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Where have all the young ones gone? A powerful street art exhibition gives us the answer

24th November 2017

Regular visitors to hi-fi shows around the country are in no doubt that they are a minority. Not only are they predominantly male, but they are getting on in years. Apart from those seeking out the headphone manufacturers and retailers, most audio enthusiasts these days are not young.

Norwegian artist, Martin Whatson's The Connection

Reasons? Well, income and lack of living space are said to discourage youngsters buying hi-fi, with music for many being a low-cost entertainment which requires no physical assets apart from a few branded gadgets.

But there are other issues at play. And lack of exposure to the rather more interesting sounds that high-end audio—rather than earphones and ear buds—can bring to the listener is a major one. For that experience one must seek out an audio retailer or a show, but far fewer retailers exist these days and many are sadly lacking in any enthusiasm for their own products, let alone music appreciation in a wider context.

Canadian artist iHeart depicts the anguish in No One Likes Me.

A great exhibition on this weekend at the Stolen Space Gallery, 17 Osborne Street, London, E1 6TD, has much to say on technology’s part in people’s increasing isolation from the social influences that have kept them together in the past. Enjoying music together is one of them.

The curators say technology has added many benefits to society, from giving us greater choice and information, to allowing us to connect with many people from all around the world. However, its downside has become all too apparent. While people are virtually connected, there is an obvious separation between people in the real world. The technology meant to bring us closer to the people furthest away is taking us further away from the people closest to us.

Those people may be music lovers who wish to share their listening experience but find technology prevents it. The images in this exhibition highlight the isolation of the individual. Artist Martin Whatson shows a monotonal hooded figure, face hidden, head bent towards a hand-held device from which emanates a cascade of coloured images. There is a stark boundary between the individual and the virtual world, where everything appears to come alive.

If this is the future audiophile, we have a problem. Technology doesn’t just bind an individual to a device; it shuts out the real world. Listening at home alone to music in front of a large pair of speakers may not sound much different, but an audio system allows others into the room, to share the experience without ceaseless calls from texts and apps.

Modern Love (Sunset) by American artist Joe Lurato says it all.

More importantly, it will probably have been bought bit by bit over many years as a result of countless discussions and auditions with other people who enjoy music. The system as a whole eventually becomes the product of an individual’s choice, not the imposition of a brand’s decision-making.

The social act of listening in public at shows and in audio shops is a fundamentally different human activity from the isolated technological approach delivered by smart devices. As one pundit recently remarked, it is not a smartphone but a behavioural modification device. It is making you do things; the choices are not yours. If hi-fi is to assert itself, it may just have to change the habit of a generation.

DJ Marcelina Jaworska  provided a techno vibe at the Private View.

#SocialParadox runs until November 26th at Stolen Space Gallery, 17 Osborne Street, London, E1 6TD (at the south end of Brick Lane), featuring works from 10 major street artists from around the world. Each portrays, in their own style, our over-reliance on social media and technology, and the impact it has on our mental health.

Artists involved in the event include: iHeart, Joe Iurato, London Police, Mad Steez, Martin Whatson, Mau Mau, Millo, Myneandyours, Nafir, and Word To Mother. The full exhibition, hosted by Calio who have produced an app to make it easier to meet IRL, has been curated by Rom Levy, an urban art curator, writer, and dealer.

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