‘We’d hang around these phone boxes, when I was twelve, thirteen. I’ve mentioned using it for illicit transactions, and I was part of that in that way as well, when I was younger,’ Will Dohrn tells me. The Bristol director is hanging around phone boxes again. This time, though, it’s slightly more above board.
Part of the new collection of Channel 4’s Random Acts series, short film KX-100 does exactly what it says on the box. It celebrates a common form of communication left for dead, the tinny, tin-can, tinnitus of its upended receivers ringing out for good.
‘As an object, they’re kind of interesting,’ Will explains, ‘[as] they are just objects that are in the back of people’s minds.’ It’s actually the mundanity, the banality, that makes them worthy of foregrounding artistically. ‘People ignore them because they’re so familiar. But when you put something mundane on a platform, [you can] make something interesting out of it.’
The film is as atmospheric and ambient as its Burial inspired soundtrack, centering on a KX-100 that wickedly twists in the malleable fist of time. Its metal parts meld together, its welded joints unfuse. It all comes from slit-scan photography, allowing the director to ‘play with time…[without] manifesting anything digitally.’
Originally, Will focused on cheese graters, phones and light bulbs for branded work. But soon, he fancied a challenge. ‘I really wanted to take that out of a studio scenario and try to put it in the real world, and I felt that basically the effect works best…with a really sharp-edged, solid object.’ While waiting at a train station, listening to the dissociative tones of Burial, Will realised how ‘powerful’ a phone box is at night.
Starting with a tiny model of a phone box and a mini platform, aided by prop-maker Andrew Cunningham, the journey began. If this artistic endeavour really was a journey, it’d be the 23:00 from Temple Meads to London Paddington. There’s a connection between the two cities built into the work, connected as if by cords of concertina wires, two voices of two cities talking. Like dubstep or acid house, the two cities are twinned in their late-night debauchery and their love of dark, gritty art.
‘The London thing – there is a sense of London in it definitely. We were actually planning with a KX300 which is a triangular shape, which is more common in Bristol,’ Will explains. ‘I’ll be honest with you, we couldn’t get one in the time.’
It’s ironic that time set the fate of KX-100, for it’s firmly set in the fourth dimension. The old of the phonebox with the new of the photographic technology, black-and-white imagery with electronic music. Even the phone boxes themselves hold a strange sense of atemporality. ‘One thing that’s quite cool is when we got our KX100, in the back it had the BT cards,’ Will says. ‘If you unscrew it, they don’t take the old ones out, so there’s probably about 20 or 30 that have been there for 20 years, so you can see the BT branding from 1989.’
There’s a similar story with calling cards, too. As you’ll know if you’ve stepped into the ammonia miasma of a city phonebox, sordid, stained stickers are left unpeeling from every available surface. They accumulate over time, turning the past into something secret.
But, as crucial as visuals are, voice is equally important. Will enlisted poet James Massiah to provide a creative commentary, discussing the communicative power of the phone box, and its growing obsolescence. It proves mesmerising. It’s a perfect reflection of the thousands of voices still, somehow, somewhere, trapped in the four walls of the KX-100. Drug deals, break-ups, drunk calls, wrong numbers, call girls…
What’s extra special is that you can actually call a number to hear James’ poetry play from a burner phone. ‘When you call this number, it goes straight to James’ poetry.’ Will has been dotting around the cards across London, ready for intrepid callers to ring it up. (I bet you’re wondering what the number is. You can head over to our IG stories to find out).
While the real KX-100s may be on scrap-heaps and metal graveyards, Will’s managed to immortalise its shape forever. Melting, morphing and warping, it represents how communication changes over time, its immateriality always soldered to something substantial. And there’s something really stunning about that. ‘A beautiful twirl,’ Will calls it.
Who knew a piss-stained, porn-splattered box could be so gorgeous, eh?