In 1974, French writer Georges Perec spent three days on a bench in Saint-Sulpice Square in Paris, writing about 60 pages on the minutiae that usually goes overlooked, from the people walking by to the details of the architecture. His “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris” is part of the inspiration behind Kyle McDonald’s new online interactive Exhausting a Crowd. Twelve hours of footage from two days at London’s busy Piccadilly Circus is open to annotation, where anyone online can comment on the happenings and people in an accumulating experiment in surveillance and how human intelligence can be enhanced through automation.
The Brooklyn-based media artist recently launched Exhausting a Crowd as a commission by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for their current exhibition All of This Belongs to You. The exhibition centers on public space and privacy, showcasing objects like Edward Snowden’s destroyed hard drive along with art like McDonald’s. His previous projects include the pplkpr app created with Lauren McCarthy, which tracks and auto-manages your relationships by monitoring your emotional state when you’re with a person. Similarly, Exhausting a Crowd with its tagline of “click & follow everyone” harnesses the impulse for annotation currently being popularized by sites like Genius, simultaneously showing the potential for automated, hyper-detailed surveillance.
As an experience it’s surprisingly addictive, both in watching the feed progress with new additions from anonymous users, and in how it focuses your eye intently on these strangers. There’s constant near-collision traffic of taxis, buses, bikes, and rickshaws, with pedestrians dodging in between. There are the encounters between friends and lovers, the odd person jogging at 1 am, and the person futilely using a broken umbrella against the rain. There’s also a sense of repetition, and something slightly unnerving in not just watching these moments in people’s lives, but projecting a meaning. One sequence is captured in the video below, where a private kiss in a public square is extracted from the crowd.