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If there’s anything old people love talking about it’s how young people spend too much time on their phones, staring at screens, playing Pacman or whatever they think young people do. Sound familiarly tedious? Well, stay away from ‘24/7’ at Somerset House, because it’s just that conversation in exhibition form.
It’s inspired by Jonathan Crary’s book ‘24/7’, about how we live increasingly digitised, non-stop lives where we’re constantly connected, constantly awake and constantly working. The exhibition sees itself as a ‘wake-up call for our non-stop world’. Separated into zones themed around different parts of the day, you start with waking up to bright lights, meander through work, play and surveillance and then end the whole thing tucked up in bed.
There are some fantastic works of art here. You could spend hours with Pierre Huyghe’s throbbing tower block video; Addie Wagenknecht’s make-up/online security tutorials are hilarious and acerbic; Thomson & Craighead’s flickering, constantly updated railway board of live internet searches is uncomfortable and addictive. And that’s just the tip of it.
But it’s so hard to figure out what connects all of this. The ‘Big Brother’ chair is plonked in one corner, a collection of caged mechanical birds by Mat Collishaw gets a whole room, there’s an installation of crushed TVs by Julia Varela and there are countless bits of vintage timekeeping ephemera. Some of this is about work, or surveillance, or terrorism, or sleep. There are about eight exhibitions happening at once. There’s just so much being said, with so much stuff, that it’s overwhelming and incomprehensible. It's a total mess and all the good art gets lost.
And that’s before you even start thinking about the messaging. Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos’s casts of 15 pairs of hands frozen in the act of texting sum it up best: apparently we spend too much time with our devices, and we’re losing our ability to make *real connections* in the process. Yeah, take me back to the time of the Black Death, open sewers and the crusades. I’m tired of being able to text my friends in America, use a map on my phone or order a cab with my thumbprint. You’re right, it’s terrible.
The thing is, anyone going to this show already knows that they’re over-digitised, over-stimulated and over-worked. We get it. But life is hectic and dizzying enough without having an exhibition moralise at you. And in a world of ecological disaster, despotic regimes and Boris Johnson, is the fact that I want to play Pixel Starships before I go to sleep really that big a deal?