News & Views

New Museum / Recalling 1993

by Contagious Team


New York museum uses payphones to transport pedestrians back to 1993

To promote its recently-opened retrospective, NYC 1993, the New Museum has turned more than 5,000 payphones in New York City into analogue time machines, transporting residents and tourists back 20 years with the push of a few buttons. The Recalling 1993 campaign invites people on the streets of New York to dial a toll-free number, advertised on the back of payphone handsets, to listen to stories about what the city was like in 1993. What's more, the stories are different from phone to phone and are tailored to the neighbourhood in which the phone is located; a call from Broadway might dial up stories about how the theatre thrived in 1993, while a payphone on the edge of Central Park might recall an era when the park was a more dangerous place. 





Working with Droga5, New York, the New Museum recruited the likes of business owners, actors and nurses to share their stories about the different neighbourhoods in New York's biggest borough. Many of the payphones incorporated into the project are highlighted by bright green structures around the phone to grab the attention of passersby. All told, the payphones around the city share over four and a half hours of recorded content. 





Calling the project's number (855-FOR-1993) from a landline or cell phone will bring up a recording of a former NYC tour guide, who urges the caller to get out on the street and call back from a payphone. 'Do you want to really know what NY was like in 1993? Find a street corner, pick up the first payphone you lay eyes on, and dial this number again,' says the tour guide. 'To find the closest phone, open your eyes!'

Contagious Insight 
     
We've written plenty of times about urban installations that use mobile technology to tell the story of the objects around us. This campaign, however, holds a certain nostalgia factor over 3G-enabled mailboxes and texting trees. While this might be an intriguing campaign for any sort of awareness project, the fact that Recalling 1993 ties the outdated payphones to stories of a bygone era makes the idea even stronger, creating a compelling way for people to be transported, mentally and physically, to years past. 

New York City has been experimenting with new ways to utilise the thousands of largely antiquated payphones that dot the urban landscape. Early this year, in fact, the city held a design challenge to see who could come up with interesting ideas to use the payphone infrastructure while payphone franchises in the city are still under contract. Droga5 and the New Museum have come up with one such idea and we'll be sure to report any future creative uses of the disused payphones.

www.recalling1993.com

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