Antique Phone Meets Art of the Future: Tristan Perich ’00

Artist-in-Residence Tristan Perich does not need to lift a finger. He leans casually against the wall while his artwork creates itself. The sharpie seems to act of its own accord. Suspended in midair from a thread, it drags slowly across the surface of the wall, leaving thick black lines in abstract patterns in its wake. “I program the microchip, give it starting parameters, start the drawing and let go of the process,” says Perich, a graduate of the class of 2000 who is the artist in residence at Phillips Academy this year. Perich, a musician, described a microchip code like a musical score. “A score is a series of instructions. The composer writes the score, but every [ensemble’s] interpretation is different,” says Perich. Likewise, Perich never really knows how a drawing will turn out. In addition to his visual installations, Perich composes pieces like his “1-Bit Symphony.” Visitors to his exhibitions can listen to the music stored on the microchip and view a written version of the computer code Perich used to create it. “Code is essentially the ultimate expression of process. I wanted to make transparent the way people create electronic music,” he says. Transparency is very important to Perich, who thinks it is important for people to realize that “there is nothing mystical or magical about [technology.]” He says that everyone can break open a cell phone and create buttons by reconnecting wires. “The public don’t necessarily need to abide by the rules,” he says. Breaking the mold is not difficult for Perich. Since 2004, he has carried a bulky, canary-yellow 1950’s telephone with him wherever he goes. He dismantled a regular cell phone to wire this fully functioning portable phone himself, though he admitted it breaks often and earns him some strange looks from passersby. “It brings out a really great side of people,” he says. “They look at it and smile. A crossing guard in New York walked up to me once and gave me a big hug.” Perich is no stranger to attention. His work has been shown in numerous art galleries and exhibitions and is featured on the internet on large “techie” sites such as Gizmodo. “The internet and new media have a strange way of making things really famous really fast,” says Perich. “In a way I consider myself lucky to be interested in and have a meaningful connection with things that are easily consumable.” Perich is currently working on composing a piece for 50 violins and 50 electronic speakers, to be performed live. “I try to treat the speaker as a physical object,” he says. “The way a speaker moves in and out for me is similar to the vibrations of a violin string or the way air moves through a wind instrument. It’s going to be a monumental project.” Check out some of Tristan Perich’s work in the Addison Gallery.