The Booth of Truth (Cheltenham Science Festival 2002 – now on Southwold Pier)
Do you sometimes feel you haven’t reached your full potential?
Are you caring and thoughtful?
Are you sometimes relaxed and confident in company – but other times shy and repressed?
We thought so!
The Booth of Truth can read your personality with uncanny accuracy.
I decided to make the Booth of Truth in 2002 after psychologist Richard Wiseman told me about the wonderful world of Barnum Statements. A favourite among psychic claimants, horoscope writers, recruitment consultants and others who perform ‘cold readings’ on clients, Barnum Statements are phrases which seem personal but are actually true of almost anyone. For instance:
“You have a strong desire for other people to like and admire you.”
Researched in the 1940s by the psychologist Forer, the Barnum Effect was also the focus of psychologist Ciaran O’Keeffe’s doctoral thesis. When I created the exhibit in 2002, Ciaran gave me a string of very entertaining Barnum Statements. These are read out, randomly, to anyone who stood in my exhibit and puts some money in the slot. Some have come from Forer’s original literature. A few have come from people who claim to be psychic.
The statements from the psychic claimants are the most perplexing of all – but they’re also brilliant examples of the conversational fishing expeditions so beloved by cold readers. My favourite starts off sounding like a reading for amputees only but by the end of the paragraph, could apply to just about everyone (you can hear it in the excerpt at the bottom of this page).
Consulting the Booth of Truth is like entering a small chapel. The interior is petite yet high baroque – complete with an elaborate, gilt mirror. I was aiming for a cross between Vincent Price’s parlour and a GPO telephone booth. On entering the booth, you kneel on a comfy stool, in front of the psychofluorescent radio mirror, put your money in the slot, place your hand on the founder’s tranquil balls, then listen carefully as a disembodied voice gives you an uncannily accurate ‘personality reading’. The reading is complete with New Age soundtrack and light display.
An example reading
This is an early example of my sound work in exhibits so the quality and choice of sounds is a little ropey. But I’ve put it here anyway, in case some of you find the content interesting.
The Booth of Truth is one of my earliest DIY exhibits, made long before I had the confidence to unleash my idiosyncratic wiring on the public. So thanks to Tim Hunkin for electrifying the moving curtains, tidying up my unruly circuitry and adding some wonderful, extra lighting effects in the mirror.
If you want to see this much loved but tatty exhibit in action, do head to Tim’s wonderful arcade The Under the Pier Show, on Southwold pier. By all accounts, the Booth of Truth is still pretty popular – in fact, I receive regular income from the psychofluorescent radio mirror. Earnings used to arrive as giant bags of 20 pence pieces. Less romantically, they now come in the form of the occasional cheque as coins are sorted and totted up by the pier owner’s counting machine.
Coming soon! Uncanny Valerie
This new robot (created in collaboration with Vivien Angliss) will also be displaying some uncanny mind-reading abilities. She’s currently under construction (Feb 2009) and is likely to be making her debut appearance at the first UK Maker Faire, Newcastle, 14-15 March 2008. Details to follow.