Reflections about hive projects


Last night, I took part in an online activity as part of a project I am involved in. Grey Matters has been set up by Mathew Aldred at Oxford Riverside Gallery in Nova Scotia and is a communal project based on word of mouth. I came across it after several recently graduated OCA students put on an exhibition of their work there, called 6 Go To Oxford, which was reviewed by OCA here, and asked if I could join.

The concept is given below, from the Grey Matters website.

Grey Matters is an online collective intelligence art project with participants from around the world connecting via a variety of social media platforms to produce a series of works exploring the concept of grey – literally and metaphorical.

This art work is partly a response to the extremism developing in public discourse, and the sound-bite, click-bait, post-truth culture that feeds it. Also, taking inspiration from the honey bees, the project explores the nature of collective intelligence and how creative problem solving communities can be created online – cyber micro-eutopias (realisable ‘good places’, not impossible ‘utopias’); or, more skeptically, at least altering our perceptions of our own identity, the notion of ‘Self’, our consciousness, and relationships with others in the Information Age. From:

From a participant’s point of view, my own experience of it is that it began with people being invited to Tweet an image with a name, and a red circle surrounding a small area of grey within it. Some of the images submitted have been monochrome, but the majority are colour, and a great variety of chromatic greys are included. These are pasted on a specified square in a large grid.

Then we were invited to paste our greys next to related subjects or make an image which responded to another image within the grid. After that, we have been asked to suggest various words that come to mind when we think of the colour grey. A taxonomy of all the colours  is being constructed and also of the words. Up to this current point, the latest task has been to get involved in the production online of a series of grids like the one shown in the link below. This was what I participated in last night.

An unknown number of us met online at a specific time and for the next hour, we all removed some cells from the grid and coloured others grey. Each time this is done, the results will be totally different, as what turns out is both apparently random and organised at the same time. Each participant unilaterally decides which squares to remove or colour in, but those decisions are informed by what others have already done (or not done) and one’s own response to that. For example, I found myself “tidying up” the grid towards the end – correcting wrongly coloured squares (they were all supposed to be a very specific shade of grey) and filling in the edges of the grid.

As one goes about participating, it becomes very clear that “the hive mind” is another layer of human interaction which we do not think about much in everyday life, but which has significant effects on our world. Each person may think of his or her self as an individual, but at the same time what they do adds a tiny incremental part to our overall experience as a group. Everything we have achieved as humans is based on this. Taking a general example, science does not spring full-formed into our understanding. It depends on many participants adding small advances in knowledge to the overall understanding. Taking another manifestation of the idea, in the arts, one can argue that changes in fashion relate to “more bees” concentrating on building a particular part of the hive. That doesn’t mean that all the other parts have been lost – they may start to degrade, but eventually some bees will probably come along to repair and extend  What the internet has done is to amalgamate small, discrete hives into much larger connected ones,  and this massive increase in our potential for networked interactions has both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, our opportunities for advancing knowledge have increased hugely, while on the negative side, as we are seeing in global politics at the moment, it provides the network for undesirable opinions and activities to take off too. We cannot put this genie back in its bottle though. The negative side of the hive mind is here to stay, but we can still use the hive analogy to combat it, by overwhelming undesirable forces with the much greater number of good elements. I want to leave this here, and not get too far into the concepts of freedom of speech and shutting down arguments one disagrees with, but will just say that “the worker bees” can be directed in large numbers by anyone with enough power, whether that be for good or evil.

Taking this down to the personal level, another three observations I have made are:

  1. Each of us tends to assume a certain role in the collective group. Think Myers-Briggs etc. for these different roles. That role could be innate, or it could be a reaction to what one perceives is happening overall. Thinking of myself, I have a very different role in the OCA student cadre than I have had when participating in previous groups. I am much more of an organiser and networker now, rather than a worker bee participant. This is worth thinking about for a future project.
  2. There are many, many different shades of grey. In a world that apparently is becoming much more black and white (I mean this as extremes of opinion rather than as a specific comment on racism), we need to remember that black and white are two ends of a very long spectrum, and that the overwhelming majority of opinions fall somewhere in between (in the grey area).
  3. If one starts a small project and then opens it up to anyone who wants to join in, over time it can become very large, and it may head off in directions one had not previously considered.

I am thoroughly enjoying being a part of this project, and particularly like its incremental nature. New participants are added by word of mouth, and so a virtual network gradually forms over time, and also the activities are added to over time, so there is always something new for regular participants to do. There may be further updates on the project as it goes along, and if anyone who reads this blog would like to join in, please get in touch with Mathew at It helps if you have a Twitter account which you can access via phone or tablet.

One thought on “Reflections about hive projects

  1. Catherine

    Your explanation/description is so helpful because, to be honest, when i first read about the project I didn’t understand the grids and diagrams etc. In some respects it reminds me of my previous experience of being involved in Creative Enquiry groups.
    It looks an exciting project to be engaged with.



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