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Arts & Humanities Research (PhD)

Anna Adahl

Anna Ådahl is a visual artist and researcher working in various mediums such as film, installations and performance. She uses the editing tools of assemblage and montage where found footage meets newly produced images, where ready-mades are used as props in spatial narratives and the body is used as an investigative tool in staged performances. Her fine art practice-based research, Inside the Postdigital Crowds addressed the aesthetics and politics of the digital conditions in which contemporary crowds are mediated and governed.

She was a member of the editorial team of OEI magazine between 2012-2018.

Her work is represented by/in the collection of Moderna Muséet, Stockholm and Filmform, Stockholm.

Selection of presentations and exhibitions: The Breath, Dunkers Kulturhus, Helsingborg, Sweden; Stockholm Konst, Stockholm, Sweden (2022); MASS, Pylon Lab, Dresden, Germany; A Crowded Sky, Impakt, Utrecht, NL (2020) ; Anna Ådahl: Default Characters, Marabouparken Art Gallery , Stockholm (2018); Night of Philosophy, Moderna Muséet, Stockolm (2018); Historicode and Scarcity, Nanjing International Art Festival, China (2016-2017), Anna Ådahl: Inside the New Mass Ornament, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2016); Kalas på Bord, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2016), Disappearing Acts, Lofoten International Arts Festival, Norway (2015); Anna Ådahl: Common Patterns, CCA Derry-Londonderry, UK (2015); Anna Ådahl: Dual Vision, Taiga Space, St Petersburg, Russia (2014); Reims scène d´Europe, FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, France (2013).

Inside the Postdigital Crowds

The aesthetics and politics of the mediation and governance of the 21st century crowds.

This practice-led research analyses and explores, through different artistic mediums and processes, the aesthetics and politics of today’s postdigital crowds. Through artworks using visual, material and physical articulations, it addresses the urgency of a phenomenon where the employment of computational tools and mechanisms representing and governing today´s crowds and collective behaviour are becoming increasingly opaque while facing political and ethical dilemmas.

In order to study digitally operated crowds in their proper conditions, this research projectactively affirms its situated and embodied perspective. The project is conducted from within a postdigital reality, a reality itself integrated with the circuits of global capitalism. In the twenty-first century surveillance economy, every crowd subject is entangled with and defined by technologies that track and model its behaviour.

An “automated crowd” as a digital, operational representation of an “organic”, analogue crowd, generated through tracking, data-gathering, and modelling of that organic crowd and its subjects. The automated crowd is, within this research, considered as a crowd constituted by multiple, digitally “programmed” bodies. Any attempt to approach the automated crowd as both theoretical and practical research object must consequently account for the investigating subject’s own situated and embodied status, and for the way the human body may function as at once a reference and a tool for investigation.

The research studies the representation and the construction of these crowds through an analysis of a number of mediating technologies and platforms: crowd simulation software packages, and their connected databases, through which digital crowds are constructed; surveillance and tracking systems that employ associated techniques for dynamically mapping, governing, and organising “analogue” crowds; and the non-playing characters which composes the interactive “background” crowds in video games.

The artistic components/artworks of this research project uses various mediums and modes of expression such as: transmediated sculptures and installations where digital forms have been translated from the immaterial to the material; scripted performances where professional dancers conjugate/reenact the behavioural grammar of digital agents; assemblage works based on documents and images drawn from online archives; and finally essay films that combine found footage and newly shot images using methods of intellectual and associative montage.

Two key terms were central for the development of this research: the notion of “default” settings and options, and the concept of “flow”. These two concepts both name prominent strategies and mechanisms through which the crowd is today digitally mediated and organised. They have therefore served both as objects of study and as heuristic tools for my theoretical and practical investigations.

Most digital systems employ interfaces that individualise the user experience, establishing a personalised space where the user may exert a highly scripted and circumscribed mode of control. These interfaces are designed to be experienced as individualised, but made for many, programming the behaviour of thousands, even millions of people, depending on the platform’s reach. By necessity, such operations of mass governance must make use of a limited range of default modes, in order to address the multitude of individuals in a “user-friendly” way. Those default modes may facilitate access and navigation, but are regularly interconnected with data harvesting systems that generate vast sets of data concerning user behaviours, from which patterns and predictive models can then be derived.

“Automated” crowds are therefore operated first of all in default mode. Consequently, a “default crowd” is not an average crowd, but a crowd operated by statistically informed, average-based systems. In crowd simulation software, default modes create default agents acting together as default crowds, all in accordance with a library of predefined aesthetics and behavioural patterns. I have therefore devoted my attention to the programmed bodies of digital default agents available in crowd simulation software. Seeking to understand the “default” behaviours prescribed by these agents, I have studied their features, their physical traits, and the gendered choreography of their behavioural vocabulary. I have then translated and conjugated those forms and patterns into different mediums and materialities, seeking to reveal the ethical and political norms that they embody and enact. My aim here has been to set up a new choreography of analogies to explore contradictions between material and immaterial bodies, digital and analogue agents, where the latter draw from, enact, and diverge from the default modes set by the former, as can be seen in the performance And or Or (2018) and the essay films Default Character and Di-Simulated Crowds (2018).

This research have also analysed the notion of “flow”, aiming to show how various “natural flows”, on different scales – from the individual human body to planetary ecosystems – are being rechanneled in accordance with a profit-oriented logic, producing a range of effects with momentous social and ecological implications. In an accelerated, postdigital society, the crowd may become a vehicle of homogenising subject-formation, relaying social and psychic “flows” into a programmed, quantified, and performative “mass”. In the essay film The Power of Flow, The Flow of Power (2020), I have used an associative editing technique in order to generate an immersive yet critical experience of how micropolitical and macropolitical “flows” intersect and interact.

This research project uses a variety of different discursive modes and aesthetic arrangements,with the aim not only to establish a theoretical understanding of the forms and instruments that are used to mediate and govern crowds, but also to facilitate an embodied, sensible and visual experience of those forms, and their political implications.

Di-Simulated Crowds focuses on the vocabulary, computational tools, and human representation in various types of software that is used for modelling and tracking crowds. The film assembles images from online crowd simulation software tutorials and showreels of various programmed crowds as well as human tracking devices. These clips are juxtaposed with newly shot scenes of gestures and postures drawn from the digital crowd agent whose programmed behaviour is re-enacted by two dancers (Rebecca Chentinel and Per Andersson).


Film installation


13 mins
trailer of film The Power of Flow. The Flow of Power

Through an immersive experience the film addresses how the notion and term of flow and state of flow have been monetised by our current economy and accelerated society of 24/7 consumption, production and performance.

The film navigates through the various uses of flow in crowd management, economics and in simulating the crowd. But also through visuals and sounds of flow, such as water streams, sea and the antigravital experience of outer space used for relaxation, deep sleep and meditation purposes. These modes of relaxation are an instrumental part of the continuous flow linked to our current economic systems and accelerated production modes, acting as artificial/small pauses for a better corporal endurance and performativity. The notion of flow inherent to our bodily survival system of circulation of blood, oxygen and nutritients are now hi-jacked by our current economic system.

How ultimately the notion of flow has been turned into a bio-political tool which intent is to optimize the efficiency and performativity of our individual and collective behavior.


HD video/film


18 mins


Performers: Andrea Svensson, Sybrig Dokter, Rebecca Chentinell, Pär Andersson 

Four performers move in the exhibition space in conformance with the crowd simulation software's default settings. They are directed by the software’s choreographic vocabulary which is activated by targets and trigger areas marked out in the exhibition space.

The dancers operate according to coordinates or algoritms within the multi agent systems, such as ”X and Y” ”And”, ”Or”, ”And And Or” ”And Or Or” etc. 




40 mins
Exhibition view

A default character is a virtual representation of a human being used in crowd simulations. It is artificially intelligent. It cannot write or read. It only simulates. It leaves no traces of physical presence. It is an extra, of limited capacity, acting in the periphery.

Excerpt from the video installationDi-simulated Crowd


Default Characters

5 May–26 August 2018

Marabouparken Art Gallery, Stockholm, Sweden.

Featured works:

Di-Simulated Crowds, 2018, film.

Locomotion Diamond, 2018, large size sculpture in metal and straps.

And or Or, 2018, performance.

Invisible Infrastructures, 2018, collages

Default Character 1-2-3, 2018, sculptural 3D printed busts.

Homogenous Mass, 2018, installation with sand and endoscopic camera

Over the past decade the notion and politics of crowds has been central in Anna Ådahl’s artistic practice. In numerous works she has been observing and examining the relationship between the individual and the mass as well as the language of the body in relation to the psychological, physical or political space that surrounds it. Within her current practice based research her focus has turned towards the conditions, the aesthetics and the politics of contemporary crowds, operating in a new computational realm.

A crowd simulation is generated by software and is a digital visualization of a computer-generated crowd composed of intelligent agents (using Artificial Intelligence and multi agent systems) programmed to act collectively according to each other and the given environment, proposing a choreography of mute bodies. These simulations are predominantly people in the periphery populating a milieu, or instrumental bodies in crowd management strategies, shaped as an entity seen from afar.

Anna Ådahl’s interest for crowd simulations emerged upon encountering show-reels and tutorials online. She then discovered that most crowd simulation software emerged from the search to create a warrior, a destructive force to be used for battle scenes in big film productions. The same software is also available to be used in crowd management for safety purposes. The digital representation of the crowd grew out of a desire to both depict and control violent acts.

Anna Ådahl argues that the organization and the systemization of crowds are per definition political acts. I.e. when you create and program a crowd, even if it is a simulation or representation of a crowd, you produce a political act, a political image. How does the crowd simulation software, which originates from the representation of acts of violence, affect the simulated crowds and how does it reconnect to early crowd theories of the crowd as a mob, a potentially malleable and violent force?

In the exhibition at Marabouparken konsthall Anna Ådahl explores the computational tools of representation and supervision of today’s organized crowds and tries to identify the political impact they will have on us and on our future collective behaviour and co-existence.

Anna Ådahl oscillates between the position of the (supposed) universality of the crowd, and its individual members’ singularity. The audience is at once above or outside, while at the same time imbued in and surveyed by the installation in the gallery. From a lookout point it is possible to observe the exhibition from an elevated point of view where what is obscured through the simulation of a default character becomes apparent.

The notion of fluidity is central to both the managing of crowds and in the programming of crowd simulations. The flow of the crowds and movements are programmed to avoid any collision, any recognition of each individual default character as something more than a cog in machinery. The digital bodies do not acknowledge one another as other beings with whom to interact, but as obstacles to avoid. This flow in our collective behaviours can be applied to various fields of current political events such as migration flows and in our current economics.

During the course of the exhibition, Anna Ådahl will stage a live choreographed performance, in which a group of dancers enact the behavioural characteristics and patterns of the digital crowd agents The ambition is to provide another sensory and creative understanding of the virtual crowd and to complexify our identification with our evolving embodied self in relation to the virtual crowd agent, to help specify the politics of the collective digital body in relation to our own physical bodies.

Which crowds are represented? Who needs to be programmed or systematized? What is the politics of the collective digital body?


Bettina Pehrsson, Director Marabouparken Art Gallery


Exhibition at Marabouparken Art Gallery

These three life-size busts feature the default character proposed by the crowd simulation software. They are 3D-prints in unhardened clay and polyurethane plastic. The fragile clay that will wither and crack with time mimics the short temporality of the software where its constant development makes the previous version obsolete. The plastic on the other hand represent something constant and ubiquitous, despite the default character becoming obsolete as soon as it has been printed, and in that sense contrasts the dynamic software that is renewed continually. The choice of material establishes a kind of dialectics between the perishable and the eternal. 

A crowd simulation agent is positioned far from the viewer, in the periphery, and therefore has limited features, sometimes missing a mouth or with apparent polygons. Some busts show glitches from the 3D printing revealing the digital gestures, the traces of the flaws intrinsic to default settings in the computer system.

The clay bust of the default character in the software. The digital production of the crowd subject. The ultimate representation of the self. The bust being the portrayal of a person of interest. A regal, wealth or person of production of knowledge.

The default character is none of those. The default character is no one or nothing. Just a default agent of the digital crowd performing with others to produce a crowd formation for a utility in a setting where the protagonist is elsewhere.

The 3D printed clay bust was developed and executed by RISE Interactive at the Northern WASP Hub in Umeå.


3D printed busts in plastic and clay


life size

The diamond sculpture originated in an interactive image within the crowd simulation software, which represents a crowd agent in motion. Instead of using a human body, the program prefers to translate the body in motion into a diamond shape, where each polygon defines a motion. The higher you activate a polygon in the diamond, the more aggressive or intense the movement. This diamond shaped image has been translated into a three-dimensional object, embodying the image of a corpus with the help of metal and strap bands: The metal reminiscent of a skeleton and the strap bands of ligaments and tense muscles.


Sculpture, metal, strap band


700 x 250 cm

The collages are assemblages of images of crowds, human tracking devices, algorithms used to track individuals as well as crowds and body parts in crowd simulation software.


Collages, paper, print



Installation composed of sand from various locations, endoscopic /macroscopic camera, screen.

If we distance ourselves from our fellow human beings in a crowd, they transform into a faceless mass. When we approach them, individual characteristic traits reappear. The same is true for a pile of sand; composed of indistinct particles, but observed close up through the lens of a microscopic camera, uniqueness appears. In this installation we can shift between the two perspectives or adapt to both of them simultaneoulsy.

This is a site-specific project which uses sand gathered from various Sundbyberg locations such as playgrounds, construction sites and parks to incorporate a notion of a local crowd.


Installation, mixed media.

A public commission for the city of Stockholm/Stockholm Konst for the square Nybroplan in central Stockholm during the period 4/6-15/09-2022

Digitala Vi/T-Pose is a large-scale 3D printed artwork using recycled plastic. It addresses the standardization in how we are operated and represented by new computational technologies. The featured character is based on the standard, default human model available in crowd simulation software which is predominantly male but where its features have been altered for the purpose of this work. A single character representing a crowd.Its specific posture is that of T pose which is the initial pose of any digital human character before its behaviour is being programmed using a simulation/animation software.

This work stems from a series of works I made in 2018 on the politics and aesthetics of the digital default character.


3D print in recycled plastic (plinth in mixed media)


320 cm x 100 cm (including plinth)