txt By Brian Feldman
February 5, 2011
Maitland Telephone Museum, Maitland FL
I tried. I really tried. I got rid of the auto predicting software on my Wal-Mart Drug dealer phone, joined Twitter and and and and I sent at least 3 texts to Mr. Feldman. None of them got though and it cost $1.20 in credits in my “Fifteen cents to sent, five cent to receive” texting plan. I feel like I bought a lotto ticket. Other than that, the show went well; Feldman was more animated and artier than the last time I experienced the TXT project. There were no data jams and the sense of humor and camaraderie was invigorating, if not electrifying.
So what is TXT and what the heck is a Telephone Museum? Next door to the iconic Maitland Center for the Arts is a small house with an out building, a paean to the utility that allowed instant connectivity before radio became the internet of the 1920’s. Relics of switch boards and central offices and rotary relays coagulate here. It’s an unusual slice of technical history open the public and worth a visit if you’re tired of paint splats or fuzzy animatronics. It’s also a great place to take out of towners not willing to pop for the $80 day ticket to The Mouse.
And what of “TXT?” This is Feldman’s clever deconstruction of the modern method of whispering via a $400 pocket appliance. As we arrive, an assistant signs us up and tells us how to text. I miss the lesson, a lot is assumed these days about how you chat with mom. Once the show began, Feldman crawled up from under the Populux mahogany desk last spotted in “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” We send texts, and Feldman reads them in order adding dramatic gestures and intonation. People joke, flirt, say snarky things about each other, all buried under a anonymity equivalent to writing comments about your ex GF on the men’s room wall. On the side, local sketch guru Thomas Thorspecken sketches, a camera man films, I take notes and museum personal hover nervously lest Feldman or his acolytes insolently touch an actual telephone. Museum Gods know that once an object of public abuse enters the hallowed halls and is blessed by “curation,” touching it sucks the mojo out of it.
What do we learn? Some people laugh boldly, others hook up, and typographical errors and mispronunciations point up the casual nature of communication. Feldman puts soul and animation into the messages, and I almost wish I, too had an unlimited data plan. Off in the corner, the Gayest Mannequin in Orlando observes. I’m sure he’s eves dropped on a few racy calls in his time. Please deposit fifteen cents to continue.