a celebration of the concept of limitless networking which marks a new generation of art becoming more accessible to people.  But are we really just caught up in the protective armour of online socialising, and forgetting how to have a real conversation with our accidental neighbours?

Written by Amelia Smith