The Telephone Room Gallery is moving into purely aural art. At 12 ½ square feet and dubbing itself “the world’s second-smallest art gallery” (the smallest is, of course, the former TV Tacoma booth near the Woolworth Windows on Broadway), this tiny gallery has been quietly hosting some original, quirky art over the last year. This month it’s Portland artist Jessica Robinson, with her soundscape “Clicks and Pffts.”
It’s always fascinating to see how art works so completely differently in such a small, intimate space. Housed in a tiny room in co-founder Heide Fernandez-Llamazares’ North End house, the gallery is just big enough for one person at a time, sporting some odd shelving, a tiny high window and a black rotary-dial telephone (hence the name.)
Usually, the Telephone Room’s size is its strength: Artists like Jeremy Mangan and Jessica Bender have riffed off the closeness of the walls (Mangan’s bandito coffin), the privacy (Bender’s call-girl motif) and so on. With Robinson’s work, though, the space works against what could be a very cool experience. Synthesizing found sound and recordings of vocal noises, the artist has creates a soundscape with a haunting beatbox rhythm, pumped through speakers dangling from the ceiling chains. The catchy 4/4 is almost whale-like in its hypnotic range from clicks to soprano squeals. Then, through a set of headphones hanging next to the telephone, you hear a male voice, the epitome of every calm recorded message you’ve ever had to suffer through, spouting a nonsense barrage of mixed-up words in a kind of computer-babble (“hello hello dawn hello. Hey yo yo bye.”)
Overall, this is intriguing and slightly addictive – you want to hear more, just in case it starts to make sense – but the trouble is that, on opening night at least, there’s a line of people patiently waiting for you to get out so they can get in. What should be a mesmerizing, Philip Glass experience becomes a hurry. It would also have been extremely cool to have the soundtrack somehow piped through the old telephone – now that, in such a bland, apple-green space, would be truly surreal.
“Clicks and Pffts” is up through Oct. 27. The Telephone Room Gallery is open one Friday per month and by appointment at 3710 N. 7th St., Tacoma. Free. firstname.lastname@example.org, www.thetelephoneroom.blogspot.com