George Perec’s 1974 experimental literary work An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris records observations of details that normally go unnoticed. Exhausting a Crowd does something similar, but this process has now been automated. The result is an absorbing tableau vivant of crowds at Piccadilly Circus in London; users can provide as many “tags” as they want containing observations. Our eye is drawn to the tags already placed by fellow observers who have pointed out details, invented dialogues or ascribed thoughts to passersby. They also offer amusing comments about people’s appearance, pose the occasional philosophical question, refer to well-known figures (Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who and Mad Max) and affix onomatopoeic texts to cars, buses, taxis and pedestrians. Quite a few of the tags point out people taking selfies or staring at their cell phones: “Caught up in virtual reality,” reports one tag at 11:04 p.m. This artwork reflects on a future when surveillance is an entirely automated combination of machine and human intelligence. It is a beautiful record of life in the common space that offers some alarming insight into the potential for control in a dystopian society.
During IDFA 2015, Kyle McDonald will present a new version of this project using images from different locations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and elsewhere. This new version, called Exhausting a Crowd - The Netherlands, was co-commissioned by IDFA DocLab, V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media and De Brakke Grond.