Rachel Perry, Karaoke Wrong Number, 2001–04. Single-channel video (color, sound; 6:52 minutes). Gift of Sheryl Marshall and Howard Salwen. © Rachel Perry
Rachel Perry’s drawing, video, sculpture, and installation work celebrates the often-overlooked beauty and humor of everyday life. Living as a very young child with her family and two chanting monks in a temple in Kyoto impressed on the artist the wonder of paying close attention to all aspects of the quotidian. She says, “I will continue to thoroughly—some might say obsessively—examine all aspects of my life and try to make sense of them.” Traces of the everyday, the physical, the ephemeral, and the virtual are the building blocks of Perry’s work, which involves the artful accumulation of receipts, family medical records, produce stickers, grocery packaging, voice message recordings, and other materials that are usually discarded.
Karaoke Wrong Number evidences Perry’s highly inventive use of virtual material that most would delete without a second thought. She saved a series of messages left in error on her telephone answering machine, compelled by the urgency and expectation she detected in the recordings. Filming herself in the video in a frontal head-and-shoulders view, Perry lip-synchs the messages, with expert timing and facial expressions, maintaining a deadpan expression between messages. The video work revels in the simultaneous connections and disconnections of contemporary life, where technology both assists and impedes communication. The voicemail messages concern matters both businesslike and intimate, from tax filings to an attempt to repair an estranged relationship. The apparent trust these individuals have that their entreaties will reach the right ears is both heartbreaking and familiar.
When exhibited as part of the ICA/Boston’s 2006 Foster Prize exhibition, the work captured the imagination of visitors, and in the collection it joins other important video work by Kader Attia and Christian Jankowski.