Playing the clown

If you put 6 strangers into a room, film them and dress them as clowns- complete with custard pies; what will happen?

This is exactly the question that Royal College of Art graduate Charlotte Jarvis was asking at one of the Design as Performance Google Design Lectures at the Victoria and Albert museum. Her answer being that the more people there are in the room, the higher the chance of a custard pie splat-off; as according to her, there is an inverse relationship between the number of people and the time taken to hurl that first whipped-cream covered, canary-yellow pastry. The exception happening to be our lecture, where 6 strangers, decked in Scream-like masks, stood sheepishly and politely holding their pies to then tease the watching audience by playfully squeezing some cream aimlessly. Alas no pie-throwing then.

The science behind throwing custard pies

The idea behind this piece, entitled THE FUTURE IS NOT A NOUN ITS A VERB, is the concept of behavioural determinism- the idea that we take in roles in certain scenarios which ascertain how we are going to behave. In this instance, that dressing as clowns with custard pies (which frankly I’ve always wanted to throw) predisposes you to behave like a clown; or as Charlotte explained- causes you to exaggerate your movements and be a lot more expressive (as let me tell you now- making eye contact as a clown is exceptionally tricky). Thus this experiment centres on theories concerning how dress affects behaviour, how what we say we would do (“throw a pie at a stranger, surely not…”) differs to what we do; and also how people operate in a group. If one person throws a pie, will the others follow?

I thoroughly enjoyed Charlotte’s talk, not least because it was fun to dress up as a clown (yes, the audience were given red noses, masks, party hats and even jumpsuits to style), but also because I find the whole question of how design can influence behaviour fascinating. The talk was part of London Design Week, and whilst Charlotte’s talk veered towards the more artistic and experimental end of the design spectrum, it significantly questioned that, hideously difficult to answer – what is meant by design? Charlotte was keen to underline the fact that design does impact human behaviour by forcing us subconsciously to take on various roles– strangers in a lecture room laughing with one another for example, merely through hiding behind garish (and in hindsight slightly freaky-looking) masks and red noses. As such, design was depicted much more holistically, as like what I learnt in my visit to the Danish Design museum– the traditional association between design and furniture was expanded to include fashion, a way of thinking and also the concept of providing an experience. And boy oh boy did Charlotte Jarvis achieve that.

Audience involvement to the extreme

An unusual lecture


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