Words are so interesting, so intricate; meaning is so precise, except when it is not. And meanings change with context and are shaped with intents and the activities they become connected with. The Greek time-word kairos describes an intersection of the exact right moment with the exact right place and an opportune action. It is the pot I want to stir with the Phone of the Wind. The connection between hardware (the phone), software (the wind), and the action of picking up the receiver which in turn connects us with our self, our moment of reflection, a soft humming hello whispered into the openness that is everything all at once.
I wonder some times what has made me build again and again, each time differently, this opportunity for an experience. This little sanctuary for a contemplative aha. This quiet possibility where maybe you will sit and nothing will happen and that will be it's own aha. What has made me want to place something as intangible as a moment in your way? A chance to lift the receiver and dip a listening ear towards the thrumming web of connection.
Now and then I am gifted by seeing the blossoming of curiosity when someone discovers the Phone of the Wind is there, as if the Universe has placed it as a surprise just for them. For their private conversation beyond space and time and even beyond memory and existence.
Do we pick up where we left off? Do we begin new? Or just drop a pebble into the deep well of sorrow and listen to it drop into the distance of missing the people we have loved. What is it about death that it separates us so finally and yet the conversations apparently continue. I talk to my dad and to my uncle and my Gram. I talk to all the dead cats, a few more than others. And I talk to Betsy, I talk to Betsy every day. There is a deep need many people have to keep the ordinary conversation of life going, even though the person they have this conversation with has died. And it is this need to continue to share the day-to-day and existential concerns of life that the original Phone of the Wind was born from.
Not so long ago I was leaving a memorial chapel with the husband of a woman who had died. We had just finished honoring and celebrating her life. After 35 years of marriage, he confided with a shy embarrassment, although she died he still spoke to her all through the day. He wasn't sure if this was normal. I told him it's hard sometimes when they don't answer back but I talk to my people too. I think most of us do.
I first heard of the Phone of the Wind when I was recovering from major spine surgeries. It was a long rest. I got caught up on my podcast archives and a story from This American Life captivated me. There are links on my website to this story and to an hour long documentary from Japanese public TV about Itaru Sasaki, the man who made the first Phone of the Wind and placed it in his garden. There are also links to stories about people in other places who heard about it and also built installations. I remember being confined in bed with plenty of time for wondering; what would happen if I put this moment in people's way? What kinds of connections would unfold?
So far, my journey with the Phone of the Wind is a remarkable one. Experiential booth installations have been a part of my art-making for a few decades. My projects are small scale, local experiments that don't get much attention. It is all about the interactions I have with people along the way and their interactions with the spaces I create for their personal relational experiment. Photo booths and wind phone booths share the potential for a certain larger-on-the-inside (than they look from the outside) je ne sais qoui. The possibility of being surprised, by ourselves, unobserved.
We are all larger on the inside, it is (for me) one of the quaintest confusions of human existence. But that is a story for another day.
Meanwhile, another installation is planned in October in Minnesota (!) at the National Home Funeral Alliance conference. Be in touch if you want to talk about meaning, and kairos, and about what happens in a booth. Or about bringing the Phone of the Wind to a location near you, especially if you are between New England and Minneapolis in late September! There is a road trip on the back burner.