outside and inside
a collective
contemporary art piece

Christophe Prieur,
Télécom ParisTech, dept. SES, I3



Aug. 2017

The piece from outside

  • 10 weeks
  • 6 days a week
  • 12 to 8pm
  • prominent French museum

The swarm

  • a group of 20-50 performers

    running, moving in many directions, standing motionless, sometimes singing...

  • visitors can walk around or among, or stay standing or sitting
  • no mediation / explanations

Intimate stories

  • a performer to a visitor, all of a sudden:

    "I always dream of fear of heights, it's recurrent.
    I'm somewhere up very high and i cannot move. I have to get out of there, but if i move i know i'll fall.
    Once, i've dreamed my son was climbing up a very high crane ..." (etc.)

  • they chat for a few minutes (or not)
  • then the performer suddenly goes back to the swarm

The piece from inside

  • 10 weeks
  • 4-6 hours a day
  • avg 3 days a week
  • prominent French museum

The rules

  • ~ 10 choreographic games,
    in 4 sequences which order may vary
  • key principles:
    • group cohesion

      "the group knows"

    • individual initiative
    → a 'society of individuals' (N. Elias)

The participants

  • 118 performers
    • scheduled turn-over
    • word-of-mouth recruitment
      + announcements
    • very diverse profiles

      > 10 countries
      not only artists: a doctor, an engineer, students, (a sociologist), etc.

  • the 'Londoners' (~ 20)
    • had done the piece in 2012 in London
    • hired on full-time contract


Participants / visitors

objective structural boundary

Connection with visitors

One of participants' favorite
  • intimate stories
  • unspoken exchanges
  • eye contact, smiles, choreographic games

Connection against visitors

  • general impression

    a cohesive group with no clue what to do

  • group reactions against

    hostile or (considered) inappropriate behavior

  • while debriefing between participants
  • "them vs. us" prejudice
  • unpredictable bridges

Londoners / newcomers

Londoners as mentors

Especially in the beginning
  • newcomers unconfident about the rules
  • Londoners all knew each other
  • special role in many occasions

from outside

  • legitimacy issues

    mentors or censors?
    supposedly no hierarchy

  • language issues

    Some French participants annoyed that instructions often given in English

from inside

not so cohesive group
  • some had barely met since 2012
  • some uncomfortable about special status
  • judgements upon authoritarian behaviors

objective induced boundary

  • identified group
  • "them vs. us" prejudice
  • unpredictable bridges: sociability


Londoners and newcomers altogether

  • exhibitions, birthday parties, evenings, invitations home by Parisian participants
  • hidden Facebook group, 104 members

    some created an account on this occasion

Subjective induced boundaries

  • "j'aimerais pouvoir venir aux soirées"
  • "nous, les vieux" (several retired)
    "elles sont jeunes, elles sont jolies, qu'est-ce qu'elles ont à faire de parler avec une vieille comme moi ?" (woman, doctor, aged ~ 45)
  • initial ambiguity of Facebook group, then Whatsapp group

Bridges and doors

three types of boundaries:
  • objective and structural

    participants / visitors

  • (more or less) objective and induced

    Londoners / newcomers

  • subjective and induced

    between many types of profiles

  • "them vs. us" prejudice

    strong with both formal and informal borders

  • unpredictable bridges, in all situations

About the management

  • Londoners perhaps a bad idea

    from discussion with the managers

  • no paid time for talking to each other

    briefing and debriefing as short extras
    Misunderstanding, tensions, resolved (if ever) mainly outside

  • sociability essential to cohesion (and power) in the piece

    key issue for professional artists' carreers
    (+ well-being at work)