There’s a strange phone booth in Somerville and when you pick up the receiver it gets even weirder
These days, finding a working pay phone in Greater Boston — let alone someone who still actually uses them — would likely be a daunting task.
This is especially true in Somerville, where the metal husks of old phones have been repurposed and transformed into artistic displays throughout the city.
But one of the relics appeared along a Somerville sidewalk recently — and it’s leaving some curious passersby scratching their heads.
It’s called “The Hydrophone,” and it’s a sound installation-slash-art project that’s meant to get people who pick up the receiver to contemplate the earth’s changing climate, and what’s in store for the future.
The project, which consists of a telephone housed inside planks of wood draped with blue tarps and topped by a tin roof, went up in mid-October. It sits outside of the Somerville Museum on Central Street, like a dilapidated outhouse.
Covered in red-and-yellow stickers that say “Weather Is Happening” and held down at its base by sandbags, the booth was put there by Kate Sokol, whose work “considers the human dimension of technological innovation, complex systems, and public policy” through visuals and sound.
The installation is part of a community-curated exhibition at the museum titled “Triple Decker Ecology,” according to her website.
“What does our climate future sound like?,” Sokol’s website explains. “As humans’ runaway use of carbon causes local weather to become more extreme, outposts like this phone booth represent beacons of information that exist out of time with the syndicated messaging of mass media.”
Pedestrians who happen upon the booth can enter it and pick up the receiver to listen to an incoming call from the “Weather Man” — a fictional character connected to the bizarre social media accounts @weatherishappen, which share ominous online weather forecasts for Boston in all capital letters.
Sokol teamed up with the person who runs Weather Is Happening because she felt “he was the only one that could deliver this message” about climate change.
Once the phone is pressed to a listener’s ear, they’re greeted by the “Weather Man”’s gruff, almost demonic voice on the other end, which delivers a strange tirade from the year 2200.
The three-minute message, in part, says, “You need to repent to your Weather Lords, and you don’t have too long to do it if want to keep your planet habitable for yourself and other living beings. You don’t want to wait too long to repent to your Weather Lords, because you don’t want your death spiral to become unstoppable.”
In an e-mail, Sokol said the appeal of the pay phone is the “simple communion with a voice on the other end.”
“I wanted to create an interaction that helps people feel that direct connection,” she said, “as if, in the hydrologic future, this might be the only transmission left from our recent past.”
She’s not sure how many people have visited the booth to date, but said overall public reception for the piece has been positive.
“I was concerned that the ringer going off at random times might cause the neighbors to retaliate against the phone,” she said. “But so far it hasn’t been an issue.”
Sokol encouraged people to make more than one visit to “The Hydrophone” if possible, as the exhibit, which will be up through Dec. 9, changes over time.