Vivian Charlesworth | Surveillance Phone & Cave Plexum
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Surveillance Phone & Cave Plexum

Surveillance Phone and Cave Plexum are collaborative pieces by Vivian Charlesworth and Alyson Ogasian

Cave Plexum is an “alternate reality” in which the object Surveillance Phone is the rabbit hole*.


Surveillance Phone is a wall-mounted black rotary telephone from the 1950’s, and a recruitment tool for a group of dissidents infiltrating a government entity with the intent to expose or whistle blow. The phone is reactive and rings when a candidate is within proximity. Upon answering, the “Operator” engages with the subject, prompting them to answer a series of questions by dialing the rotary.
The test is built using a coded tree structure that allows for different question combinations, and was designed to select people based upon different personality traits prevalent in leakers (i.e. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange). The format was inspired by sources such as FBI and CIA recruitment, Scientology initiation, the psychopath test and a declassified document on trickery and deception within the CIA.
If the candidate passes, they are asked to complete a series of tasks for their initiation into the dissident group. The phone acts as a rabbit hole* for the game Cave Plexum (latin for “Beware the Web”), and prompts members to participate and collaborate with the artists (under the guise of the Operator) over time.




If all answers are correctly answered when using Surveillance Phone, “The Operator” asks the candidate to locate either a person in the gallery (to receive a message) or a lost cat poster in a nearby lobby. The inductee must email the address at the bottom of the poster in order to receive further information from “The Operator”.  After this is completed, “The Operator” responds requesting the candidate’s address, and subsequently sends a physical letter to their home.


Meanwhile other strange posters began to surface around Providence with the phrases “Beware the Web” and “Cave Plexum”.  Upon further inspection, the posters had small pull tabs that also led to the email address of the Operator. Candidates, responding to both the phone and posters, began corresponding with the Operator, who eventually sent out letters to the home addresses of the candidates.


The letter was composed of Shakespearean quotes and contains a small silver key, an address (to the RISD library) and a Dewey decimal number.

This letter also administered their code name, which were the names of famous conquerers throughout history (an example being Attila).



If the candidate went to the library, they would find a hollowed out book, entitled No Turning Back. Their key opened the book and inside a letter with their code name inscribed on the front would be found. This secret correspondence was a second test of the candidates loyalty and was to be sent to the Operator for final review.
From there, the conspiracies deepen…

* “A rabbithole, or trailhead, marks the first media artifact, be it a website, contact, or puzzle, that draws in players.” (Wikipedia entry on Alternate Reality Games)

Interactive Object & Alternate Reality Game, 2013

Antique Phone, Arduino, Sensors, Audio, Paper Ephemera, Email, Secret Objects