This is a fascinating exhibition I went to recently, recommended by a friend. It explores through images and interactions how our being a non-stop society affects us all in areas such as sleep, work and relationships.
It starts with sleep, and how this segment of our lives defies commercialisation, and yet pressures come to reduce its ‘time-slot’, illustrated in a video of all the times Mark Zuckerberg has used words like ‘more’, ‘greater’, ‘increase’ in the past 4 years. Clocks seem to let us control time, seen in a video of someone pushing along the minute hand of a clock, but do clocks instead control us? One exhibit asks why watches work in a 24 hour circle moving forward. It shows other types of watches possible, such as moving backwards or moving towards and away from a certain point: how would this change how we think about time?
Time also governs the way we work, seen in artefacts such as a factory time-stamp machine and in a sci-fi enactment imagining what would happen if some people could sleep on behalf of others who want to work longer. Pressures on leisure is seen in machines that fool Fitbit devices to make it seem that people are exercising, done to obtain insurance discounts! The internet too is pervasive on our time, portrayed in a display of texting hands, on how this activity can permeate our lives.
There is much else that is thought provoking in it and it made me reflect too from a Christian perspective:
- I’m glad for the Christian practices of sabbath, sabbatical, and for some of us, Lent. It is countercultural to 24 / 7 and yet pressures apply (certainly for me) not to keep them. This exhibition reminded me to be thankful for them.
- The pressures of ‘moreness’ in our society are a challenge to these practices. On one hand, the apostle Paul’s example to the Philippians of being “content with whatever I have” (4 v11) challenges me to counteract this but on the other hand, he writes of him being like an athlete “pressing on towards the prize” (3 v14). So the 24 / 7 questions raised in the exhibition also exist in Christian life; burnout happens there too.
I like to think of this ‘contentment vs pressing on’ as a spectrum rather than either / or: those more inclined to ‘pressing on’ can be more conscious to be ‘content’, and those inclined to be ‘content’ can think more about how they can further ‘press on’. Maybe then we can all meet in the middle.
It’s on at Somerset House in London until 23rd February 2020.