People who like to emphasize their independence often discredit the flock behaviour of their fellow men. They loathe the crowd’s compliance, its thoughtlessness and lack of initiative. But is their dislike justified? During Dutch Design Week 2015, Studio KNOL put it to the test with an elaborate spatial study at MU Art Space.
Unsuspecting visitors are led through a landscape designed to confront them with their own herd mentality. Inevitably they find themselves in situations where they face the choice between conforming to the (assumed) rules and authorities, or simply ignore them and do whatever seems most logical. Meanwhile, their movements and reactions are being secretlyregistered by webcams and observers in order to capture the true, ungoverned behavior of the herd.
The experiment starts right at the entrance: there are three passages, marked with the names of fictitious designers. How will people choose if they can’ t possibly know what theyare in for? Will they follow each other like a swarm of bees follows an anonymous leader? “I’ve already seen the Japanese guy in Paris,” a woman tells her husband; “we’ll take one of the others.”
Passing through the curtains at the entrance, people enter a maze of stanchion poles like the ones we know from the airport. Some of the demarcated paths lead someplace, others don’t. Visitors who get stuck look inquisitively at one of the observers, children easily dodge the lines and walk straight through. “No Thomas, you can’ t do that!” Confusion all around. One of the places the maze might lead to is a room where digital locusts are being projected on the walls; the more people enter the room, the bigger the swarm of locusts – until the crowd reaches a certain critical mass and are told to evacuate the room. “What would happen next?” says one person to another while the alarm goes off – and they just staywhere they are...
A clearly delineated path of white chalkstones is leading through another room, where acomputer simulation on the wall shows how ants forage for food around their nest. To start the simulation, visitors have to walk on a freshly mopped black floor. Many people hesitatebut there is always someone who steps on it anyway. Someone else carefully follows in herwhite footprints and before long there is a distinct desire path that ignores the ‘ official’ route.
In the evenings, during the daily design talk show in MU, the visitors are part of one moreexperiment. The seats in the room are arranged in such a way that the people in front have the highest seats and those in the back have the lowest. Hardly anyone can see thespeakers. One person in the audience looks around, nudges his neighbour. “What if wemoved the seats?” On some evenings, nothing happens. But when it does happen, the efficient self-organization of the crowd is a sight to behold.
This is one of the most interesting outcomes of the experiment: indeed, people are easilyguided by rules, direction signs and authorities. If the rules of the game are not entirely clear to them, they will look at each other first. However, there is nearly always some person who decides to go her or his own way. And with some luck their actions spontaneously lead to a new order, a game with unwritten rules.
At the exit, visitors are briefed about the true nature of the exhibition, namely an experiment. They continue their way with a changed perspective on the DDW, perhaps a little less part ofthe crowd – or even more so?
PROJECT BY | STUDIO KNOL - COMMISSIONED BY | MU ARTSPACE - PHOTOGRAPHY | CORNEEL DE WILDE - INTERACTIVE PROJECTIONS | TIM HUIBERTS - SOUND DESIGN | JEROEN LOOHUIJS - REALTIME OBSERVATION SOFTWARE | LUCIANO PINNA