This is a proposal for an artist presentation of Beepez-le, an artist project/public media intervention conducted in Cameroon, West Africa. The project used video installation techniques coupled with collective art strategies and cell phone technologies to invite passers-by to use a location-specific method of using cell phones, known in Cameroon as "beeping," to communicate with God.
In the summer of 2006, I returned to Cameroon after a ten year absence. My return was prompted by a letter notifying me of a death in the family that had hosted me while I was there. One of the most striking changes I noticed upon my arrival was the rapid proliferation of cell phones. When I'd left, in 1996, there were practically no home phones in the country. Even a fairly wealthy family would go to a phone booth shop to make their calls. Now, everywhere I looked there were phones. Women in the market who sold fruit would open their bags and pull out two cell phones. Billboards for the two service providers [the French company Orange and the South African one MTN] and the cottage industry of selling airtime dominated the visual landscape of the streets. With an umbrella, a box and a power source you could set up a phone booth and a shop for selling airtime almost anywhere. A typical street corner in the city would have five or six of these stalls.
Through watching my host's constant engagement with her phone, I learned of a system that Cameroonians had invented, to circumvent the expensive foreign owned cell phone networks, called "beeping". A beep is a called placed and hung up after one ring. Through a context sensitive system, I learned that Cameroonians had developed beeping into a complex language capable of a range of communications. It was after a walk through the market, past the church where my host siblings sang in the choir, that I decided to buy a cell phone for God and to invite people to beep him. I formed a small collective the S.D.C.D., the Society for Direct Communication with the Divine. The first members were my host siblings Veronique, her oldest sister Suzy, Suzy's boyfriend Patience, a student at the University of Yaounde I, and his roommate Gerard. They recruited a couple more of their friends and together we discussed the project. I said very little except that I wanted us to facilitate a conversation around the installation of God's cell phone.
I built a simple live feed installation that used a camera, a video projector and cell phone to project God's cell phone screen onto a wall in the city when he was beeped. I installed it on the street next to two luan and chalk signs, similar to those I'd found in the market. They read: Voici en exclusivite'le numero de Dieu "597-20-24" Beepez-le!
[Here it is God's private number '597-20-24' Beep him!]
A spontaneous public debate occurred around the site of the projection. Following the debate, several people offered to give recorded interviews on the themes that emerged. An excerpt of the video that resulted, including some of these interviews, is available at the video link above.
Peltz will present Beepez-le and the method he has dubbed "auto-ethnographic intervention."