Libby Heaney

October 2015: . Building on Heather Barnett’s slime mould workshop, students were asked challenged to explore how instructions can generate emergent behaviour in people.  For this brief, they were asked to experiment with rule-based activities and experiences that lead to collective behaviour between people (strangers!) in the public areas of the Battersea Arts Centre. The students were to iterate these rules over multiple nights.  Each group interpreted the brief differently and their experiments lead to some interesting results.


One group assigned members of the public to teams that were randomly awarded points and spread a rumour that Bohemian Rhapsody would play in the bar later that evening and there would be a flash-mob type sing-along.  Maria Euler wrote of her group’s experiments:

It worked out surprisingly well: People were curious about the teams, tried to figure something out, two slightly drunken woman performed Bohemian Rhapsody superbly, later in the evening people even played with the cocottes a little bit and thanked us for what we did to their evening. It was an experience for us with beginning, climax (the song) and end.

Small changes, shapes and color changed the overall atmosphere. In hindsight, the first evening setting worked the best: The small round dots of the first evening created the most curiosity. They were small and nice, you could put the on different places of your body, the face, touch people that way. They were mysterious and funny. Also I changed between assigning and letting people choose that evening. Choosing your own group of course raised your identification with it, but then for example “dividing” one person from their friends by assigning them to a different group created tension and curiosity. Often those people would be the most intrigued about the whole thing.

Maria’s group discovered that ambiguous information may lead to intrigue, tensions and curiosity.  Something we often feel or hear in the world at large.


Another group spent the evenings observing people in the female toilet, probing the internal rules and systems people have set up for themselves in relation to private intimate spaces.

Overall, the experiments demonstrated that people must first contend with their own internal systems of rules and social rules before responding to and collectively interacting via the students rules (although it seemed alcohol did help).