Review: 24/7

November 1, 2019
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Somerset House

For an exhibition about how fragmented and confusing modern life can be, 24/7 at Somerset House has an appropriately short attention span. The flashing, clattering, often overwhelming show bounces from subject to subject, medium to medium, tackling issues as diverse as screen addiction, mass surveillance, light pollution and sleep disturbance.

It tells the story of a world in flux, with us, the inhabitants of this brave new era, barely aware of the digital pressures bearing down upon virtually every aspect of our lives.

As the exhibition title suggests, there’s a focus on the shift from a more or less circadian society governed by natural day/night cycles, to an always-on, ever-connected world. 

Marcus Coates video Self-Portrait as Time (What Makes One Want to Work?) shows a close-up of the artist’s finger manually flicking the second hand of a wristwatch, a feat he kept up for 12 hours straight without missing a beat (usefully, it tells the actual time in the gallery). 

It’s a wry take on an unsettling truth – that we’re on the clock from the moment we wake to the second we fall asleep. And that’s if we can fall asleep. Between blue light and 24-hour emails and medicated stimulants, our sleep patterns have been disrupted on an unprecedented scale. 

A video piece by Roman Signer shows the artist attempting to snooze while a remote control drone buzzes angrily around his head. In another installation visitors are invited to lie on a double bed in a dark room and stare at a hypnotic lightshow – a strange, futuristic solution to a strange, futuristic problem.

There’s a healthy dose of technophobia: a video of a Chinese Bitcoin mining mainframe bathed in blood-red light; an installation of twisted, broken flatscreen TVs; a super-cut of Mark Zuckerberg saying the words “more” and “growth” over and over again.

But other pieces are more ambivalent. American artist and programmer Michael Mandiberg finds beauty in the faces of smart watches, while data visualisation studio Tekja creates kaleidoscopic patterns from real-time social media posts. 

Even when despairing about the bizzaro world we somehow inhabit, 24/7  is full of energy and humour. It’s the doctor who gives you a terminal diagnosis but somehow manages to raise a smile. We’re in a right old mess, it says, but still, look at this nice shiny thing, and this one, and this one…