Earlier this year, 950 artists from 70 countries participated in a game of Telephone, the childhood game where a message is passed from person to person. This time, a message was passed from art form to art form; changing from poem to painting and so on.
Of these 950 artists, seven were Pittsburghers: Mary Mazziotti, Henry Simonds, Chris Ivey, Joy Katz, Deesha Philyaw, Gavin Benjamin, and Michelle Meged. The game launched on April 10 and is now live for viewers to interact with at phonebook.gallery. People are encouraged to follow along online.
"By a total bizarre turn of circumstances, both Chris Ivey and I participated," wrote Simonds in an email. Simonds describes himself as a multi-disciplinary artist, filmmaker, writer, and performer. "AND!! We both happened to pass along our 'messages' to the same artist. Such a strange coincidence to have two Pittsburgh media artists, who are friends, end up paired as Telephone 'parents.'"
What was the original message you might ask? Well, you’ll have to play the game to find out. It remained a mystery to artists, as only a handful of staff members knew what was originally communicated. Participants where only made aware of the work previous to their own interpretations. As a result, these artists don’t even know how their own work was interpreted or translated after they passed it along.
The artists featured in this project come from a wide variety of backgrounds, around 60% are based in the U.S., and roughly 65% are women. They differ in their range of career status: some being new, upcoming artists, while others are award-winning and established.
The game was first played on a smaller scale back in 2015, and the creators went silent after. With the pandemic hitting in 2020, they saw an opportunity to bring artists and art lovers together across a virtual space. The game is interactive, so viewers will be given a digital game map and geographic map to help them navigate its structure. They can view one piece of art, exploring its dimensions, and progress through the game until they reach the final piece.