Witness: Call Box Installations

2000

McCallum & Tarry

Witness was a response to the traumatic incidents that took place in New York City in the late 1990s and the installation is based on the perspectives of witnesses and survivors, family members, activists, police officers, court documents, autopsy reports, and criminal records.

When McCallum first moved to New York City in 1998 most street corners had red emergency call boxes so that if one observed a crime taking place or saw a building on fire, one could pull a lever in a call box and alert the appropriate emergency service.

For Witness, McCallum recreated the classic call boxes in cast iron. The idea was to use something already associated with calling the police but to reverse that function with the stories and testimonies of individuals who had experienced violence at the hands of those who are meant to protect.

Call boxes were placed at different sites of police violence and sites of accountability throughout the city. One day they were installed, for instance, at the home of someone who was killed and the following day, at the federal court house where a policeman was actually being held accountable.

Each call box contained an illuminated transparency of a street location or a place, such as a police vehicle, where a violent incident occurred. It also emitted audio testimony from victims, witnesses, and the police based on interviews by the artists. Passersby were drawn to the call boxes by the image and the sound emanating from it but they had to listen carefully to the audio to understand what it was about. This invited a rare kind of closeness and intimacy, and personal and public reflections on violence and issues of civic responsibility in New York City.

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