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Tim Gaudreau checks for proper fit of his art installation, already generating curiosity from passers-by outside Nahcotta on Congress Street, while collaborator Jennifer Belkus keeps him dry.
Photo by Andrew Moore

Calling up the elements

By Alice Standish

PORTSMOUTH - Saturday’s rain may have kept some passers-by from interacting with Portsmouth’s latest outdoor art installation, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the creators of "CallBox Four," Jennifer Belkus and Tim Gaudreau.

Umbrella poised and screwdriver in hand, Gaudreau and Belkus put the finishing touches on the installation’s mount as people scurried along the rain-soaked sidewalk.

"Rain or not," said Belkus, "we’ve got the spirit."

The CallBox, brightly painted blue and orange with a shell that depicts the four elements - earth, air, fire and water - hangs on the wall outside the Nahcotta Gallery on Congress Street. A motion detector activates the ring tone when pedestrians pass, inviting them to pick up the orange handset, choose an element and hear recorded musings on each woven from community voices and people-on-the-street interviews.

"The recordings are caveats and celebrations," Belkus said. "They present these themes in a new context and provide an opportunity to re-think or renew our relationship to these elements in our town or our ideas," Gaudreau continued.

Ecology is a thread that runs through both artists’ work, and they spent a great deal of time conceptualizing a piece of art that would not only get folks to stop but encourage them to think about these themes and connect the art to the community.

"There is so much stuff," said Gaudreau, "images, advertising, technology. It’s tricky to find ways to get people to pause."

The installation is the second in a series of six pieces, and the first of two installations by Gaudreau and Belkus, in an exhibit called "Overnight Art!" designed to increase community awareness of the city’s master plan and public art.

Gaudreau and Belkus spent time creating public awareness in neon sandwich boards on Market Square, recording community member’s reflections on the four elements for CallBox Four.

"There is an outreach element to the project," Belkus said. "We wanted to generate folks’ thinking before. The audience is a direct participant in this project."

Eric Schroeder from Portland, Maine, stopped to participate. A mason, he chose earth as his element.

"I wondered if the idea was to get people thinking about these elements," he said. "It’s a neat idea. It makes you want to record something back."

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