Indicium: an archeology of the ubiquitous

In this new work I am excavating cellular phones from the recent past, performing an archeology of the ubiquitous by molding obsolete and discarded mobile phones in plaster and casting the forms in beeswax. I wish to make a direct link to the procedure of casting fossil animal tracks or specimens in plaster, just as an archaeologist produces exacting replicas of extinct forms.

In the Darwinian world of technological innovation, mobile phones have rapidly transmogrified since 1G networks were built with analogue technologies in the mid-1980s. “Brick” cell phones, such as the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, are like wooly mammoths mired in the primordial ooze, ancient hulks to be discovered at the Salvation Army shop or on eBay. These walkie-talkie sized devices have rapidly evolved into the tiny clamshell devices that we dangle like a bauble from lanyards, employ as a mirror, pop into our pockets, or snap when a surreptitious photo-op presents itself.

It is now commonplace to regard mobile devices as absolutely essential — our direct bodily interface to information, images, text and voice communication. This buzzing cloud of data is available as long as we have charged our batteries and are in reach of an active cell.

Cell phones increasingly play a role in social patterning and organization, helping us to keep in immediate touch with family, friends, lovers and coworkers. Mobile phones thus allow us to feel more secure in emergencies, to play the part of productive worker, loving partner, caring parent, responsible child. Cell phones also keep us “on the grid” longer — many of us have experienced a sense of relief upon entering a train tunnel, elevator, flight or concert program, powering-off with no small regret.

Increasingly the cell phone has played a key role in police work, surveillance and asymmetric warfare. Our SIM cards are imprinted with private data: contact lists, calendars, “to-do” lists, text messages, images, movies, and outgoing and incoming numbers. Do the requisite detective work and imagine what may be forensically recovered from your lost or stolen SIM chip. While a “target” is on the grid, his or her location and relative speed may be triangulated between cell towers or satellites, and conversations captured by radio frequency scanners. In this age of terror, weapons have been directed against individuals blithely enjoying a last phone call, unaware of a missile homing-in on a final fatal conversation. The 2004 Madrid train bombings employed cell phone timers to trigger a series of coordinated bombings against rush-hour commuters. The attack staged on the morning of 11 March 2004 killed 191 people and wounded over 1700.

I’ve selected the Latin title “Indicium,” for this new sculptural work, meaning: data, information, evidence, indication, or pointer.

Timothy Nohe
15 December 2006