31st Oct 2019 – 23rd Feb 2020
Standard Ticket - £14.00
Concessions - £11.00
This is too much. I experienced an entire circadian rhythm in one hour, condensing my time, and by the time I left I was at a surplus. So now, my writing seems simultaneously magnified by stimulation and also saddened by letting myself sleep on it.
We’re in the exhibition at all times, even during transitions. There’s no space to breathe in between the works, which might represent our entrapment within the structure of time. Our sense of time has become an omnipresent context, and we’re confined by it, simply because we’ve imposed it upon ourselves. Now we’re turning it on its head, getting more confused, fenced in, and over-loaded in the process.
Marcus Coates' 'Self Portrait as Time', 2016 & Julia Varela's 'X.5', © Stephen Chung for Somerset House
Art is a slippery transition between theory and reality, and although we know it is a threshold we must cross, most of us are fine with watching and talking about how fascinating it all is. Then, we leave the art bubble and go back to the everyday. I think it should be done differently: we should examine and explore the artwork consciously, and always remain halfway in reality, so that everything we ingest can be translated into our own world.
The exhibition is divided into five themes: day and night, activity and rest, the human and the machine, work and leisure, and the individual and the collective. The enumeration itself sounds overwhelming, and the exhibit isn’t any less so. This, fruitfully, is a perfect analogy to be used in relation to the exhibit, as well as the world. Lights flashing everywhere, confusing our eyesight; voices screaming at us in between paintings; short films, posters, videos—each mode of perception is appealed to. The sheer amount of stimulation pushes itself upon the viewer relentlessly. As a result, all I can share now is a mismatched bundle of perceptions, coming out in revelatory agitation.
Douglas Coupland, Slogans for the 21st century, 2019 © Douglas Coupland
For example, an edit of Mark Zuckerberg’s speeches is stripped down to words such as “more” and “growth,” and numbers, so many numbers. It is all linguistics, really. What does it mean to want more? We might say ‘more distracted,’ but also ‘less focused.’ The signifiers more and less can refer to the same signified, but at the end of the day, the signified itself pushes us further towards another vantage point.
Tatsuo Miyajima created a capsule, a pod, a ‘tea room.’ “Time connects everything,” he once said, but, as far as I see it, it only connects us to more and more time. I step into the constellation, and I’m surrounded by numbers on walls, by countdowns, fast and slow, blinking, moving, changing. All I can think about is how this is going to end, how each countdown screams at me to start moving. So I move, I head out, head into another artwork, seeing number-shaped stars while I try to read yet another description of yet another work.
I happened to weave myself into a conversation with Nastja Säde Rönkkö, the creator of 6 Months Without. She spent six months completely offline, inviting people to send her letters—some of which are showcased at the exhibit. I tried focusing on what she said, about extremes, the need for disconnection, the environmental issues, but all I could think about was the privilege. Most of us do not have the luxury of shutting off. The internet serves as a source of sustainability, and the only way for some of us to disconnect is to get paid for it.
Installation view of Tatsuo Miyajima, Life Palace (Tea Room) © Stephen Chung for Somerset House
Speaking of getting paid for being human—my personal favorite happened to be a set of posters by Kateřina Šedá, exploring modern tourism and its effects on the gradual depopulation of city centres. I found another, more universal, meaning hidden there. The slogan that caught my eye was “Normal life is a full-time job.” We can interpret this in two ways. One, normal life should be like a full-time job, simply because it is supposed be the basis of life. Or, secondly, the one that connects to that sense of privilege—that in this day and age, we can’t be bothered to treat life as an end in itself, unless we get validation in money, in praise or in attention. What’s the point, if we’re not getting anything tangible out of it? That is, again, the very obvious, overstated tragedy of our times.
Slogans for the 21st Century, Douglas Coupland, 2011-2019 © Stephen Chung for Somerset House
Once we come to an end, there’s a display of hotel Do Not Disturb signs, which is yet another reminder that privacy and rest are a luxury, a vacation. For an hour, the exhibition served as something similar, but now it’s about to end, and we must leave our intimacy hangers with reluctance, longing for another spin, unsettled by the inevitable Disturbances awaiting us.
I wish I could be more hopeful about this. In a way, I am, I am hopeful about myself…not necessarily about the world. But art still gives me hope. As long as it’s out there, as long as one can submerge in that bubble for a couple of hours, it is still worth it. While walking back home, I didn’t put music on, as my mind needed my undivided attention. So did the world. And it made me cry. A pigeon almost killed by some lady with a suitcase. A piercing cry of an ambulance. The stiffened spirit of my own fragmented contemplation. But I was there, and I walked, and I didn’t look at my watch. And the time moved, and it stood still.
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Head Digital Editor