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Watch 12 Hours of London’s Piccadilly Circus in Crowdsourced Surveillance Art

Visitors can follow the CCTV-esque feed the artist made using a GoPro Hero 4.

In Exhausting a Crowd, new media artist Kyle McDonald, whose work encompasses algorithmic and glitch art, fuses the hacker impulse with playful exploration of a single city space. McDonald describes the website as a “crowdsourced description of 12 hours in Piccadilly Circus, London.” The site’s visitors can watch the CCTV-esque feed and add their observations of the people and the public space.

The Situationists in the late ‘50s, created psychogeography, the art of aimlessly drifting through cities, in an attempt to make cities fun and fascinating again. And in 1974, Oulipo novelist Georges Perec wrote An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, a work that catalogued those features of a city space that typically pass unobserved, like pedestrian patterns and bus schedules.

“Perec's concept was the initial inspiration: complete transcription of single time and place,” McDonald told The Creators Project. “This is of course related to the goal of modern intelligence efforts: mass surveillance of every time and place. The lesson we learn today, over and over, is that the information itself is a distraction.”

Screencap by DJ Pangburn

McDonald believes that with more information humans will still make the same decisions, manipulating the data to support those decisions.  

“Mass surveillance creates distance rather than deeper understanding,” McDonald added. “Perec captures this distance, noting how anything that does not repeat appears random, and even things happening ‘a few meters’ from him, he can't really capture or understand.”

McDonald said Exhausting a Crowd is an attempt to focus people, if only for a moment. McDonald chose the camera’s position to imitate the surveillance camera’s perspective, not that of the person on the bench (à la Perec).

Screencap by DJ Pangburn

To capture the 12 hours of footage, McDonald's videographer Nico Turner used a GoPro Hero 4, recording at 4k 30 frames-per-second with a modified 12mm lens. McDonald and Turner used two high-speed MicroSD cards, swapping them every two hours while the camera ran off USB power. After stripping the audio, McDonald uploaded all six videos (approximately two hours each) to YouTube, which handles the buffering and streaming. As for the site’s frontend software, McDonald's collaborator Jonas Jongejan wrote it in TypeScript.

“I tried to prime the site with a lot of notes describing what was happening in a very dry, removed way, [and] I even got some friends to help with this,” McDonald said. “But, in the end, dry descriptions only make up maybe five percent of the 24k plus notes.”

“Most of the notes are written from a first person perspective, or they are very imaginative interpretations only vaguely connected to the actual scene,” he added. “I wonder if Perec had the same stories running through his head? Perhaps if he had published anonymously they would have come out.”

Screencap by DJ Pangburn

Screencap by Kyle McDonald

See more of the artist's work here.

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