3 March 2015
Central Station

Ellie Harrison’s Dark Days offered participants the unique opportunity to stay overnight at the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Glasgow. Web developer Neil Scott was lucky enough to be one such participant and shares his experience of the night below.

What would happen if a cataclysmic event forced one hundred strangers to spend the night in a public building?

This was the scenario informing Ellie Harrison’s participatory art project, Dark Days, which took place in Glasgow’s GoMA on Friday 13 February 2015.

The rules were strict – there was to be no drugs or alcohol, no cooking, no pyjamas, no leaving the gallery after doors closed at 6.30pm, and lights would go off at 3am. Before that the participants would be trained in consensus based decision making in order to come up with a plan about how they could spend the rest of the night.

Now, my opinion of human nature – informed by the nightly news and an interest in dystopian science fiction – is that we will descend into a violent, power-crazed mob in a trice. I doubt we can ever settle into peaceful non-hierarchical communities without massive restrictions on personal freedom. However, I was pleasantly surprised that all the participants I met during the various icebreaking exercises seemed unbelievably genial. Maybe, I thought, utopia is possible. Even the consensus based decision making (unfairly characterised by people waving jazz hands when they agree with something) seemed to produce workable solutions.

The only downside was that it just wouldn’t stop. The talking in groups and in spokescouncils went on for a surreal length of time. People seemed to be quite happy to keep mumbling about stuff forever. As someone who doesn’t have great hearing, especially with the hard floors and the high ceilings of echoey old GoMA, it was incredibly alienating.

They say introverts have their energy sapped by being with people whereas extroverts become more energetic. As the evening wore on, it became clear who were the extroverts – their charisma turning them into natural leaders. And, to be honest, I don’t think anybody minded. They just wanted to take all the thwarted energy and do something.

The decision we made was to split into fluid groups doing different activities such as playing games, den-building, talking about Dark Days, and writing a manifesto. Thanks to Laurie, one of the aforementioned natural leaders, we also sprinted down the hall in order to feel the breeze on our faces and took part in crowdsurfing. It was all great fun – like a big party but one where the lack of alcohol and the presence of an authority figure (ie Glasgow Life) meant it had the joy and freedom of childhood.

Nevertheless, by the end of the night the groups gradually moved into factions, with the hedonists and the serious ones diverging. It’s fascinating to speculate how this contradiction would have been resolved had the experiment continued another day. After a luminous night, it may well have been a dark day.

Neil Scott