February 18, 2016

How to Know Things in Distributed Crowds


León Ferrari, Planta, from Heliografias, 1980, On view currently at the new Berkeley Art Museum’s inaugural exhibition Architecture of Life.

You are some sort of social engineer, or behavioral economist, or managerial scientist, or institutional ethnographer, or workflow dynamics consultant, or organizational development specialist, or high-concept interior designer or living systems analyst.

You’ve been given the task or have given yourself the task or have stumbled upon the task of plotting, exhaustively, all the ways people aggregate in spaces between the limits of certain dimensions.

Let’s say between 6’ x 9’, at the lesser limit, and 40’ x 40’ at the greater one.

At the lesser limit: something like a solitary confinement cell.


Jackie Sumell, Herman’s Cell, photo by Mizue Aizeki.

Jackie Sumell, Herman’s Cell, photo by Mizue Aizeki.

At the greater limit something like a smallish assembly hall.


All the spaces that fall between are fair game: boardrooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, hallways, foyers, waiting rooms, offices, classrooms, anterooms, common rooms, show rooms, staff rooms, guest rooms, green rooms, emergency rooms, men’s rooms, women’s rooms, unisex rooms, lounges, chambers, vestibules and dungeons.

All such spaces in a certain high-risk or low-risk sector of a city, or exurb, or township, contracted to a single thickly rhetorical plat, as is our custom.


VAMPIRE: Vulnerability assessment for mortgage, petroleum and inflation risk expenditure.

VAMPIRE: Vulnerability assessment for mortgage, petroleum and inflation risk expenditure.

You have now spent years cataloguing the distributions of people in every known space between these limits.

And you discover that there are innumerable such spaces. Too many, perhaps, to form a meaningful data set, or workable plan.

Your grant money, or R & D advance, or bequest, or out-of-pocket has limits, too. You have working for you a small team of participant observers and one research assistant (and he’s not very organized.) Their stipends do add up.

You soldier on, though.

The team’s observations continue to flood in.

Sometimes you suspect they might be making them up, or fabricating results with a situation generator while they work their other multiple research gigs. But you’re not sure. They’re so earnest. Everybody is.

Their field-notations are converted to anonymous icons — walkers, standers, sitters and layers — and this somehow increases the human units’ situated specificities. Through redundancy rather than detail.

Not all systems process complexity and self-reference in the form of meaning: but for those that do, it is the only possibility.

Your ex once warned you. You never listened. No escape from the doggerel of mood. Alienated from form even, it persists. Course that’s not the way your ex phrased it. Said instead with an irritated look in the morning.

In many mornings.

Attitude in a room times too many is world.

But, and this is more crucial, you also catch on that the human aggregations occurring in such spaces are shifting things. Uh: Duh.

Did you honestly not realize, when you established the parameters of this study that people move? That the time-axis is, like, a thing. That bodies are radically stochastic?


León Ferrari, Espectadores 1981, from Heliografias.

They sometimes crystallize into recognizable formations – meals, spectacles, meetings, the sacred – which either adhere to or oppose themselves clearly to the architectural contours that hold them, the mostly perpendicular and parallel planes of the built world. But not often.

Mehtab Tazim, from Hajj Stories, 2012, British Museum.

Mehtab Tazim, from Hajj Stories, 2012, British Museum.

In the majority interstitial times — the putterings, playings, waitings, relaxings and transits — people pinball and float in the prefab confab.

If there were no doors in the world, if all was an open-floorplan live/work space we might be mortified (or jubilant) to see how much loitering, frittering and stimming takes place. Is place — despite all the well-intentioned discourse that posits placemaking as the product of perspectival masterminding. Architecture in its totality is a global monument to how much we do not want to know of the human nervous system.

People-stirring, yes, is some as-of-yet unrepresented combination of Brownian motion and starling murmuration. It’s the image-ideal of the market in the sense that the Euro-titans of 20th century economics were cheering seriously for: the man-on-the-spot’s ungeneralizable little innovations.

Hayek Quote 1

Hayek Quote 2

Friedrich Von Hayek “The Use of Knowledge in Society” The American Economic Review 1945.

Limbed scamps with fast axes of rotation scrambling over the topos. Species as fleshly search-function zipping the code-chains of sensation. Only abstractions of these can get shit done, knowledge-wise.

Brownian motion: 5 particles. Authors of computer model Francisco Esquembre, Fu-Kwun and Lookang (this remix version).

Brownian motion: 5 particles. Authors of computer model: Francisco Esquembre, Fu-Kwun and Lookang (this remix version).

It takes either technocratic force (conjured momentarily, with opportunity costs) or charisma so potent it converts to politics, to nudge the parties of us into readable structure.

Yes, you know this — but perhaps in retrospect you didn’t care. You’ve had some intuitive aversion to things like MotionFlow© human tracking, template matching applications and Condensation algorithms.

You are old-school, and you’re proud of it. Time-capture requires too much equipment fetish. There’s still a lot you can do with hand-eye choreographics.

And to really understand time, you say to yourself, you’re better off leaving it out.

Time can take care of itself. It’s sick of our vigilance. Let it go with love.

Useable knowledge has mostly been squeezed from functional reductions of the world — a few salt crystals from the swamp and swelter of motivations. The point, at the end of the day, is to deliver a good parable, a laundered composition.

And yes, you must confess, you were maybe also too focused on navigating the bureaucracy of securing your institutional review board human subjects approval to formulate a hypothesis that was anything more than an obscure accumulation of self-legitimating verbiage and citation.

Now, you are going to have to limit your sample. Make some hard decisions.

You want, however, to avoid delineating your data according to artificial categories.

Public and private, for example. Didn’t that binary hold sway for too long? Nobody ever learned much from it.

The dream of divisions between sleep and labor, between sex and civics, between soul and socius — c’mon. It might be convincing from the inside (from an idea of the inside) but from the outside, from above, it doesn’t hold shape.


León Ferrari, Camas, 1982, Heliograph.

And what you love are shapes. Shapes rule. A.K.A. inviolable quantitative relations codified in space.

Which is why time, motion, flow, the rage for dynamic continuity, must yield to the living ice of eternity-now. Sooner or later you have to freeze to manipulate. And you have to manipulate to survive.


Comments (1)

  • Wow, I’m hypnotized by the choose-your-own adventure of this, by the bureaucratic-psychedelic of this, this speculative friction. Its purposefully purposeless prose, its dysphoric sloganeering. This one just hits me: “Attitude in a room times too many is world.” Somehow the lists upon lists are even electric. And the images ricochet through a network of associations so beautifully. (And on a personal note, nice to revisit that show I curated at Artist Space – Jackie’s Herman’s cell… ages ago now). Wow. So so much Christian, Thanks.

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