Thank you for making it this far. Really. In order to get here, you’ve needed to turn a deaf ear to a whole clamour of competing demands for your attention, the notification chirrups of an entire petting zoo of apps hungry for your gaze. It can’t have been easy for you, and there’s still 500 words to go. Even better would be if you could see your way clear to ‘like’ my post, or validate it with retweets, maybe even post me to your Instagram story.
Sometimes it seems that we can only feel seen on the smallest of screens, seeking contentment through content and finding instead its restless antonym. Now, in fact, is the summer of our discontent, and Morys Davies‘ Screen Time, in which his debut collection (exhibited originally at Kerb) is given living room over three floors of Kelvin Street’s slender Saan1 galleries, takes a well-aimed swipe at its sources.
As serious as their subtext might be, the best of the pieces on show tend to marry a directness born of simplicity – Davies cites the minimalistic approach of Brian Eno as one of his inspirations – with a corresponding playfulness. A phone of the older school is encased in concrete, literalising its colloquial dismissal as a ‘brick’. Nor is this the only instance of Davies doubling down on definitions; even the exhibition’s title makes play with the screenprinting techniques he has used to produce many of the works.
A case in point is the triptych of iPhone cases, their carapaces overprinted with images of cockroaches, implying at one and the same time the kind of nuclear imperviousness that might in theory survive the species that manufactured them, as well as a transformation on a Kafkaesque scale, a reduction of homo sapiens to something less thinking and more insectile. By way of contrast, a human skeleton, laid out against a reflective surface, regards its own image with hypnotised complacency, mirrored in the screen of its handheld device. Naturally, it’s difficult to look at the piece without also seeing yourself.
Arguably the most fully-realised work, however, lies in wait on the top floor of the exhibition, like some dark flower in Manchester’s Saan1 attic. The most incisive of Davies‘ double-edged puns, Parent Of The Year suspends a mobile made from pastel-hued mobiles over the crib of an infant bearing more than a passing resemblance to Chucky, the possessed doll of the Child’s Play franchise. Wide awake, the child is incompletely pacified by the phone that has been pressed into its clutches like the 21st century equivalent of a dose of laudanum. The laughter it evokes is the humour of the gallows, one that sticks in the throat at the realisation that the hanging toy is not entirely unlike a noose.
It’s a jarring reminder of the metaphor of time being something to kill, and, by extension, of how a technology that promises symbiosis can suck away the waking hours like a leech. Insatiable, its hunger scrolls inexhaustibly on, wanting to see a reflection of some kind, because it has none of its own.
As a body of work, Screen Time feels like an act of resistance, an act of emancipation on behalf of all those who are slave to the algorithm.
Don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘follow’.
All images courtesy of Morys Davies