Artist-Made Hotline Captures the Cacophony of Worrying and Waiting

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Call (408) 283-8155 and you'll be connected not to the San Jose ICA's empty offices, but an artist-made hotline. (goir/iStock)

The spate of recent Groundhog Day-esque films (The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, Palm Springs) is starting to hit a little too close to home. Life during the coronavirus pandemic is a time loop, and it’s not cute.

Enter Oakland artist Beth KrebsStill on Hold Hotline, a sound art piece that begins with the rhetorical questions “Do you feel like you’ve been living the same day over and over? Is something stuck looping in your mind?” Yes and yes, you nod, accepting the diagnosis. And instead of interminable hold music, the Still on Hold Hotline absorbs and reflects back the anxiety of our moment, giving listeners the power of participation to break up the monotony.

Call (408) 283-8155 and Krebs’ hotline cleverly supplants the San Jose’s Institute of Contemporary Art voicemail with an interactive phone menu that lays out the options: to speak or listen. The existing soundscapes are organized into categories: money, mortality, fear, forgetting, next steps and affirmations, concerns about United States governance, parenting and “whether to give up or keep going.”

The voices in the short collages come in a variety of accents and with a variety of concerns. Many of the “things” on loop turn out to be jingles or pop songs. But there’s also more existential threads running through the piece. “So what did you want from this life after all?” asks a voice in the “money” recording. “I’ve been thinking a lot about quitting,” says one voice. “Don’t give up,” says another.

The thoughts cycling through others’ minds are relatable—and when they aren’t, they become eye-opening. The project promises to morph over time, with Krebs incorporating people’s contributions into the sound pieces as she collects them. And while many of us have spent too much time over the past year on hold, the Still on Hold Hotline is a cathartic reminder that, unlike Bill Murray, we’re not alone in this loop.