Chris says he used to drive past phone box ads and hate them. According to him, the backlit ads were always dumb, turning the phone boxes into unappealing intrusions on the landscape—which is how he got the first half of an idea.
At the time, Chris—who didn't want us to use his last name for obvious reasons—was also wanting to host an art exhibition. The Perth-based designer and photographer was shopping for event spaces only to find they all charged extortionate fees, or wanted difficult-to-guarantee spends at their bars—which gave Chris the other half of an idea.
We caught up with him to hear what happened next.
VICE: Hey Chris, once you'd decided to hijack some phone boxes, what happened?
Chris: So I was chatting with my friend who works in construction. He was saying that he often walks around in his high-vis shirt and people often think he’s working. That made me realise you can do anything in high-vis. So I went and bought a high-vis shirt then found out that the keys to open these Adshel advertising panels are called "security heads" and you can buy them at Bunnings for a couple of dollars. It’s pretty insane. They're just like a universal key.
Once you bought that key, what was the next step?
Well, I’ve taken photos from a really young age. So, I’ve always wanted to hold an exhibition but the prices are just insane. But for this, I could just go to Officeworks and use their $5 printing. And once you actually put a giant printed image inside an Adshel, it actually looks ok. It’s still legible, which is nice. And the exhibition is available 24 hours as well.
How much total do you think you spent on the whole city-wide exhibition?
I think around $100 was the budget for the whole project. It was really, really cheap. And yeah, I’m guessing that the exposure was a lot more.
How long did your pictures last before they were removed? Are any of them still in there?
There was one which was up for about a month. But some of them were only up for a couple of days.
That’s cool. Was there any kind of theme to the photos you were using?
Honestly, no. I was trying to explore other ways to use the medium. I think a lot of it was me just being a little bit cheeky and trying new things. For example last year, around Easter time, I won a chocolate raffle at an RSL. I won a whole bunch of chocolates and I wasn’t going to eat all of them. So, I just decided to put them inside an Adshel and leave it open.
So, this wasn’t just about pictures then—it was also a way to reclaim these spaces?
Yeah, it was all about the space. Also, in advertising especially, you’re always trying to look for new ways and different mediums. This was a way for me to just give that a shot.
I’m actually looking at one of your pictures now that’s a bit different to all the other ones. It says "Free Telebooth Keys." What’s the story behind that one?
Yeah. There was a drill at one of my friend’s workshops. I found this little allen key and it was exactly the same size as the key that I was using to open Adshels with. So, we were just mucking around one day, and I wondered if I could drill a hole in it and homemake these keys. And we could! We were like, cool, you can just mass produce these. So then we thought it would be funny to see if we could get other people involved. Like, it’d be great if you could just have a bunch of these around town, giving out free Adshel keys and seeing what was possible. It’s kind of like being given keys to the city.
Nice – how long did this project go on for?
It was over around a three-month period, over last summer. About a year ago. But I’ve kind of been continuing it till now as well, just in little bits.
Do you have an estimate of how many phone boxes you put art into over the entire project?
I probably did around 20. A lot of them didn’t really turn out the way I wanted them to. So, a lot of it was trial and error. I learned a lot from the mistakes that I made, and then I went back and tried to make them better. Some of my more topical ideas that didn’t work. I’d put them up and literally within the hour, I’d come back, and it would be gone.
Did you place these in specific suburbs?
They were just all-around Perth. There’s actually a site on Telstra, which tells you where every single telebooth is around Australia. They’re marked by these little stars on a map. So, I just looked at where the stars were. A lot of it was hunting online and then just going out there in person and staking it out a bit.
You mentioned before that telebooths are pretty unattractive, but there’s a lot of unattractive things around. Why telebooths?
They’re just really easy to get into. I feel like, with telebooths, they have a lot of room inside them as well. You can just put items in, instead of pictures. So, another friend of mine works in a florist and he gave me a bunch of flowers. Around Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be great to leave a bunch of flowers in a phone box for someone to take. So, I took out the ad, left the door open and just left a bunch of flowers in there. I came back the next day, and they were gone, and no ad had replaced it. So, hopefully I made someone’s day.
Would you recommend other people giving this a go?
Yeah. Sure. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a bit of mischief to it. These aren’t harming anyone, at the end of the day, I feel as though these aren’t quite vandalism to the point where you’re harming private property. They can easily be removed.