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Melbourne Town Hall Murmuration Sculpture – Progress Conference 2017

By Holger Dielenberg

From an abstract point of view, swarm behaviour is the collective motion of a large number of self-propelled entities. This takes place in real life when flocks of birds twist and turn mid-flight, dramatically changing shape and direction as if with one brain. Otherwise known as murmuration, it is an incredible and mesmerizing natural phenomenon that defies logic.

From the perspective of the mathematical modeler, it is an emergent behavior arising from simple rules that are followed by individual units and does not involve any central coordination.

It applies just as aptly to us humans via what we sometimes term a collective intelligence. Political activism springs to mind. Despite the lack of centralized decision making – think corporations or Governments – large groups of people will begin to cluster and swarm a location or policy to change the course of human folly.

This theme took centre stage or I should say, filled the ceiling for the 2017 Progress Conference held at the Melbourne Town Hall this year.

Murmuration – a beautiful metaphor for how the movement of one individual can influence political climate and cause sweeping change.

Space Tank was commissioned to build a massive ten metre by ten metre sculpture to depict this natural phenomenon in order to visually represent the spirit of change that Progress Australia believes is needed today.

Progress claim, “Our world is at a crossroads, and there has never been a more important time for civil society to come together and strengthen our efforts to make Australia a more just, sustainable and welcoming nation.”

The Progress Conference is the key biennial event that gathers, energises, and propels forward Australia’s leading campaigners, advocates and change-makers.

Three hundred metres of chicken wire, sixty metres of steel tubing and some pink lighting turned our minds away from Manus Island and inspired us to dream of a better future as thought leaders and advocators for positive change took the stage.

Around the time this sculpture opportunity first landed in my inbox, it just so happened that I was also meeting with Hume City Council youth workers about finding ways to be positive role models in our community. How not to pigeon-hole young people. To be inclusive and engaging and encourage them to bring their energy, ideas and passion into the fray.

The force of murmuration must have been strong that day because these notions of social engagement suddenly inspired a shift in construction on the Progress sculpture and the inclusion of a team of young adults from the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence to help build it.

Twelve hours. One day. Six AM start. The Space Tank team arrives 15 minutes early at the Collins street side entrance to the Melbourne town hall and every single one of the Brotherhood team arrive spot on time! Legends!

Off to a great start we carted our huge rolls of chicken wire, ladders and wire cutters into the auditorium and gazed up into the cavernous ceiling. It’s massive! Undeterred everybody rolls out the wire and starts hanging, draping, scrunching and folding.

With some clear mental images of murmurating starlings, we stayed true to the spirit of the thing. Our work procedure evoked a complete lack of central coordination. Designed chaos was the order of the day and so in a glorious display of twisting, spiraling, morphing of creative energy, all twelve of us dived into hive mind and swarmed our way through the build. The Brotherhood worked superbly and the Space Tank mentors ensured perfect execution.

I am immensely proud of the Brotherhood team and Vivian Butler who put so much effort into making this happen. You all worked together brilliantly to help create a magnificent visual installation for the 2017 Progress event. Shenae Alexander, Hannah Elton, Omar El Zayat, Francis Tuua, Lydia Sharman, Ebru Kabas and Shane Stephens, you ventured into the unknown with this project and under some creative direction, you brought ideas, creativity, innovation and enthusiasm that helped bring the piece to life. I said it then and I’ll say it again… you guys ROCK!

Also a huge thankyou to the team from Wildwon who gave us this opportunity. Working with you was a pleasure and exciting to say the least. We look forward to more of this kind of work in the future.

Saving the best to last, to the Space Tank crew, Michael Gittings, Makiko Ryujin and Ben Walsh; I could not have asked for better team leaders. Flawless. Thankyou.

Here’s the video.

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