Crowd Control

Process

Crowd Control Residency

1-20 July 2017

In July 2017, a team of researchers and practitioners came together to embark upon a month-long situated research residency based at Arebyte Gallery in Hackney Wick, East London. Connecting visual, digital and performance art practices with contemporary scientific research, law and urban design, the project – Crowd Control – explored the mechanisms of collective behaviour through observation, simulation and experimentation.

The multi/inter-disciplinary approach combined digital technologies such as motion tracking, data visualisation and computational modelling with creative improvisation, self documentation and cognitive mapping. Intended to engage the local population and wider audiences through active participation, Hackney Wick became a laboratory and a playground for an interdisciplinary study into the collective interactions between individuals, groups and their environments. Situated in close proximity to London’s Olympic Park in Stratford, an area which has undergone dramatic environmental and economic change in recent years, Arebyte provided a publicly accessible base for a site-specific exploration.

Through studying group dynamics across differing scales and systems, Crowd Control aimed to observe and understand how groups move together, transfer information, make decisions, and respond to their environment. The question of ‘control’ was explored at three levels: within the body(the internal mechanisms that affect individual behaviour – such as stress response and personality); between bodies (the interactions between individuals – such as social cues, sensory communication, and unwritten patterns of behaviour); and beyond bodies (the external factors that set out to permit, persuade or prohibit behaviours – such as urban infrastructure, legal norms or technological interventions).

At the outset a collaborative framework was established, which set out some fundamental rules of engagement. It was important that the project was self-selecting and exploratory, that everyone involved should have something to bring to the collective enquiry and something they wished to gain, but with an open mind as to how ideas might evolve. Furthermore, the process of working itself should follow key principles of emergent behaviour, i.e. multiple interactions between agents (collaborators and participants), the creation of feedback loops (exchange and idea generation), with no overarching control mechanisms (self-organising around common interests), which, combined, should result in unpredictable and novel outcomes (the experiments, events and experiences to be co-created).

Each member of the collaborating team bought their own expertise and interests, with local information sourced through many helpful individuals and groups in the area, including local councillors, youth workers, resident associations, arts organisations and local authority advisory services. Through mind-mapping, play-testing, talking and exploring, ideas developed for participatory experiments and street games, designed to encourage playful thinking about how, from simple rules, complex behaviours can emerge.

The points of reference shifted across scale and between species: from the collective communication of single-celled organisms, to group dynamics of social animals, and to human demographics and changing populations. Nonhuman elements were also brought into play, through the material and symbolic structures that affect our behaviour, such as legal frameworks, cultural norms and social expectations. Connections were constantly made between contexts and systems, and between disciplinary modes of thinking and methods of inquiry. The aim of this approach was to investigate the underlying mechanisms of collective behaviour from multiple perspectives simultaneously, to engage in open-ended exploration of shared research questions, and to engage the public in the process of experimentation. The project was fully participatory, not only in terms of the varied composition of the creative team, but significantly in terms of the volunteers who signed up to test and play the games as they developed, and who essentially provided the ‘crowd’ that willingly offered itself to be ‘controlled’.

[This is an excerpt from a full article on the project in Interalia magazine, written by Heather Barnett, Laura Cappelatti, Julius Colwyn, Dimitra Georgopoulou, Josh Greenfield, Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Daniel Strömbom and Liu Yang (with Koen H. van Dam). Read the full article here]

Testing Station

Arebyte, Wallis Road, 21-23 July 2017

The events and experiments were complemented by a pop-up exhibition at Arebyte Gallery, displaying observations, simulations, visualisations and live experiments exploring the mechanics and aesthetics of collective motion. Some of the behaviours that were explored through the participatory experiments and games were also represented within the gallery installation through projections, screen based works, objects and interactive media. For example, works revealed the collective behaviour of ant colonies and slime moulds cells, the behavioural algorithms of self-propelled particle models, and agent based modelling of urban systems.

Crowd Control was commissioned by Arebyte as part of their 2017 Arts Council England funded programme on ‘systems of control’, inviting artist Heather Barnett to take a month long residency at the gallery. Extending the invitation, Heather was joined by Dr Andrew King, Dr Ines Fürtbauer, Dr Daniel Strömbom, Dimitra Georgopoulou, Laura Cappelatti and Amanda Fry (behavioural scientists at Swansea University with whom Heather is Leverhulme Artist in Residence) and by Professor Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (law, spatial justice); Liu Yang (urban design); Josh Greenfield (swarm systems); Jamie Harper (theatre, game design); Julius Colwyn (art, design), Annarita Papeschi & Vincent Nowak (urban design, crowdsourcing), Melanie Phillips (interactive theatre) and Kira Wainstein (project assistant).

Project website: crowdcontrol.london

Twitter | Instagram: @CrowdControlLDN #CrowdControlLDN

Facebook: www.facebook.com/CrowdControlLDN

Outcomes

Crowd Control Festival

21-23 July 2017

The research residency culminated in a weekend festival of public events taking place in the parks, streets, galleries and canal-ways of Hackney Wick, namely: Nesting Groups – a creative game of resource distribution; Escaping the Lawscape – a game of compliance, deviance and spatial justice; Migrations of Cool – a live action street game exploring the process of urban gentrification; and Animal Collectives – a series of games modelling nonhuman collective behaviour. The events were complemented by Testing Station, a pop-up exhibition at Arebyte Gallery (Wallis Road), 21-23 July 2017.

Animal Collectives: Inspired by the collective behaviour of nonhuman living systems, such as flocks of birds, herds of sheep and swarming slime mould cells, participants were invited to let go of their individual human ego for a few hours, in order to test how well they could coordinate and cooperate as part of a collective. The games (devised by Daniel Strömbom and Heather Barnett) were designed to test different coordination strategies, moving between familiar models of mammals and birds to more alien forms of single-celled organism.

Nesting groups was a game of two parts, one inspired by ecological systems (devised by Dimitra Georgopoulou, Laura Cappelatti, and Amanda Fry), the other exploring biomimetic design systems (devised by Josh Greenfield). Combined, the games invited participants to explore resource utilisation, decision-making and problem solving in groups through creative building activities.

Escaping the Lawscape was a collaborative experiment (devised by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Julius Colwyn and Liu Yang) taking place in the streets and canal-ways of Hackney Wick. The experiment invited participants to reconsider the intangible network of consensus and expectation that operates, within and upon us, as we move through shared social spaces.

Inspired by the social composition of Hackney Wick and informed by reports on the built environment, Jamie Harper devised Migrations of Cool; a live action street game, which mapped the local area as an emergent social and economic system, inviting participants to play the system and consider how its future could (or should) be shaped.