Landmarks Video Presents "Karaoke Wrong Number" by Rachel Perry Welty

On view for the month of March 2014

Rachel Perry Welty’s signature work Karaoke Wrong Number (2001–04 and 2005–09) showcases the “business of living” through the purposeful, facilitative transmission of messages. She wears a plain white t-shirt as she lip-synchs to messages accidentally left on her telephone answering machine. In one message, a nun called to tell a priest that the choir could not possibly rehearse in a space because it was too dusty. With another, John Fodds from Big Fat Logos in Utah informs a couple that their nativity set is ready for pickup. As in her previous work, Welty recycles found media, but rather than reusing physical objects, she appropriates auditory material in the form of others’ words. When the recordings play, Welty mouths the messages with theatrical facial gestures. During the intervals between them, she maintains a deadpan expression. Her demeanor in Karaoke Wrong Number evokes not only the business but also the drama of the (verbal) exchanges that are made in daily life. Welty also suggests that people often are animated by and rather expressive in their use of technology as it becomes commonplace. In one recording, a woman effectively gives a heartfelt apology to an answering machine in the absence of her friend. However, as its various forms increasingly advance, technology both assists and impedes communication. On the one hand, information can be conveyed whether or not the recipient is present. When allowed to speak without response from—or interruption by—another person, one also can communicate as she pleases. She might be succinct and instructive, or see the message as an opportunity to give vent to a concern, or to prattle on endlessly. On the other hand, as seen in Welty’s performance, one has no control over how the recipient interprets the message. Pressing matters and urgent messages become fodder for comedy in Welty’s work. Moreover, beyond art and in everyday life, the use of technology often necessarily involves clarification. A presumed innocent joke might be heard as a rude or insensitive gesture via text message, and information could be obscured or omitted in a voicemail. Even worse, or possibly better, the message could be left in error on Welty’s answering machine.

Videos are screened on a media station in the ART building located on the corner of East 23rd Street and San Jacinto Boulevard. Adjacent to art history classrooms and the Visual Arts Center galleries, the media station is in an open atrium that provides stadium seating for viewing from 8 am to 9 pm daily. Headsets to optimize sound may be checked out from the Visual Arts Center reception desk during operating hours.