24/7 At Somerset House: A Terrifying And Timely Exhibition On Today's Always-On Culture

24/7, Somerset House ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 35 months ago

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24/7 At Somerset House: A Terrifying And Timely Exhibition On Today's Always-On Culture 24/7, Somerset House 4
This installation by Tekja captures tweets that mention 'sleep'. Copyright Stephen Chung for Somerset House.

Have you ever wondered how much more productive you'd be if you didn't have to sleep? Technology was meant to make life easier, but instead it's created an always-on culture, meaning we're always available and there's always something happening on our smartphones, which never leaves our sides.

Somerset House's new exhibition, 24/7, captures this bizarre, ever-present modern society we find ourselves in. To help you disconnect, there's a safe where you can lock your phone away for the duration of the show. But there's a catch — you have to decide how long it's locked away for, and anyone else walking into the show can add to that time. Erm, no thanks. Besides, how will I tweet and 'gram about the show while I'm in there?

Bulbs click on and off but never achieve anything - sound familiar? Copyright Stephen Chung for Somerset House.

Inside the exhibition there's a darkened chamber by Tatsuo Miyajima, where blue LED lights count down from nine to one. They aren't counting towards anything specific, and it's great to sit and just lose yourself in the numbers — no checking your phone to see how long you've been in there, mind. It's like being inside a very slowed down version of the Matrix — woah, indeed.

If you find yourself identifying with many of the works in the exhibition — as I did — it's probably a sign that you need to make some changes to your lifestyle. A remote controlled helicopter buzzes around the artist's head as he sleeps, reminding me of the invisible tether connecting me to my phone. Rather shamefully, it's often the last thing I see before I go to sleep and the first thing when I wake up, and I doubt I'm the only one.  

It's a like a chilled-out Matrix. Step inside this relaxing chamber covered with numbers. Copyright Stephen Chung for Somerset House.

Nearby, an array of Solenoid bulbs clicks on and off, stuck in a loop of test patterns, sometimes burning so intensely that it hurts my eyes, other times just ticking over. Anyone who has worked in a job where they wondered what their contribution to society is — what David Graeber termed 'bullshit jobs' — will sympathise with these bulbs.

Sculptures show hands in the various poses people adopt for texting — sans phone, a robot arm has been designed to rock babies to sleep for those parents who 'can't spare the time', and a rather cutesy video game suddenly takes a dark twist into a drone strike. It all feels rather dystopian, and what's truly scary is that the works aren't about the future, but the world we all live in today.

When we live in a world where the Netflix account has tweeted that 'sleep is my greatest enemy', we really need to take some perspective and this exhibition allows us to do just that. Time to put the phone away... though reading one more Londonist article won't hurt.

24/7: A wake up call for our non-stop world is on at Somerset House from 31 October 2019 to 23 February 2020. Tickets are £14 for full price entry.

Last Updated 30 October 2019