Listen to an artist interview on CBC’s Radio Q here.
Once upon a time, telephone booths were taken for granted. They were available for every possible variety of call from outdoors to anywhere. Now, they are a vanishing species. Their structure has been so familiar for so long that their original context, mid-century modern architecture, has achieved vintage status. At last count, there were 30 of these booths remaining in the province of Manitoba.
In the milder six months of 2016, Winnipeg-based artist Dr. Jeanne Randolph followed the lead of a “mole” at MTS (Manitoba Telephone System, now Bell/MTS) who gave her a list of every existing booth’s location. Unlike devices that preceded them, there was no planned obsolescence. For more than 50 years, payphones stood as small modernist buildings. They were built to stand and to withstand, to be mended efficiently after every attack by weather, vandalism, car crashes, and thrown rocks. Now, they are neglected; each and every booth is depreciating in melancholy decline—until Bell/MTS uproots them and drags them away.
Using a smartphone camera to document these structures, Dr. Randolph travelled as far north as the 54th parallel in Flin Flon, and as far south as Emerson, 6.3km from the Manitoba-USA border.