Unusually usual: 24/7 (Somerset House, WC2)

I think the idea of being infinitely available is completely unusual. How has it become ordinary for someone to contact me at any time during any day? I wonder if the phones default state should be ‘off’, only to be turned ‘on’ when required, instead of the other way around. The concept of something or someone that is limitlessly all-seeing/knowing, like the phone, is condensed in the blueprint of the Panopticon (1791) by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham.

The Panopticon is/was a design to be implemented in social spaces such as prisons, schools or factories. The architectural structure fashioned the feeling that its inhibitors were under constant watch yet were unable to see who was watching, perhaps borrowing ideas from that of an omniscient God in western religion. I find this to be an incredibly dystopian idea that exploits peoples moral conscious, although I wonder if we have become accustomed to this in the age of CCTV. Why aren’t we bothered by our every move being recorded? Do people subconsciously enjoy being under constant observation like a child? Freud would call this ‘regressive’. For example, I look back on my experience with general anaesthesia with great fondness, content in the fact that I was in a state of submission, irresponsible for anything that happened while under a surgeon’s control.

The photograph below depicts a Panopticon blueprint in the foreground. In the background is the diary room chair from the reality TV show ‘Big Brother’ (2000-2018) which takes its name from George Orwell's 1949 dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.

The exhibitions curation clearly succeeds in drawing similarities between forms of control and authority in history and contemporary culture. This is apparent here in the way that watching strangers from the security of your living room could be likened to the overseeing tower of the Panopticon. Big Brother represents a pivotal (yet bizarre) moment in British culture when surveillance became entertainment. This is still the case in TV shows such as ‘Love Island’.

A later revamped design of the Panopticon added a skylight at its centre which allowed for a flooding of light that eliminated any shadows. In respect of this, we might discuss Rut Blees Luxemburg’s ‘Towering Inferno’ (1995) which was in the curation although I forgot to photograph it. The image has a surreal quality which explores artificial lighting. As I mention in the introduction, I do not think existing in a permanent state of availability is healthy, and neither do I think that artificial light is something ordinary. I am reminded of our Neanderthal ancestors whose days were largely structured by sunrise and sunset. Today, I have the option to work all night if I so desire, a treacherous possibility that begins to interrupt my sleep and consequently my health.

I see ideas of sleep explored in Catherine Richard’s interactive performance ‘Shroud / Chrysalis I’ (2000). I watch as someone from the crowd lays on a blanket. Two invigilators proceed to wrap this woman in the blanket like a butterfly in its pupa.

The statement on the wall informs me that the blanket is made from copper, implying that it can isolate this volunteer from electromagnetic signals, such as the ones found in mobile phones. The glass table upon which the blanket lays elevates the woman from the ground and the performance seemingly crosses over into a religious ceremony. What is apparent here is that the subject within the blanket is emancipated from the once-unescapable grasp of the mobile phone, reminding us of my aforementioned remark regarding anyone’s ability to contact me at any time. This is how sleep should be, secluded and sacred - the suspension of the conscious is an unparalleled experience that will surely never lose its novelty.

Adam Chodzko explores interrupted sleep in his series ‘Sleepers. Hole’ (2012) which is a compilation of people sleeping. The film these photographs have been shot on has been pierced by the artist with a small hole, creating a void, letting in light. They could be an interpretation of dreams, a visual representation of the subconscious as they float above the subject’s heads, however I prefer to see them as small singular irritants, evocative of the luminous phone screen that can flood a dark room with light. Chodzko’s series is an adequate summary of the selected works I have discussed at 24/7. The unremitting light is similar to that in the Panopticon concept or Luxemburg’s ‘Towering Inferno’. The idea of interrupted sleep is construed in a different stance by Catherine Richard, but the notion is the same – a contemporary contemplation on the current lack of solitude in sleep. Who can’t relate to being woken up by their phone numerous times? How unusually usual this has become.