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]