Can a call centre be art? NG Bailey’s IT Services division connects to a world of dreams


Switchboard, displayed at Bearspace in Deptford, is the brainchild of award winning artist Naomi Fitzsimmons, whose performance based works seek to explore the space between an artist’s intent and the audience’s interpretation. Switchboard, which draws themes from Haruki Murakami’s novel, Dance, Dance, Dance, showcases a live call centre as a metaphor for all of the systematic activity that takes place between events; a device that Murakami’s novel uses to connect the protagonist’s real world to a world of dreams.

NG Bailey was tasked with building the call centre and providing technical advice on the best way to coordinate the performance once the exhibit was opened to the public.

Scott Baker, head of new business at NG Bailey’s IT Services division comments, ‘This is one in the eye for anyone that thinks that techies have no artistic flair. Sure, we did gain some satisfaction from deploying a complex adaptation of a Mitel 3300, but that’s beside the point. The end result was mind-bendingly wonderful. I doubt I’ll ever look at a call centre in quite the same way again.’

Naomi adds, ‘Is it limbo, purgatory or simply a comment on the repetitive and pointless nature of everyday bureaucracy? Whatever it is, NG Bailey’s support throughout the planning and set up ofSwitchboard was fundamental to its success. We needed a very specific and unusual set up which was difficult to achieve, so I’m fortunate to have enlisted the support of a big, specialist integrator. Still, I think the guys enjoyed the experience; it was certainly a break from the norm!’

For the live exhibit to operate authentically, NG Bailey adapted a Mitel switch to suit the need of the exhibition, connecting eleven lines, all of which were in constant use throughout each performance. It was important that the eleventh phone, controlled by Naomi, managed the switchboard system so that the audience would be able to participate in the performance by ‘calling in’. To ensure the show had no interruptions, NG Bailey added a feature to the switchboard so that calls would instantly be diverted to the eleventh phone in the control room.

The exhibit comprised ten call centre units, seven of which were occupied by actors adopting the role of an operator, which left three desks for audience members to join in. NG Bailey also implemented a hunt group system so that calls would be transferred at random to the next available phone, which meant audience members could continuously participate in the exhibit.

Naomi Fitzsimmons was awarded both the GlogauAIR Residency in Berlin and the Acme Chelsea Studio Award 2013/14 as part of the Acme Residency & Awards Programme. At Chelsea she was awarded a place at the prestigious Universitat der Kunste in Berlin, and was able to showcase her work internationally in the acclaimed ‘Rundgang’ (2012) exhibition. Alongside this she has exhibited in renowned galleries such as Camden Arts Centre (2012) and Picture This Gallery in Bristol (2012), as well as internationally in Vienna and Berlin.

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