Cell Phone Stories

This weekend LACMA will launch Cell Phone Stories, a series of narratives and essays circulated exclusively via mobile phone technology. The project was conceptualized by artist Steve Fagin, who invited writers, designers, artists, and actors to refigure and rethink the museum and its audience. To give you better idea of the project, we asked Steve to explain it in his own words.

I could blame this project on author Barry Yourgrau, who told me of the fortune cookie-size novellas he was writing for the Japanese cell phone market, but Barry is one of the collaborators on the project, aka, Team Phonie, so he has been given immunity. Or I could blame LACMA director Michael Govan, who suggested I come up with a project that would rescue his museum from the endless remarks that LACMA was a third-rate wannabe Met, but alas, poor Michael is already under indictment for a capital offense, the wanton destruction of the art form of the twentieth century, THE CINEMA. So, I will absolve poor Michael of responsibility for the misdemeanor of encouraging, abetting, and commissioning my Cell Phone Stories project. So lookin’ round the room, who is to blame? Should I, as Claude Rains would put it (know your cinema),”round up the usual suspects”? I think not! We should go after the master criminal and point our index finger of guilt at the Dr. Mabuse (Know Your Cinema) of our little story, and that is beyond a Shadow of a Doubt (KNOW YOUR CINEMA) Steve Jobs. J’accuse (kyc) l’iPhone!

Honestly, your honor, I took just a small bite.

Let me give testimony:


BiP (before the iPhone) the use of cell phones to access the internet was ubiquitous in Japan and virtually nonexistent on the rest of the planet. This ubiquity in Japan was the breeding ground for a cacophony of cell phone-specific projects. Perhaps the best known was keitai shosetsu, the short story form written specifically for the cell phone and mostly marketed to an avaricious teenie bopper market. I learned of this phenomenon through my globetrotting friend, Barry Yourgrau. Barry had been writing his type of stories, definitely not teenie bopper, for the Japanese cell phone market and clued me as to this fever for the short-form downloaded story.


Over a slimming lunch with Michael Govan in his LACMA office (why is it that crispy pata is never served in the art world?), we munched over possibilities for a project that would reshuffle the deck of the LACMA collection, give it another story, refigure the sanctity of the space, conceptually redecorate (eat your pasta primavera out Renzo Piano). I chewed over a carrot stick, quiet I’m not, and eventually spat out the idea of a series of projects done exclusively on the cell phone that would commission architects, artists, actors (you can do the rest of the alphabet soup) that would refigure and rethink LACMA. Michael loved the concept but was stymied (no, not really, have you ever seen Michael Govan express styminizeness?) as to how we would get these cell phones that download from the ether, oh so common in Japan but the first strawberry of spring precious on the rest of the planet, into LACMA-goers’ hands (chopsticks, not) so they could participate in the bloody project


Well, I must confess museum time makes getting something moving forward transform Kafka’s Austro-Hungarian empire into a speedy and agile “in an Intel minute” type of enterprise. From the initial conceptualization in January, 2007 to the present downloading of things to your cell phone, the project has moved from novelty to ubiquity. I must confess this is a great relief to me and a “nothing to lose but your chains” moment for our Cell Phone Stories project. No more are we are on the “cutting edge of technology, ushering in a new age for mankind,” creating the new art, encore, encore, encore, ad nauseum. There is nothing more tired and ragged than the concept of the new. Over and over and still over again from the dawn of the twentieth century to its doom we have been bombarded with the hackneyed idea of the new. I’ll take the everyday over the novel every day of the Soviet Gregorian calendar (of course, this invention of the new would have to keep being pushed back, past the French revolution, back and still back again, but we have no time to tell that story).


(Hopefully, this will be the last interactive moment)

Ok, “YOU Want the Facts, Just the Facts” (no need to reference TV)


Five cell phone exclusive stories refiguring common forms (i.e. jpeg, Facebook, Twitter, email, voicemail, etc.) told over a season.

Projects for the season

Imagining LACMA, Barry Yourgrau
How might one daydream a museum they have never attended?

LACMA A LA MODE, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte
The Mulleavys create sketches inspired by works from LACMA’s collection.

LACMA Live, Rich Bott
Follow the clues and solve the crime live, as it happens at LACMA (inspired by a Charles Willeford Story)

I HATE LACMA, Rainn Wilson
A Twitter-filled weekend of the many, many reasons to never go to LACMA

And last but not least, STAY TUNED, our mini-series that will run throughout the season featuring artists Steve Fagin, Adrienne Ferrari, and Kianga Ford

Only for Dummies, Steve Fagin
Steve Fagin’s alter ego–a ventriloquist dummy—tours through LACMA creating a story equal parts Flaubert and Facebook.

And Now A Word From…, Adrienne Ferrari
Microanalysis of the museum and tweeting as an endurance activity.

You Are Here…a movement, an act, an episode, an ecology, Kianga Ford
A series of short messages and reflections that consider the museum and its cast of characters from multiple vantage points.

To participate in the project, text “LACMA” to 67553 and you will receive weekly text message links to each new installation of the project. You can also join us Saturday, May 29 at 1 pm for a performance by Rich Bott, who will use SMS and Twitter to unleash a story inspired by LACMA’s collection in the vein of mystery writer Charles Willeford.

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