From gaming to gambling

Hooked: When Want Becomes Need (Science Gallery, London), reviewed by Sonali Dave and Vasileia Kotoula, Researchers at King’s College London.

This thought-provoking show is spread over two floors of a newly renovated space at King’s College London’s Guy’s Campus, exploring addiction through science and art.

The journey through the gallery begins with ‘Natural Born Thrillers’ and invites visitors to test the boundaries between pleasure and an all-consuming desire that could eventually lead to self-harm. Focusing on consumer culture, art installations, including a sugar table that collapses under its own weight (Sugar Rush, Atelier 010), the uncomfortably ‘sweet’ marshmallow pants (Another Day on Earth, Olivia Locher) and the excitement that comes when coins finally come out of the slot machine in No Change by Kypros Kyrpianou, remind us how easy it is to sometimes lose control. We’re left with the question: What else could we be addicted to?

The answer, perhaps for some of us, is hidden somewhere in the second part of the exhibition ‘Speed of Light’. Screens with images of batteries that incessantly charge and discharge create a feeling of security and unease respectively (Sisyphus, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos). A movie telling the story of the love affair between a girl and her phone (Me. You. Limbo., Yole Quintero) invites us to question our own technology use or misuse.

In contrast to the more ‘intimate’ nature of the first two parts of the exhibition, which encourage the visitor to mostly self-reflect, the last two parts, ‘Free Will’ and ‘Safe from Harm’, deal with the impact of addiction on the individual as well as society. The Curtain of Broken Dreams, by Natasha Caruana, provides a powerful visual expression of how the strongest of relationships can be broken by addiction. The curtain was created using pawned gold wedding rings, and their number represents 1 per cent of divorces in the UK over a typical 12-month period. The impactful visual and tactile experience that this artwork offers is further enhanced by the dance film playing in the background, where the choreographed gestures represent unhelpful pressures on a relationship.

Throughout the exhibition the presence of science is constant but subtle. An eye-tracking device showing where our gaze focuses when matching motifs in a slot machine (Entering the Machine Zone II, Katriona Beales), along with the explanation of which parts of our brains are more susceptible to addictive cues offered by a recovering alcoholic (Twelve, Melanie Manchot), are perhaps among the most explicitly scientific moments of the show. On the ground floor of the gallery however, a real scientific experiment, in which anyone interested can take part, has been set up by Professor Mitul Mehta and the neuropharmacology lab from the Department of Neuroimaging, King’s College London. In order to understand whether expectation of the effects of a substance could positively influence our mood and performance, the Science Gallery offers visitors a voucher for free coffee, but there is a catch… it may not be caffeinated, and on the back of the voucher is printed the probability of your drink being caffeinated or not. Participants then answer some lifestyle questionnaires and perform tasks of attention and social cognition on a tablet. The results of this experiment will be shared with the public in 2019.

From gaming and sugar to gambling and alcohol, ‘Hooked’ explores the many forms that addiction could take. The show encompasses the idea that harmful substances such as alcohol and drugs can be addictive but also highlights how things that we use daily but wouldn’t necessarily call harmful can begin with pleasure but can eventually become detrimental. This exhibition offers a non- judgemental environment where visitors have the opportunity to self-reflect on their own habits, better understand addiction and take part in research!

- The free exhibition runs until 6 January. Find out more.

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