Nocturnal Culture

Nocturnal Culture

People in the UK check their smartphones every 12 minutes. There is an inability to switch off. This new state of being is the subject of 24/7 at London’s Somerset House – a new show based around the experiences of living in a non-stop world. Through over 50 multidisciplinary works, it holds up a mirror to a society where people are sleeping less and scrolling more. Five curated sections look at the impact of new technologies on all aspects of life: Day and Night; Activity and Rest; The Human and the Machine; Work and Leisure; The Individual and the Collective.

Somerset House’s survey begins with the Industrial Revolution, when people began to work around the clock. Harun Farocki’s Workers Leaving The Factory compiles such rituals and routines. Since then, Britain has become a nocturnal nation, with 48% of the population going to bed past 11pm. Today’s “gig economy” is positioned as a contributing factor, leaving individuals to work alone rather than as part of a collective. Responding to this statistic, Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima has created a meditative isolation chamber awash with LED lights. UK-based Alice Vandeleur-Boorer presents the results of a scientific sleep deprivation study, revealing the disorientating impact of staying awake for prolonged periods.

Surveillance has become another part of the city experience. 24/7 charts the rise of global tracking systems and CCTV. From Jeremy Bentham’s all-seeing Panopticon, to the “diary room” chair from TV show Big Brother, it demonstrates the impact of scrutiny on culture. Examples include Hasan Elahi’s Tracking Transience. The American artist was mistakenly put on a no-fly list after 9/11. He was required to share personal data of his whereabouts with the FBI. The piece collates these images into an overwhelming visual display: viewers can see all the meals he’s eaten, beds he’s slept in and airports he’s flown to.

Other works aim to restore balance. Catherine Richards’ Shroud Chryalis encourages disconnection: visitors are wrapped in copper blankets, protected from smartphones’ electromagnetic signals. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg looks to nature, presenting an AI-generated dawn chorus that highlights the impact of the urban life on bird populations. Music is used to connect: Montreal-based art and design studio Daily tous les jours invite listeners around the world to hum the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

The exhibition runs 31 October-23 February. Find out more here.

Lead image: Pierre Huyghe, Les Grands ensembles, 2001 © Pierre Huyghe