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An Installation Puts An Artistic Twist On A Childhood Game

London-based Art and Technology Studio’s “Heard Words” is a grown-up version of Telephone.

Remember playing Telephone as a kid? Sitting cross-legged in a circle, passing around a hushed phrase, and waiting for the big–inevitably hysterical–reveal at the end? Heard Words is kind of like that. Visitors walk into a room filled with microphones suspended from the ceiling, and every utterance made gets transcribed in real time, via dangling receipt-printing machines. Heard Words churns out heaps of receipts chronicling words spoken throughout the day, so that over the course of time the room becomes “a spatial and sculptural record of data collected from people who have been within the space.”

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The London-based Between Art and Technology (BAT) Studio created the installation for an open artists’ competition held by Rogues Galleries, in Chester, England. The competition used a series of pop-up shops to inject new life into downtown Chester’s once-thriving, now-derelict shopping center. Jonty Craig and David di Duca, the designers behind BAT Studio, set up the installation alongside other art-filled storefronts with the goal of “creating a space from the conversations within it.” The funny thing about the conversations, like the game Telephone, is that each quip or phrase is easily misunderstood, so that the space becomes a bizarre house-of-mirrors-of-words. “Does the Easter Bunny come from the other side of the world?” becomes “do the Easter Bunny come to the other side of the moon.” According to the designers, Some people played Chinese whispers (i.e. Telephone) with the installation, some people read mis-transcriptions as responses and then tried to clarify their original thoughts. Others simply read the previous history of ‘heard’ words and made up their own perceived stories of what the transcribed sentences meant.”


Craig and di Duca rigged the machines to relay a real-time Twitter feed of transcriptions from visitors. There’s unexpected, poetic riddles hidden in the transcribed Tweets: “what is Pisces and unemployment,” and “you can say anything in the world and it would be very much misunderstanding.” There’s also a lot of “boobs.”

Heard Words shows next on May 11 at London’s Silicon Milkroundabout 5.0 tech fair.

[Photos (c) Andy Matthews]

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About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.

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