tower of silence front webTitle of Piece: “Private Caller

Artist: Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried

Created: February 2014 for Rabbis Without Borders Alumni Retreat

This is the second piece in a series of Found Object Sculptures using cell phones, wire, paint and clay. My first piece, titled “One Breath,” was created in a class taught by local artist, Flora Rosefsky, who is my co-teacher at The Brill Institute of the MJCCA. She has created ten art workshops to be offered alongside Melton’s Shivi’m Panim (Bereshit) curriculum, a review of biblical and rabbinic texts, and works of art, related to the book of Genesis.

Flora’s original artistic vision was that cell phones represent towers of silence in our modern society. In her opinion, because many people use their phones to send text messages and email rather than to speak to one another, they are actually causing a breakdown of communication. “One Breath” illustrated my response to Flora by demonstrating the cell phone as a tool for connection.

After the class, Flora and I spoke about my desire to adapt the workshop and teach it at the annual retreat for Rabbis Without Borders alumni. In preparation, I collected broken cell phones and cracked screens from Interstate Batteries employees, who repair and replace cracked screens. They have been remarkably supportive and generous, allowing me to rifle through their trash on a bi-monthly basis. I also experimented with paint pens and metallic markers, instead of acrylic paint, and alternative materials for the base, in order to make the project more portable.

“Private Caller” began as a prototype; but as I tested the various materials, I became absorbed in communicating a message through my piece. Since October, I’d been thinking about the way I use caller i.d. to screen my calls, about how this serves to disconnect me from potentially important conversations. Reading this essay, in which Caeli Wolfson Widger describes her failure to answer the call of her cousin who was contemplating suicide, had profoundly affected me.

Having discovetower of silence back webred that smearing paint into the cracks emphasized the damage, I chose red paint to make the phone look bloodied. I wanted the piece to reflect how broken I felt after reading Widger’s piece, how frightening I found the (thankfully averted) violence that might have resulted from this missed connection. I threaded red wire through the cracked screens, bound the two broken pieces together and anchored them to the clay. The wire represents my new-found resolve to answer calls whenever I am available, and to listen to messages and return calls in a timely fashion. “Private Caller” sits on my desk as a physical reminder of my responsibility to repair the damage of disconnection that I may have unwittingly wrought through the use of technology.


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