Let’s Articulate #16: Are galleries and theatres being ruined by smartphones?

I recently visited the ‘Records and Rebels’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This fantastic exhibition demonstrated the era-defining importance of the late 1960s and its impact at the time. It included fashion, film, design and activism as well as some of the best music of the twentieth century. It was a great visit but there was one small thing that I couldn’t help but notice: the presence of smartphones.

Whilst I don’t have any aversion to smartphones, they did have a slightly negative effect on the people surrounding them. We didn’t come to an art exhibition to stare at the work through your phone’s camera. I admit that I was also tempted to take some photos so I could upload them onto social media but amongst the sea of smartphones, I questioned why I felt the need to join in and become part of the frenzy of outstretched arms (which I am sure would have only caused arm ache).

“There are, however, several cons to the constant action of using smartphones”

I understand that there are many positives to taking photographs in museums and galleries, such as the desire to retain the memory of the experience and showing them to friends and family. Capturing pictures and then uploading them to social media can also help boost the online presence of artists to help increase their following. There are, however, several cons to the constant action of using smartphones in museums and galleries.

“[It] takes your attention away from the physical art that the artist has spent so much time crafting”

Capturing the perfect photograph – and one that is ‘social media worthy’- requires a good amount of concentration, which takes your attention away from the physical art that the artist has spent so much time crafting. This results in you missing intimate details that are within your reach that can’t be seen through a phone screen. I’m not saying that no one should ever take their phone out at an exhibition, it just seems worth considering as you could be unintentionally wasting a brilliant experience behind your hand-held device.

“One of the installations was severely damaged”

An extreme report of smartphones ruining the gallery experience was at the Yayoi Kusama exhibition in the Victoria Miro gallery. It involved going into several small gallery spaces with around three people for less than a minute. Undoubtedly, this short amount of time meant people had their camera phones ready to capture everything before their time finished. However, it was at this particular exhibit that one of the installations was severely damaged!

“This resulted in a temporary closure of the installation”

In a mirrored room filled with glass pumpkins titled All of the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, a visitor who was taking a photograph took a step back and fell onto one of the pumpkins. This resulted in a temporary closure of the installation and a mass of disappointed people who had spent over an hour waiting who could no longer see the exhibition. Today there are many signs around that space telling people to be wary of their surroundings when using their camera phones. Personally, this seems to be something that should be, theoretically, unnecessary.

“There were an array of smartphones held up by audience members”

A similar sentiment can be seen in theatres, as I experienced when I went to see The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre (which I highly recommend if you haven’t already seen it), as there were an array of smartphones held up by audience members. After paying a lot of money for tickets I ended up behind a girl who spent most of her time Instagramming every photograph she took. Did she really spend £70 just to get a good Instagram feed?!

“Take a moment to ask yourself why you are doing it”

When you next take out your camera at a museum, an exhibition or even at the theatre, take a moment to ask yourself why you are doing it; are you preserving a memory, or do you want to upload photos to social media to increase the likes? Neither are necessarily wrong. It may, however, be quite nice to look at the world through your own eyes and not constantly snap aimlessly away, especially when it is something like the Kusama exhibition which is a once in a lifetime experience.

Shanai Momi

Image credit: Esther Vargas via Flickr.

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One Comment
  • Anna
    1 February 2017 at 15:04
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    Not convinced about The Lion King example? People aren’t allowed to take photos in theatres – they get immediately told to put them away by ushers…

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