50 Stars

50StarsThe 1996 election showed 49% of all Americans voting: the lowest turnout since 1927. Using a voicemail system, we presented a series of sound bytes from the convention, debates, and general rhetoric during the United States presidential campaign. People who called into the voicemail system could respond to the sound bytes or other comments with their opinions and concerns. The entire project was sent to the newly elected President in 1997, thus providing direct feedback from the people.

Media: voicemail system on computer, balloons, podium, flyers, signage
Location: Walter McBean Gallery, San Francisco, CA

“Ian Pollock and Janet Silk describe their project, 50 Stars as “a collaborative voice mail system about free speech and the American way.” It catalyzes open expression and an exchange of opinions and ideas about social issues in this presidential election year.

A telephone in the gallery invites visitors to call the number printed prominently on a nearby American flag. The number, accessible from any in San Francisco, connects to a voice mail system where a general menu prompts the caller to listen to any one of fifty voice mail boxes in which previous callers have left their opinions. To initiate this opinion chain and stimulate the dialogue thematically, the artists recorded fifty “seed messages” which relate to patriotism, the U.S. Constitution, and issues raised during the 1996 presidential election campaigns. Callers can browse as many boxes as they wish, hearing messages, which may be funny, sad, strange or downright offensive. If they choose, they can erase a message by recording an opinion over it, after which the system disconnects.

“By giving each caller a change to become a censor and a speaker, we encourage reflection on the interdependent relationship of censorship to free speech,” say the artists. Silk and Pollock plan to log and record all the messages on an audio cassette. At the project’s end, they will send this “unique survey of American opinions and concerns,” along with a description of the piece, to the newly elected President, Vice President and the news media. “We believe this project will be a bridge that will promote enthusiasm [for] and interest [in] social issues,” the artists say.”
Benign CollisionsBy Marcia Tanner