By Albert Samaha
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Tarra Cunningham is breaking up. Speaking on a cell phone from a Philadelphia greasy spoon, she seems to be talking about found art, recipes, and a lavatory. Wait, no, she's saying "laboratory. Creative Time will create a laboratory space at the Meat Market Fair to explore how wireless technology has facilitated the fragmentation of public and private space." Or something like that. Cell phones garble the conversation, but that's exactly the point.
From November 2 through 5, Creative Time, an arts organization best known for its ambitious summer programming at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, will debut "Cell Rules" as the initial installment of its ongoing "Air Time: a Series of Wireless Art Projects" at the Meat Market Art Fair in Chelsea. Cunningham, an associate curator at Creative Time, has spearheaded the collective's latest brainstorm: the cell phone as both canvas and paintbrush.
When Creative Time was approached to be part of the upcoming Meat Market Art Fair, Cunningham says, the nonprofit was put in something of a quandary. "We're not a gallery. We don't just have a lot of art laying around we can put up on the walls." Instead, Creative Timewhich has shown a pronounced affinity for technological media since its creation in the mid 1970sdecided to throw together a cell phone happening. The overarching idea, Cunningham says, is to "look at how wireless technology has changed art practices and curatorial practices."
The group has enlisted several artists to create pieces that either utilize or engage the idea of the now ubiquitous cell phone. "Cell Rules" will be based in a "cell phone lounge," created by industrial designer Chris Habib, who took his inspiration from designated airport smoking lounges as well as the technology depots at LaGuardia. Several performance pieces will run throughout the course of the show, including Johanna Burke's primer on cell phone etiquette, "Speaking Your Best: A Guide to Better Communication in the 21st Century," in which actors will mingle with fairgoers, annoying them with indiscreet cell phone chatter. Elaine Tin Nyo will premiere a performance piece on the history of cellular communications. "It's meant to be ironic, because there isn't much history there," says Cunningham. The painter Peter Halley has written an essay for the project, which will be published in a special "cell phone book."
For those art viewers still interested in, you know, looking at something, the Creative Time projects may prove disappointing. The pieces planned for next week's show emphasize concept, not aesthetic pleasure. But at the very least, there should be much to hear, as long as you bring your cell phone.
Air Time, like all other Meat Market Art Fair attractions, is free and open to the public. The fair, located at 430 West 14th Street, opens Thursday, November 2, from 6 to 8 p.m. and runs through Sunday. Hours Friday through Sunday are noon to 7 p.m.