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Arts & Entertainment

Hotline Memory

Jeff Gibbons' new project exists on a voicemail box that people can call to record their oldest memories and listen to messages from others.
By Lyndsay Knecht |
A letter I received from someone who lived ten minutes from me contained this question: which memories would you choose to display in your mind’s museum? I reached for moments I wanted him to be there for, in the past, in the same air, in some beautiful uncomplicated space. None of them were scenes I’d privately replayed to excess, the minutiae and shattered bits of time; my grandmother smoothing my watercolor-print comforter during her only visit to the home I lived in while I was old enough to remember. If I didn’t know why I remembered this, what use was there in sharing?

A project by Dallas artist Jeff Gibbons collects those mysterious memories that go rogue from self-narrative — our earliest memories — in a voicemail box. In “There Are No Stray Hairs In Old Movies,” people can record their earliest rememberings anonymously and listen to memories others have left.

“For me, the piece was much less about the nostalgia, maybe not even about it at all, and more about this idea of just putting something in front of someone through this specific medium that asks a question,” Gibbons said.

The artist, known for building intimate moments inside his video work, sculpture and installation, spoke with me on the phone somewhat reluctantly during a day of quietly filming his friends in their Seattle home for an upcoming project. He’s bad on the phone, he told me. The device gets too hot on his ear when the conversation’s gone too long, which reminds him of the time; the inability to react to facial expressions takes him out of the exchange. Anonymous communication within “There Are No Stray Hairs In Old Movies” is purposed to create space rather than fill it. The project seems to leave people alone with themselves on the phone, even when they’re listening to someone else.

“I wanted to kind of inject a feeling of inwardness for people, to think about themselves, who they are, where they came from, and this distance that everybody has from themselves in a way,” Gibbons said.

1-800-789-2228 is a defined artspace created by Jesse Morgan Barnett, Gibbons’ close friend and studiomate. Barnett commissioned Gibbons to do the first show, which will stay on the line until the end of September. In October, three separate pieces by Los Angeles artist Gary Cannone and Dallas artists Lee Escobedo and Lauren Richman will be accessible by dial.

Since Gibbons’ show was the first, he reached out to friends for early contributions. Being privy to their first memories didn’t help him know any of the people whose voices he recognized any better, necessarily. Although, he said, it was hard not to fall in love with the voices themselves, the way they changed tone in remembering.

“Mostly I was interested in the way that we’re built up of all this material that we can’t fully put together or remember — and a lot of the stuff that we even do remember that makes up who we are could potentially be false, or is false,” Gibbons said.

“We accept that and it’s not something we battle, necessarily. In a way I feel it goes against what’s expected of us as humans, to understand ourselves and to know ourselves and to know what we want and to put our puzzle pieces together…there’s this kind of futility to it.”

Below is a sample of what came of Gibbons’ cleverly placed call for first memories. In it, the artist shares his own first memory, which is not on the line. It’s a scene that leaves more questions about the nature of memory and how we carry recollections for our loved ones, and in doing so, might shape their very selves.


Featuring “i would wait for you” by Dallas artist moth face (Sandra Davalos).

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