Office Semaphore
Commission for the Public Art Fund as part of the In the Public Realm series, 2006

Semaphore is one of many systems of visual signaling where an object or configuration stands for a letter, word, or phrase. Related systems include the International Maritime Signal Flags system, where colored flags with geometric patterns communicate a phrase. In Office Semaphore, a similar system creates a line of communication between an "insider" high up in an office building and an "outsider" in a public space on the ground.

Several times each week, an office worker arranges a group of objects in his/her window. The selection and sequencing of these objects corresponds to a predetermined key such that various combinations translate into specific phrases that borrow from the language and tonality of the International Maritime Signal Flags system. A powerful spotting telescope on the ground is fixed in position and trained on the objects in the window. A "dictionary" panel with the object-phrase correspondences attached to the base of the telescope allows viewers to translate these phrases and thus receive dispatches from the individual inside.

The phrases on the "dictionary" panel are modeled on the language and tonality of the International Maritime Signal Flag system. The content is developed closely with the individual office worker involved so that the phrases have direct relevance to the kinds of problems, victories, challenges, etc. that s/he typically encounters on the job. Office Semaphore bridges across physical space (from ground level to high rise) as well as between public and private space (outdoor to indoor). Over time, the phrases will register shifts in mood within the office. The objects themselves form a portrait of the individual who is communicating from just out of sight.

Scroll down for details of the installation at Chase Plaza, Lower Manhattan, New York City.

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