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The Art of the Mobile Phone

Tech and Innovation

Posted on November 10, 2015

4 min read

Like most people do you hold onto your old phone when you upgrade to a newer, sleeker, faster model? Artist Paul Sattress: a man who takes forgotten, discarded old mobiles and turns them into provocative art installations in secret locations across Sydney, sat down with us to talk about his vision for old mobiles:

SP: What inspires your work?

PS: I have a manifesto that is personal but a key strand in it is the restoration of individuals in the community: making them look forward and up, instead of down and slumped, reward them for noticing novelty in the environment, provide some joy for stepping out of the drudge of ordinary life.

SP: Tell us about your most famous installation: ‘The Waifs’.

PS: A waif is a child from a too-large family in the Victorian era, a child who suffers being sent to the workhouse, and thus becomes unloved and forgotten. Our relationship with mobile phones is very much centred on the loss of affection and regard as soon as another model is produced too.

SP:  What does it mean to you? How have people reacted to it?

PS: The public response has been magical and has continued to grow as the sculpture has become ‘tuned’ to the public. When someone, unsolicited, says ‘You have made my day’, any artist is transported. This occurs regularly. There are offers to buy, and questions about where people can see more, but I give no response to these though I suppose they mean something. But to have someone’s life course interrupted positively by a pile of moving junk, lurking in some ill-lit spot, is a reaction that I cherish.

SP:  Where can people view your work?

PS: If by chance you come across them. I never tell people where I display, so it is their discovery. A key part of the success of my art is the discovery by members of the public, for it is theirs, not mine, and if they unravel some of the layering in the pieces, their discovery and pleasure is amplified.

SP:  How do you source your material?

PS: Anywhere. The mobile phone industry (Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association) helped magnificently with ‘The Waifs’, but so has the public. I have been displaying in Sydney in the evening, when couple have appeared on the off chance of seeing a sculpture, and they quietly hand me some old phones in a paper bag, that they have carried with very little certainty that a donation might occur.

SP:  How long does it take you to put an installation together?

PS: Never less than six months. The Waifs was first made in 2011 and was hired for many months by a wine bar. It was too unwieldy for me to carry, and too heavy, so a major rebuild in 2013 provided the start of its current form. It has been modified continuously since then, but less so recently, and now usually only the software.

SP: Why is your work important?

PS: I doubt that it is important. I know it has given pleasure, more than just a restoration of the spirit – for if you stand near the sculptures when they are displayed (as I do), pleasure and displeasure are obvious, and entertainment also: laughter, gasps, swearing and expletives are discernible, as is the rarer inspiration which occurs and is a special occasion for any artist.


Mobile Recycling: The Facts

According to MobileMuster, the number of mobile phones in storage has grown to a point in 2014 where there were as many old phones in storage as there are people in Australia!

Telstra is encouraging everyone to dig into their desks and under their beds to recycle their old phones during National Recycling Week 2015. To drop your phone off, simply find one of our MobileMuster collection bins at a Telstra store near you, and help make sure your phone is recycled in a safe, secure and ethical way.  Nothing remarketed, resold or reused.  All data destroyed.