Corin Sworn: Habits of Assembly @ Edinburgh Art Festival 2019

★★★★★

Thoughtful multi-media installation that explores the blurring distinctions between technology and the body.

After a prolonged hiatus it’s nice to see Edinburgh College of Art’s historic Sculpture Court back in action after extensive refurbishment. It’s even better to see it hosting an ambitious and thought-provoking new commission by Glasgow-based artist Corin Sworn.

Habits of Assembly is part of Edinburgh Art Festival’s 2019 commission programme ‘Stories for an Uncertain World’, which brings together the work of five artists whose practice explores the ‘uncertain times’ we live in. As you walk through this sparse installation the dissolving barrier between technology and the everyday is immediately apparent. Weaving between the vertical steel beams you are suddenly assaulted by assertive dialogue. Above you a shower-head contraption mysteriously transmits fraught FitBit thoughts into the brain.

Feed the newspaper. Read your breakfast.

Siri is unwell. Alexa is out of office. These surreal mandates question our growing dependence on wearable technology and smartphone helpers. As we integrate our lives further with the digital what happens when the machine malfunctions? What will the world be like when we stop questioning our motives and blindly accept instructions from artificial intelligence?

Astute audio trickery continues throughout as the cage-like structure directs the body into adjoining cells. Standing equidistant between two speakers you become transfixed by a billboard-sized screen. Two dancers move; their graceful movements softening choreography that seems inspired by the repetitive automaton. Your ears are filled with the ominous rattle of a geiger-counter, while the thumps of feet landing on hard-wood sound as if you created the noise yourself. It is an impressively subtle assault on the senses. Where do our perceptive faculties end? How deep are our bodies permeated by the technological environment that surrounds us?

The further you infiltrate this interactive installation the more you realise that the art is correspondingly impinging upon your bodily boundaries. Dissolving barriers you thought were made of granite rather than sand.

Corin Sworn. Habits of Assembly. Edinburgh College of Art Sculpture Court. Image: Sally Jubb

Corin Sworn, Habits of Assembly. New commission from Edinburgh Art Festival. Exhibiting at Edinburgh College of Art Sculpture Court until 25 August. Free entry.

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