Local artist Beth Lilly came up with the idea for The Oracle @ WiFi in late 2005, when she was talking with her husband about cell phone cameras. She says:
I was really intrigued that anyone could call me from anywhere in the world and I could make a photograph for them right there and email it back to them. So personal, such immediate gratification. But of course, why would anyone call me for a photo? But I liked the idea that I’d have to make a photo on the spot working with that environment, and how the subject matter would be so random. Then it struck me—this could be a contemporary form of divination, like giving Tarot card readings.
Since early 2006, The Oracle @ Wifi has been hard at work: on the seventh day of every month, Lilly becomes “The Oracle.” Anyone can call her cell phone (free of charge) with a question in mind. When she answers, you request a reading and tell her your name and email address, but not your question. She then hangs up and takes three photos at whatever location she may be. Later that evening, the caller will receive the photographs by email. The caller is finally invited to respond with their question, and will then receive another email with an explanation of what their images mean in relation to their question.
The artist explains her project further:
[The Oracle] is a performance art project and collaboration between the artist and members of the public. All systems of divination require the element of random chance, which is created by me constantly changing my location. The subject and location of the photographs are determined by a conditional association between time and place—where I happen to be at the time of the call.
I asked Lilly what she wanted her callers to get out of the experience. She replied:
A personal connection with an artist. I’d like to go to an exhibit and say, hey! That was my question and that piece over there came from my coworker. Secondly, I want them to start thinking about visual language, going through that process of analyzing an image and trying to find meaning as it relates to the context.
I was so excited when I heard about the project, especially because I happened to learn about it on the seventh of the month. I had the same feeling when I first heard about the Mojave phone booth: intrigue, mystery, and the desire for an unfamiliar interaction that would (hopefully) bring a sliver of insight. Persistence and patience are a must. Everyone else must have been excited too; the line was busy for a few hours before I got finally through. I eagerly awaited my images, and my photos did not disappoint. I was now free to interpret them as I like, and converse with the artist on their possible meanings.
While the project is a commentary on technology and other topical issues, I also appreciate a different, more personal side of The Oracle. Sometimes we all need a break from being too serious—about art and about life. This is a great interactive vehicle to use your imagination, have fun while participating in something collaborative, and let “chance” preside. Or, if you’re more like some of the other art writers and critics that have covered this project, go ahead and get caught up in the theories.
Beth Lilly is committed, and her enthusiasm is apparent. She is still having fun with it and says,
I really liked the show I did with MOCA GA where I got to meet all the callers. I had a great time talking with all of them about their situation and making guesses at interpretations. I want to do more events like that. Also, some of the readings turn out just great, like someone once asked if men and women were equal in the eyes of God. One of the pictures I had taken was a TV screen—a live press conference with George Bush and Queen Elizabeth. It’s much more funny knowing it was a coincidence than if someone deliberately put that text and that image together.
For more information, to see the archives, and get the phone number visit The Oracle @ WiFi.