A dark room, a single chair, three large screens projecting a rotating view of the solar system overlaid by a monologue recalling excerpts from multiple worlds experiencing an end – David Blandy’s installation, The End of the World (2017). The installation was the title piece and first work that greeted viewers as they entered David Blandy’s recent exhibition at Seventeen Gallery, Haggerston, London from 3 November 2017 to 27 January 2018. The installation formed part of a larger collection of Blandy’s work that acknowledges the human condition in the natural world and all that it accumulates: fear, environmental waste, awe, technology developments, and ultimately, loss. The overall themes of this exhibition are not entirely uplifting but not entirely depressing either. Blandy successfully applauds the role of technology in our lives and communities whilst presenting a quiet and unsettling fear around the speed at which it is moving and where exactly this fast-paced technology highway is taking us.
Blandy’s The End of the World installation is the peak embodiment of such themes in the exhibition. The viewers chair is positioned so that the solar system is rotating around them; they are the centre. Planets and stars circle around the viewer and the effect is almost dizzying. All the while a narrator calmly tells stories of the ‘end’ in a dry tone that reduces the drama of each narrative and illustrates each ‘ending’ as if it is a mere concept. The range of topics covered in his monologue are taken from different cultural forms: broken relationships, personal grief, environmental destruction, and genocide. The monologue also includes excerpts from a digital landscape by using chat-room comments from distressed Asheron’s Call users after it was announced that the multi-player online game would close after 17 years of communal gaming.
The combined effect of watching planets spin amongst stars whilst absorbing the audio monologue is at once quietly distressing. To be immersed in the projection and watch Earth circle around leads the viewer to feel a certain amount of awe, and it is impossible to watch this without thinking about all the stories taking place beneath the clouds: their beginning, middle, and end. However, after this immediate thought, it then leads the viewer to question what the artist seems to be questioning too: where is all of this going? Blandy’s use of audio and visual material in this world brings to the surface what all great art should, a big question mark in the middle of the room that imprints itself onto the viewer and stays with them long after they have left the room.
In the neighbouring exhibition room, viewers travel gently back to earth. Blandy’s second installation, HD Lifestyle (2017) is a recreated phone shop complete with a flashing neon sign and cases filled with mobile phones, laptops, and devices, dating from the 1990s to present day. After the quiet chaos of plunging into The End of the World, one cannot help but take note of the obvious message Blandy seeks to portray, that being, the death of the device and the impact quick, excessive consumption has on the environment. A video plays across multiple screens as a way of representing materialistic desires. The video acts to pull viewers into the installation, reminding them of their desire to be closer to the content, the game, the information that can be accessed only through the portal of a device. In this way HD Lifestyle is as immersive and all-consuming as The End of the World; you cannot simply look, you must experience it in order to full understand the concept Blandy presents. Unlike The End of the World, digital technology is not ephemeral, in HD Lifestyle Blandy tackles the physicality of online life and its impact on our environmental world.
The final exhibition space showcases Blandy’s newest photographic works. From afar the works appear to be expressive paintings; splashes of colour thrown against a star-shaped canvas. Their unique shape is energetic and diverse. On closer inspection one can see that in fact they are a collage of digital images, woven together to create forms, shadows, shapes. In this way the photographic pieces are a culmination of both installations. The collages weave close-up shots of rock formations, micro-chips, and crystals that demonstrates Blandy’s continual interest in depicting the world and its many organic and man-made fabrics. These pieces conclude Blandy’s ability to pull viewers into his work as a way of communicating the message beneath them. In the same way that The End of the World presented a quiet, underlying sense of fear, Blandy’s photographic works contribute the same overarching narrative. The dichotomy of natural resources such as rock formations and crystals against non-biodegradable products like micro-chips evokes the same unsettling response as previous works in the exhibition. Namely, where is all of this technology taking us? Concluding on these works allows Blandy to throw these issues up in the air a final time and to see where they land in the hearts and minds of the viewers.