Anna Ådahl



Inside the New Mass Ornament (PhD)
Everyday billions of people circulate in and around urban and digitally supervised infrastructures, acting together in a coordinated manner. These synchronised, system-operated crowds first emerged with the onset of industrialism, that is, with the development of machines and technologies  that have accelerated our modes of production and have systematised many facets of our everyday existence. Today crowds are tracked and represented through new technologies that simulate our own collective behaviours.

The purpose of this practice-based research is to investigate the aesthetics and politics of virtual crowds that are  generated by new computational softwares and algorithms. The proposed study will be guided by the following questions:

·       How can new technologies and artistic processes provide new modes of visualisation and critical reflection on the aesthetics and politics of today’s digitized crowds?

·       How do we understand our  embodied selves through these algoritmically programmed crowd simulations?

·       How can computer generated simulated crowds model our collective behaviour and gestural patterns? My research addresses these timely and urgent questions in the context of crowd simulations as a rapidly growing collective phenomenon.

Through case studies and practice-based works, such as essay films, interactive VR installations, performance, collages and installations, I seek to describe and analyse the aesthetics and politics of the virtual crowds through their various representations, gestures and technologies. Furthermore, I explore the ways in which the pre-programmed default settings in the crowd simulation software impact upon the aesthetics and politics of modelling crowd behaviours.

Drawing upon Benjamin´s perception of the crowd as an assembly of singularities, my analysis of crowd simulations aims to situate itself from within these crowds, that is, from the virtual agent/crowd subject´s perspective. From this immanent standpoint, I intend to critically analyse the prevailing aesthetic representation of crowd simulation as swarms or as a homogenous mass. A perception linked to the notion—proposed by Le Bon and Freud—of the crowd as a mob. In contradistinction, this study challenges the traditional depiction of the crowds we can identify in the social sciences as well as in the arts, according to which the crowd is received as one unified entity—a representation of the crowd that is drawn from afar, and thus distances the disinterested spectator from those who are part of a crowd.

My research is funded by TECHNE/AHRC (Art and Humanities Research Council, UK)