Crowd Control

In July 2017, a team of researchers and practitioners came together to embark upon a month-long situated research residency based at Arebyte Gallery in Hackney Wick, East London. Connecting visual, digital and performance art practices with contemporary scientific research, law and urban design, the project – Crowd Control – explored the mechanisms of collective behaviour through observation, simulation and experimentation.

Text by Heather Barnett, Laura Cappelatti, Julius Colwyn, Dimitra Georgopoulou, Josh Greenfield, Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Daniel Strömbom and Liu Yang (with Koen H. van Dam).

In July 2017, a team of researchers and practitioners came together to embark upon a month-long situated research residency based at Arebyte Gallery in Hackney Wick, East London. Connecting visual, digital and performance art practices with contemporary scientific research, law and urban design, the project – Crowd Control – explored the mechanisms of collective behaviour through observation, simulation and experimentation.

The project was commissioned by Arebyte as part of their 2017 Arts Council England funded programme on ‘systems of control’, inviting artist Heather Barnett to take a month long residency at the gallery. Extending the invitation, Heather was joined by Dr Andrew King, Dr Ines Fürtbauer, Dr Daniel Strömbom, Dimitra Georgopoulou, Laura Cappelatti and Amanda Fry (behavioural scientists at Swansea University with whom Heather is currently Leverhulme Artist in Residence) and by Professor Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (law, spatial justice); Liu Yang (urban design); Josh Greenfield (swarm systems); Jamie Harper (theatre, game design); Julius Colwyn (art, design), Annarita Papeschi & Vincent Nowak (urban design, crowdsourcing), Melanie Phillips (interactive theatre) and Kira Wainstein (project assistant).

The multi/inter-disciplinary approach combined digital technologies such as motion tracking, data visualisation and computational modelling with creative improvisation, self documentation and cognitive mapping. Intended to engage the local population and wider audiences through active participation, Hackney Wick became a laboratory and a playground for an interdisciplinary study into the collective interactions between individuals, groups and their environments. Situated in close proximity to London’s Olympic Park in Stratford, an area which has undergone dramatic environmental and economic change in recent years, Arebyte provided a publicly accessible base for a site-specific exploration.

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 Crowd Control team on walking tour of Hackney Wick. Photo © Kira Wainstein

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’.

The research residency culminated in a weekend festival of public events taking place in the parks, streets, galleries and canal-ways of Hackney Wick, namely: Nesting Groups – a creative game of resource distribution; Escaping the Lawscape – a game of compliance, deviance and spatial justice; Migrations of Cool – a live action street game exploring the process of urban gentrification; and Animal Collectives – a series of games modelling nonhuman collective behaviour. The events were complemented by Testing Station, a pop-up exhibition at Arebyte Gallery (Wallis Road), 21-23 July 2017.

In what follows, members of the team describe the intentions and outcomes of Crowd Control, the writings reflecting the emergent process of the project. Rather than following a top-down editorial approach imposing a single voice and linear structure, the texts here should be read as a multitude of perspectives – from the bottom up. The individual accounts reflect the diverse disciplinary methods – and languages – present within the group composition and in the varied approaches taken to devise and deliver each aspect of the Crowd Control experiment.

Throughout the month-long residency the multiple interactions and discussions across disciplinary and participatory divides generated a great number of avenues for the creative and critical exploration of collective behaviour. The intensity of working encouraged spontaneity and opened up numerous possibilities for further development. Many ideas were seeded through the collective research and, as data gathered will inform future works, the collaborations will continue to evolve. To view full documentation of the collective experiment and to follow further explorations yet to unfold, please visit the project website at crowdcontrol.london.

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Nesting groups

Nesting groups was a game of two parts, one inspired by ecological systems (devised by Dimitra Georgopoulou, Laura Cappelatti, and Amanda Fry), the other exploring biomimetic design systems (devised by Josh Greenfield). Combined, the games invited participants to explore resource utilisation, decision-making and problem solving in groups through creative building activities.

Game 1) Ecological Resilience 

In ecological terms, ‘resilience’ is the capacity of a system to resist damage and recover quickly after a disturbance. Resilience demonstrates flexibility, as changes can occur without the system collapsing. However, change is not infinite: stochastic events, such as fires, floods, and human activities affect the ecosystems upon which humanity relies. If individuals within a system are not able to adapt their strategy to meet the demands of a new change, then they are at high risk of damage or destruction. Ecological resilience is an important framework for understanding and managing living systems subject to collapse and re-organisation.

The idea of the game was to explore how a system (plant, animal or human) is affected by sudden change, to explore the balance between flexibility-and-diversity and their antagonisms, rules-and-homogeneity. The nest concept is used to represent a set of resources that an organism needs to survive, and by establishing rules on how the resources should be used, limits were imposed on the system. By setting different nest building strategies between groups and introducing a migration event midway through building, a disturbance was created.

Different types of resources (materials) were distributed randomly across the area, finite in number. Nesting areas were provided for the groups to inhabit and to build a three dimensional structure containing as many resources as they could find and collect. Since there were a limited number of materials available, competition was unavoidable, imitating the real competition for resources seen in plant and animal communities. Participants were instructed to collect only one resource at a time and to bring it to their group to build the connected structure following the rules of their given strategy, each group having been given different rules on how their structure should be built. At a mid-point in the nest-building task, a single individual from each group was chosen to move to a different nest, bringing their strategy with them, and to then try to impose their strategy on the existing structure of the newly adopted group.

As individuals changed their nest affiliation, bringing with them their own rules, diversity (or conflict) entered the system. If there is not enough diversity, the nest will collapse. There were three levels of variability in this system: variability of resources, of individual behaviours-strategies, and of group strategies. The levels of variability provided the basis for complex interactions to occur at each level, leading to the emergence of nest-structures possessing different properties and demonstrating varied responses to the disturbance event.

Strategies for nest building – a simulation of ecological resilience. Photo © Luka Radek 2017.

The game was able to show the importance of variability on the stability of a system by demonstrating that interacting rules at lower scales (resource, individual levels) can result in complex emergent collective responses (at the within- and between-group levels) that were difficult to predict. Variability seemed to play a crucial role on the stability of the structure under disturbance, with more variable structures being more resistant to change and avoiding total collapse. Participants were interested in the outcomes, and engaged with the concepts of ecological resilience being explored, making comparisons between human and animal systems.

  1. b) Biomimetic Building

In the UK, cities tend to be built via a centralised system, conducted by planning officers sitting in regional offices. For any new structure to be permitted, communication – generally based on very few individuals – decides the fate of our buildings, our cities, and our wider society. Besides being ‘unnatural’, this disconnection from our environment is less resilient to the future shocks our urban ecosystems will endure. This type of centralised construction is not reflective of the natural world and in particular the way that nesting resources are managed in emergent systems like those found in populations of ants, bees, and termites. These insect collectives work laterally and without central governance, creating more resilient and sustainable societies.

This game looks at how differing communication can affect the plasticity (form) of the phenotype (nest), through use of biomimetics (design imitation of biological processes). The intention was to question strategies for future city needs: to be more biological than mechanistic, composed of distributed systems of hardware (architecture) and software (communication).

Set in a dystopian future London of 2088, where waste streams are flooding as storm waters rise, and migratory species have headed to the highlands as the tropics moved north, London’s climate is more akin to Lisbon’s. As our ecosystems have evolved, so have our flora and fauna: birch has become bamboo, toads have become vipers, and fields have become marshlands. Here, we are left with only the bamboo and vines around us to build the largest nest to protect our colony and it’s a race against time.

In the game there were three colonies, each containing six individuals. At first no specific rules were given, only the physical boundaries of the nest foundations. Teams were able to communicate to define structural efficiency and nest design. After 30 minutes of building, the rules changed and each individual was given a specific task: build towards the other colonies; build upwards to avoid a flood; or build to increase surface area of the nest. However, they were unable to communicate with the rest of their colony.

Collaborative building strategies in Nesting Groups. Photo © Luka Radek

The expectation was to observe hierarchal organisation in the first part, with leading individuals designing the overall form; but with more chaotic building execution in the second part based on the simplicity of the rules given and lack of communication within the colony. Regarding structure, the three groups built in very different ways: Group A used systems based construction, to form a bamboo geodesic dome; Group B used elongated columns and a flat roof, which took the form of a Mediterranean bamboo villa; and Group C built using a mixture of methods, with separate geodesic elements, connected by spans of extra long bamboo canes tied together length to length.

The second stage was conducted under instruction and crucially, in silence; an attempt to emulate non-human colony management where communication is focused on a particular building enhancement. The aesthetic and structures differed at points during the exercise. For example, all three groups built similar nests in the second half of the experiment, arching towards opposing nests, rather than the domed or flat roof structures built earlier. When allowed to communicate verbally, people built differently. In some groups, leading individuals strategised the nest construction in a top-down uniform style. Others were less hierarchal in nature and designed collectively, which was evident in the more complex/ chaotic aesthetic of those nests.

 

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Escaping the Lawscape 

Escaping the Lawscape was a collaborative experiment (devised by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Julius Colwyn and Liu Yang) taking place in the streets and canal-ways of Hackney Wick. The experiment invited participants to reconsider the intangible network of consensus and expectation that operates, within and upon us, as we move through shared social spaces.

Collective behaviour emerges through rules, whether predetermined or co-emergent. For most biological systems, these rules are implicit, inherited, or instinctive. For humans in complex social configurations, we also have the law. The theory of the lawscape1 considers law beyond its normative understanding as merely a body of text composed, interpreted and applied by a specialised part of the social system. The lawscape considers law as fundamentally entangled with space and the way that bodies (human and nonhuman) operate within that space.

The lawscape is generally considered in three different dimensions: the symbolic, the material and the atmospheric. In the series of games devised for Crowd Control, new ways of examining these spaces were encouraged through a conceptual and physical exploration of Hackney Wick, also involving spontaneous social media documentation.

First, in order to interrogate the symbolic lawscape, participants were asked to exercise ‘hypercompliance’, rigidly following the road signs, instructions and other symbolic imperatives present in the environment. This resulted in people leading themselves into dead ends, going around in circles, or being paralysed by conflicting commands, demonstrating the often irrational and contradictory nature of instruction of law.

Demonstrating #hypercompliance in Escaping the Lawscape, ‘Single file traffic’. Screen grab from twitter feed @CrowdControlLDN.

Second, to explore the material lawscape and any possibilities of escaping it, participants were asked for ‘deviance’, to invert implied use or perceived restraint. The material limitations of our environment – the walls, fences, barriers, doors, roads – have material properties that limit us, but only as much as we allow them to. Their materiality limits us less than our own internalised expectations of what is and isn’t permitted. Here, sculptures were built from abandoned roadblocks, roads were turned into beds, and playgrounds repurposed as conference rooms.

Finally, to confront (and attempt to overcome) the power of the atmospheric lawscape, groups played against each other in a conflict over a specific Hackney Wick land use (the Gainsborough School Bridge access2). The power of group psychology quickly established in-groups and out-groups, which through their actions and communications rapidly developed an all-consuming atmospheric, a subtle law of expectation for the behaviour of the collective. The ultimate aim here was for the groups, collectively, to escape these atmospherics and open up a space of spatial justice, where the conflict between bodies could be played out on a different, re-orientated lawscape of co-operation rather than adversarialism.

The escape route, however, may prove rather fleeting.

Ultimately, there may be no escape from the lawscape.

Escaping the Lawscape: material deviance. Photo © Luka Radek

The experiment aimed to transmit new ways of thinking about our own actions and the invisible structures that govern them; to see law not as a static, linguistic phenomenon, but as a process in which humans participate the moment they enter a space or engage in a group. We are controlled by elements of the lawscape that we have internalised and by external elements that act upon us. In developing participatory games, which required the adoption of different perspectives and close examination of existing systems, the exercise succeeded in catalysing a more active understanding of the lawscape. It enabled participants to perceive the hidden functions of this evolving, reciprocal process of law, and to challenge its assumptions.

Having asked participants to redesign the roads and public space with symbolic and materialised control methods, participants also applied their needs and desires through a cognitive mapping exercise. By gathering information from the participants’ interactions with the local environment, the lawscape was used to express the desires and functions of space and locate them on maps of the area they had just occupied.

Cognitive mapping of participant journey taken through the lawscape. Photo © Luka Radek

Crowd movement through urban terrain was also revealed through computational modelling, utilising agent-based modelling (ABM) to visualise the social layers of human activity in Hackney Wick (produced by Liu Yang working in collaboration with Koen H. van Dam). Exploring the city as a self-organised complex system, the multiple interactions were explored between individuals (e.g. human, institutions and companies) and different subsystems (e.g. ecosystem, social system and spatial system). The model was built on an individual’s daily activity schedule, for example: wake up, go to work, go shopping, attend leisure activities and sleep. Each agent represented a household (assigned by 2.42 people per household) within the local residential area. The simulation instigated patterns of journeys taken as people walked along the road network following the shortest route, providing a simplfication of real human behaviours. Through simulation, different design scenarios could be explored to test a range of potential configurations on the urban system, such as the opening of new bridges, roads, and paths, etc. Here, agent-based modelling was applied to simulate and predict the interactions between individuals in the built environment, and to explore the behavioural ‘landscape’ of Hackney Wick.

Agent based model of Hackney Wick social simulation © Liu Yang & Koen H. van Dam

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Migrations of Cool

Inspired by the social composition of Hackney Wick and informed by reports on the built environment, Jamie Harper devised Migrations of Cool; a live action street game, which mapped the local area as an emergent social and economic system, inviting participants to play the system and consider how its future could (or should) be shaped.

The inspiration for the game came from the well established process of urban gentrification, where artists seek out cheap workspace and migrate into impoverished areas. Jamie describes the process as follows:

These areas start to be perceived as ‘cool’ as artistic happenings occur and, in turn, property developers seek to capitalise on the aura of cool by building flats next to (or on top of) the artists who have raised the value of the area. Alongside this process, groups of residents (who pre-date the arrival of artists or developers) also play their part, perhaps by protesting gentrification, perhaps embracing new opportunities that result from the added investment, or maybe just passively allowing things to happen.

Migrations of Cool questioned the inevitability of this pattern of group behaviour by inviting participants to take on the roles of Artists, Residents and Property Developers, to occupy and transform spaces in the vicinity of Hackney Wick, “the world’s most concentrated creative community”3 – to play their way towards some potential answers. Following instructions and using prepared maps marking individual ‘territories’, players were invited to explore and occupy the local area from differing perspectives.

The game design took social, cultural and aesthetic values into consideration, as Jamie describes:

One issue with thinking about the world in systemic terms, though, is that it often robs things of their emotion and human colour, so Migrations of Cool also invited players to dream up the identities of the people who might otherwise be generically identified as Artist, Resident, Developer and, by playing this game in the streets, my hope was that players would be affected by the aesthetic richness and huge variety of the area. I wanted to make an experience that challenged people to think about the politics of urban change but also about the beauty of places and people.

 

Artist property take-over in Migrations of Cool street game. Photo © Luka Radek

As groups dispersed to inhabit spaces, the physically situated street game was also played out online via social media, with the game host adopting the role of chief consultant, responding to individual purchase requests and giving instructions via a twitter feed @hobotheatre. The live feed allowed players to follow the activity of other teams and tracked the narrative of play in real time.

Twitter feed of communications and instructions between artists and property developers in Migrations of Cool. Screen grab from twitter feed @hobotheatre.

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Animal Collectives

Inspired by the collective behaviour of nonhuman living systems, such as flocks of birds, herds of sheep and swarming slime mould cells, participants were invited to let go of their individual human ego for a few hours, in order to test how well they could coordinate and cooperate as part of a collective. The games (devised by Daniel Strömbom and Heather Barnett) were designed to test different coordination strategies, moving between familiar models of mammals and birds to more alien forms of single-celled organism.

Herding:

How animals coordinate themselves in moving groups is still not fully understood. This is particularly true for systems composed of different types of individuals with competing interests, for example, the herding of sheep by dogs. From experiments using GPS-tracking, we know exactly how each individual moves throughout a herding event 4. However, this does not provide much insight into how the individual sheep interact with each other, and with the sheepdog. This is where modelling comes in. We can guess plausible interaction rules (for the sheep and the dog) and determine if the observed collective behaviour emerges from repeated interactions of the predicted type. For example, the rule for sheep could be ‘stay away from the sheepdog but remain close to other sheep’ and the rule for the dog could be ‘move the group of sheep to a particular location’. Implementing these kinds of rules into a computational model and simulating herding events has been shown to produce collective behaviour of both sheep and dog that is consistent with that observed in the GPS data collected from real herding events5. What we see in both is that as the dog approaches the sheep they aggregate into a cohesive and dense group. Once this has occurred, the dog positions itself behind the flock relative to the target location. The dog then approaches the flock from this direction and causes the herd of sheep to move directly away from it towards the target. The dog keeps driving the flock in this way until the flock is at the target location, occasionally chasing some sheep that are trying to escape from the flock.

The purpose of the experiments at Crowd Control was to study these sheepdog and sheep rules further by implementing them in humans, with the aim of determining whether collective behaviour similar to that observed in the real herding events, and the corresponding computer simulations, would emerge. Within an enclosure participants were given a note with written instructions assigning them as either ‘sheep’ (stay away from the people wearing red caps but remain close to everyone else) or ‘sheepdogs’ (pick up a red cap and to move the group of people not wearing red caps towards the yellow balloons). When the experiment started the two cap-wearing ‘sheepdogs’ approached the group of ‘sheep’ who started to move away and, through a rather long and tortuous path, managed to move the herd to the yellow balloons without them knowing their intended destination. It seemed that the rules proposed for sheepdog and sheep may also work when implemented in humans.

Human modelling of sheep dog algorithm in Animal Collectives. Photo © Luka Radek

Flocking:

The next exercise invited participants to think about the collective behaviour of a murmuration of starlings, where tens of thousands of individual birds twist and turn on the wing, never crashing, whilst forming dynamic structures and patterns. Working in small groups, participants were invited to decode the coordination rules directing these complex interactions between multiple individual birds. Groups were allowed to deduce a maximum of three rules and encouraged to test them through embodied action – to try to operate as a unified coherent whole. Once rules had been extracted, tested and agreed upon, each group ‘performed’ their behaviour to the others, who in turn observed. When they felt they intuitively understood what was going on, the observers joined in and, depending on their interpretation of the rules, the behaviour of the collective was either compromised (by incorrect interpretation and adaptation of the rules) or amplified (by correct interpretation and reinforcement of the rules). Whilst the groups did not deduce precisely the rules understood to be implemented by the starlings they came very close and worked out basic attraction, repulsion and orientation strategies.

A human murmuration – improvising flocking mechanisms. Photo © Luka Radek

Swarming:

The final part of the experiment introduced the collective behaviour of a single-celled organism, the slime mould, Physarum polycephalum. The organism possesses a high degree of spatial cognition and collective coordination, despite having no central nervous system or sensory organs, and possessing no centralised control mechanism.

In experiments the slime mould has been shown to solve the shortest route through a maze, replicate complex transport networks and anticipate events6. Here, participants were given some simple behavioural rules relating to intention and communication and invited to explore their habitat as a human super-cell, connected only through oscillatory communication mechanisms and a liking for porridge oats (the slime mould’s favourite food). People had to reduce visual input and rely on more haptic sensory information gathered from their environment, and transmit findings to the rest of the cell. This elicited a wide range of very human responses, including awkward giggling, earnest endeavour and focused concentration. The point of the exercise here was not to replicate or represent slime mould behaviour, but to engage with alternative communication mechanisms through direct enactment, to attempt to experience ‘being’ another life form, even if only temporarily.

Collectively, the experiments involved a combination of following given rules, deducing what observed rules might be and testing them, improvising behavioural responses to given conditions; a combination of approaches from the fields of behavioural ecology, computational modelling and participatory arts. Data collected during the experiments (video and GPS tracking) will also form part of a study on crowd behaviour with Swansea University (SHOAL group) and inform their collaborative work with Artist in Residence (Heather Barnett).

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Crowd Control Exhibition

Testing Station

The events and experiments were complemented by a pop-up exhibition at Arebyte Gallery, displaying observations, simulations, visualisations and live experiments exploring the mechanics and aesthetics of collective motion. Some of the behaviours that were explored through the participatory experiments and games were also represented within the gallery installation through projections, screen based works, objects and interactive media. For example, works revealed the collective behaviour of ant colonies and slime moulds cells, the behavioural algorithms of self-propelled particle models, and agent based modelling of urban systems.

Installation view of Testing Station exhibition at Arebyte Gallery, Wallis Road 21-23 July 2017

Human crowd behaviour was observed at the Newham Great Run, which saw ten thousand runners processed through the starting gate below Anish Kapoor’s Orbit structure at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The dynamics of human motion were translated into motion fields, where individual bodies transformed particle grids into dynamic fluid patterns – also explored through interactive projection, where the viewer could choreograph their own motion field. Social and legal control mechanisms were also explored creatively, through an interactive map of CCTV locations, spontaneous picpoetry and representations of social systemic structures. Visitors were also encouraged to take an ‘algorithmic walk’, a means of exploring the local area by following coded instructions.

The exhibition brought together multiple representations, simulations and visualisations in an associative and loosely interconnected way. Rather than presenting a singular vision of Crowd Control or adopting specific disciplinary approaches, the exhibition encouraged visitors to develop an accumulative understanding of the underlying mechanisms driving collective behaviour. Across the project, in both the exhibition and the participatory events, the intention was to create a platform of enquiry, to encourage visitors to recognise patterns across systems – human / nonhuman / posthuman – and to understand through experience how they as individuals operate within the collective and respond to environmental influences around them.

Observing the crowds gathering at the Newham Great Run, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Still from time-lapse © Heather Barnett

Still from Motion Field: Being Slime Mould ©HeatherBarnett and Dimitra Georgopoulou

Detail of Observation Sites, CCTV installation © Kira Wainstein

The urban flaneur: slime mould exploration of Hackney Wick. Still © Heather Barnett

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References and notes

  1. A Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (2014). Spatial Justice: Body, Lawscape, Atmosphere,
  2. Planning application documents relating the the Gainsborough School Bridge accesscan be accessed online at: http://idox.hackney.gov.uk/WAM/showCaseFile.do?action=show&appType=Planning&appNumber=2012/1505 [accessed 1 September 2017]
  3. Hackney Wick is reported to be the most densely populated area of artists worldwide http://www.hackneywicked.co.uk/
  4. J. King, et al. (2012). Selfish-herd behaviour of sheep under threat. Current Biology 22(14).
  5. D Strömbom, et al. (2014). Solving the shepherding problem: Heuristics for herding autonomous, interacting agents. JR Soc Interface 11(100).
  6. There are over 50,000 published academic papers on slime moulds. The three most cited are: T Nakagaki, et al, (2001). Path finding by tube morphogenesis in an amoeboid, in Biophysical Chemistry 92 (47_52); T Nakagaki, et al, (2010). Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design, in Science: Vol. 327 no. 5964 (439-442); and T Saigusa, et al, (2008). Amoebae Anticipate Periodic Events, in Physical Review Letters, 100(1): 018101.

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Biography for each contributor

Heather Barnett is an artist, researcher and educator exploring natural phenomena, complex systems and biological design. Working with live organisms and imaging technologies, her work explores how we observe, influence and understand the world around us. She is Pathway Leader on the MA Art and Science at Central Saint Martins (University of the Arts London) and chairs London LASER art and science talks. She is currently Leverhulme Artist in Residence with Swansea University Biosciences.

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, LLB, LLM, PhD, is Professor of Law & Theory at the University of Westminster, and founder and Director of The Westminster Law & Theory Lab. His interests are typically interdisciplinary, including space, corporeality, new materialism, and philosophy. He has so far published ten (academic, art and fiction) books and his work has been translated in several languages. Andreas also pursues an art practice under the name of picpoet.

Julius Colwyn is a nomad, in between disciplines, walking the strange space between bodies of knowledge, a thought ecologist. His creative practice is based in the movement of ideas from one context to another, from science to art, philosophy to activity, concept to object. His recent work has been in collaboration with system scientists at the LSE, neuroscientists at the CUBE London, Strategists in International Development, and with the civil service in the Government Office for Science. A current project in development, Systems Games, aims to find intuitive, embodied methods for explaining systemic processes.

Dimitra Georgopoulou‘s research focuses broadly on the rules that underlie complex collective behaviours in vastly different biological systems. To one end, understanding the proliferation dynamics of the population of human cancer cells and its collective response under drug treatment. To the other extent, studying the rules that are responsible for the emergence of the coordinated motion seen in fish shoals.

Josh Greenfield is a designer with a Masters in Architecture, currently embarking upon doctoral research on ‘Swarm Cities’, focusing on the emergence of a more biological city, formed of distributed systems. Josh has worked in architecture offices in the UK and India. He has work published in DataScape and Urban Evolutionary Morphologies, and exhibited works at the Royal Academy.

Daniel Strömbom is a Swedish Research Council funded research fellow working to understand collective behaviours observed in animal groups and use the insights to develop engineered solutions to real-world problems. At present Daniel’s work focuses on herding and collective transport problems. In particular, adapting and implementing algorithms inspired by how sheepdogs herd sheep in robots to collect and herd inanimate objects, such as oil spills on water, and living agents, such as cockroaches.

Liu Yang is a PhD student in the College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS), currently on a visiting studentship with the Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Imperial College London. Her research focuses on using urban design and urban modeling methods to integrate urban transport infrastructure, public space and human behaviour.

Koen H. van Dam is a research fellow in Dept. of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London working in collaboration with Liu Yang.

Laura Cappelatti is a biologist with a master degree in Ecology, now on the second year of her PhD in Biology at Swansea University. She is investigating how seaweed diversity responds to and impacts the environment. Seaweeds perform ecological functions that are of extreme importance to the environment at different scales at the same time as they are impacted by change at many different levels. She is particularly interested on the individual differentiation (called intraspecific variability) and how it helps maintaining biodiversity and ecological functions in face of change.

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