The discovery of United Visual Artists (UVA) has been transformative. I have developed a new perspective of space, light, sound, and the power they hold together. I visited this exhibition with no more insight than an online teaser trailer which inspired me to attend, and a blurb written alongside the ticket portal. A maze of eight rooms in a concrete basement led me on a journey of disbelief.
As described on their website: ‘Rather than material objects, UVA’s works are better understood as events in time’. The heart of UVA beats in London. Founded in 2003, UVA is a collective pulse—a convergence of artists, designers, engineers, and thinkers. In the digital corridors of their website, I found many more intimate gallery experiences along with major collaborations of fashion and musical performance. It appears that I have unknowingly met UVA before in many of my much-loved experiences, each project a seamless fusion of art, design, and technology.
Image credit: Jack Hems – Courtesy of the UVA: Synchronicity exhibition
Room 1 – Present Shock II
Present Shock II emerges as a confrontation with the relentless pulse of the contemporary world. As I stepped into this space, a symphony of statistical clocks greeted me, each displaying algorithmically generated news headlines drawn from the currents of our present reality. The convergence of life-altering global events with the mundane minutiae of daily life was a manifestation of what UVA aptly terms the “context collapse.” It’s a moment characterized by a relentless barrage of information, both profound and trivial.
The dynamic soundscape, an orchestrated creation by Robert Del Naja (known for his work with Massive Attack) in collaboration with the adaptive producer Robert Thomas, complements the visual chaos. The LED displays flicker with a mesmerizing dance. Each algorithmically generated headline contributing to the constantly changing tapestry of information. It’s a space where time seems to lose its conventional rhythm. The comforting ticking, akin to the rhythmic pulse of a clock, guides the viewer through this whirlwind of information – a thread of coherence amidst the fragmented narrative. Embedded within the sea of data are moments of levity—a comedian’s quip here, a profound statement there. The room is not just an assault on the senses; it’s an invitation to engage with the full spectrum of human experience.
As I stood within Present Shock II, I found myself captivated. It becomes an arena where all topics converge, where the trivial and the profound coexist, and where time becomes a malleable entity —a captivating initiation into the immersive world of UVA’s visionary practice.
Room 2 – Our Time
In the transition from the pulsating chaos of Present Shock II, I found myself stepping into the enigmatic embrace of Room 2—Our Time. It beckoned me to consider the profound question: How long is a moment? Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli’s words lingered in the air, “We inhabit time as fish live in water. Our being is being in time.” A large-scale ‘spatial instrument,’ as described by UVA, becomes a testament to the collaborative genius of movement, light, and a custom score by the late electronic musician Mira Calix. The drone sound, ethereal and haunting, resonated through the room. The flickering light and the smoky ambiance heightened the disorientating effect, inducing a subtle sense of motion sickness, renewing the space into a dreamscape.
The room enveloped me in a multi-sensory environment, a manifestation of the relativity of time—a phenomenon that can seemingly speed up, slow down, or come to a standstill. Pendulums, each adhering to its unique rhythm, swing gracefully. They are unhindered by the laws of gravity. ‘Our Time’, in essence, became both a metronome—a keeper of time—and a musical instrument. Light traced the path of movement, and sound echoed in response. The speakers, embedded in the pendulums, lent a dimensional quality to the auditory tapestry. The Doppler effect played its part in this temporal ballet, a subtle reminder of the ever-shifting nature of time. Pendulums moved together, a synchronized harmony, only to drift apart. The sloped room, initially resembling a plain warehouse, added to the overall disorientation.
Stepping out of ‘Our Time’ left me with a lingering sense of disorientation. UVA’s work is not merely about the physical spaces they create but the intentional crafting of sensorial encounters.
Room 3 – Polyphony
In a quiet transition, the room, a circular array of sensory delights, unfolded as a tribute to the rich symphony that has surrounded humans for millennia—the bio-phony of our environment. Field recordings captured in the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic were woven together to create a natural soundscape. This sound is a collaboration between bio-acoustician Bernie Krause and ethnomusicologist Louis Sarno. I was transported to a habitat alive with the chorusing of frogs, the hum of insects, and the melodic calls of diverse bird species. The sounds invited an exploration into the cultural echoes of the local Baka pygmy tribe. It was a delicate dance—a call and response between the natural and the cultural, illustrating the entangled relationship between humans and the animals that share our environment. A 360-degree panorama, sticks of light, elegantly arranged, traced the contours of an ethereal environment. The subtle crunch of gravel beneath my feet added a tactile layer, grounding me in the immersive experience.
The soundscape built to a climax, challenging the capacities of my mind, sight, and auditory senses. It was a dizzying whirlwind, a deliberate onslaught of stimuli. The room swallowed me whole. I stood at the crossroads of panic and relaxation, a dichotomy that underscored the fragility of our environment. Echoing the themes of extinction and human-induced change—anthropogenic forces that reverberated through the experience.
In the end, Polyphony served not just as an installation but as a poignant narrative—a testament to the delicate dance between humanity and the natural world.
As I continued to navigate the exhibition, I found myself in genuine disbelief at the extraordinary power and effect of their work. The hypnotic allure of each room left me in awe. There’s a moment of settling, a brief respite where one begins to grasp the intricacies of the installation and relax in the hypnosis, only to have it deftly switched.
UVA, with a relatively small team, has crafted a display that builds unbelievable audio and spatial depth, redefining the meaning of immersive art. They allow access to all depths of contemplation. It doesn’t demand deep intellectual scrutiny, nor does it require the visitor to search for hidden meanings. It is, quite simply, a transformative experience—a journey where meaning is not imposed but discovered. UVA caters to all depths, providing something for everyone and allowing each visitor to take the experience as deep as they desire. The revelation of what can be achieved with purely light, movement and sound is an incredible testament to the boundless possibilities within these seemingly simple elements; it’s a testament to the power of human creativity and the ability to reshape reality through the manipulation of such things. I find myself grappling with the inadequacy of words to capture the full essence of the experience. It’s a journey that leaves me in awe, with a newfound appreciation for the potential of art in its most enchanting and revolutionary form. Exiting one room doesn’t mark the end; it is instead continuous. There’s no definite conclusion to the exhibition, and the displays seamlessly flow into one another through a gentle haze, creating a loop. It’s an utterly beautiful odyssey that will leave an indelible mark.
The UVA: Synchronicity exhibition has been extended until the 30th December – you can get your ticket here