Cell Phone Disco is a surface that visualizes the electromagnetic field of an active mobile phone. Several thousand lights illuminate when you make or receive a phone call in the vicinity of the installation. Cell Phone Disco makes an invisible property of the environment perceptible to our senses. It reveals the communicating body of the mobile phone.
In 2006, architect Ursula Lavrenčič and information designer Auke Touwslager created the first version of Cell Phone Disco, an installation which transforms a part of the electromagnetic spectrum into another frequency range - the range of visible light. Their fascination lies with the transmission quality of the mobile phone; its presence beyond the shell of the device.
Photo by Max Glanville, courtesy of Contemporary Museum, Baltimore.
Every single mobile phone transmits radio waves in order to connect to a network and everyday millions of people around the world are broadcasting their private conversations. Here we are witnessing a unique moment in history, when transmission is no longer exclusive domain of broadcasting companies. Mobile phone connectivity became just another layer of urban landscape and substantially changed the electromagnetic topography of the environment. Although Cell Phone Disco has been embraced by art galleries and museums, its rightful place is in public space to generate a glimpse at the dynamics of this omnipresent mobile phone traffic.
Thousands of sensors that are incorporated in Cell Phone Disco are tuned to detect the mobile phone’s electromagnetic radiation. Each of them sets a LED to flicker when it picks up a nearby transmission in frequency used by GSM network. Because each sensor is independent and they are applied in high density, the installation has the capacity to display the real time high-res image of the electromagnetic field. As a mirror, it reveals the actual shape of the field and enables us to witness the dynamics of each transmission.
Lavrenčič and Touwslager do not label the radiation as good or bad. It is an essential part of the device, as physical and natural as the mobile phone itself. The installation merely provides a missing sense and creates an opportunity to witness it. It is up to the spectator to take a standpoint of his own. As the flickering of the red lights might be experienced as playful or disturbing, the visualization of the electromagnetic body of the mobile phone can fill him with worry or pure fascination.
At the moment we completed the development of new variations as well as a modular version which can be used in public space or/and as a permanent installation. If you’re interested in applying such installation please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.