I Heard There Was a Secret Chord
There is a room at Somerset House’s new exhibition, 24/7, which makes you feel as though you’re walking into a really zen yoga studio before everyone else has arrived. It’s concealed behind a curtain, only noticeable by the muffled humming that emanates from the room as you walk towards it. The tune, you realise as you lift the curtain, is that of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. It’s being hummed by different voices all in unison, from speakers set at eight points around the room. At the centre of the circular space sits an octagonal bench, lit from beneath with white lights. Microphones hang from the ceiling and a small screen with a fluctuating number is displayed on the wall.
Curator Sarah Cook’s inspiration for the exhibition was Jonathan Crary’s 2013 book, 24/7, which focuses on our incompatibility with the “systemic imperatives of 21st-century capitalism”. And, while the show gives us a lot to face up to – our hyperactivity and imprisonment by tech and social – there’s also a lot of positivity to be taken from it.
As you sit together on the bench and hum into the microphones hanging around you, the bench beneath you vibrates. The more of you singing, the more powerful the vibration. The number on the screen continues to fluctuate, counting the number of people around the world streaming the song on Spotify. After a show that highlights the ways that we’re using technology to consume more, speed up and disconnect from our surroundings, this room feels like a sort of sanctuary. It makes us feel (literally feel, in the vibration of our bums) how tech can connect us, especially when we use it to create something that only works when it’s being shared.
The show doesn’t feel as though it’s designed to make you throw away your phone to live in the wilderness, or, as one of the artists did, send all your correspondence via pen and paper for six months. It feels instead as though it’s asking us to examine the different ways that we feel connected despite the unrelenting pressure of being always in demand. It asks us to question how we share space and time with those around us in new and innovative ways, and how those ways might change as technology develops.
As a creative agency, we’re not really looking to slow down. We stay late into the night to win a pitch, turn around work as fast as we can for our clients, and type out our ideas as quickly as our fingers will allow, at all hours of the day and night. We’re on our phones constantly. We work in an industry that is inherently always on – and of course, we’re not alone. Modern capitalism rewards speed and efficiency, and that’s not changing any time soon. What we can change, though, is how we think about the connections we make, and how technology can help us strengthen them.
BMB’s central ethos is all about understanding humans, and I’d wager that the most human thing about humans is our desire to connect to one another. Not necessarily through vibrating light-up benches, but through ideas that create shared experiences, highlighting the things about us that are the same, rather than the things that keep us apart.
This piece is by Daily Tous Les Jours, titled I Heard There Was a Secret Chord. 24/7 is showing at Somerset House until Feb 23rd.