For the following body of work, Seilern was researching crowd behaviour and the idea of ‘collective thinking’ in different groups of people.

Why is it that we lose our sense of individuality in a crowd? What lies in the space between our personal and social identity, and more importantly, why do we allow that gap to become exploited? In fact, preceding that, why is it that we even need to belong to groups?

Although she was looking at entirely isolated incidents in history, the most prominent theme that tied everything together was the human tendency towards believing in something (or someone) as the ultimate saviour. Again and again, hierarchical relationships with a leader or ‘ideal’ at the top and a group of followers underneath became the essence of my interest, paralleled with ‘groupthink’ theories, crowd paranoia and mass hysteria.

The Jonestown tragedy of 1978, in which over 900 people ‘committed suicide’ is a powerful example of what can happen to an isolated group with an extremist leader.

The Dancing Mania – unspeakably bizarre – shows the true events of 1518 in Strasbourg, wherein a period of social unrest, poverty and hardship, nearly 400 people took to the streets in frenzied and apparently uncontrollable dancing. What was actually a contagious manifestation of stress was believed at the time to be the ‘Curse of St Vitus’, (or ‘Curse of the Red Shoes’) meaning the victim had been cursed into dancing until death. It began with a single woman dancing outside in the street, and within 30 days had become so infectious as to seize numerous victims and cause dozens of deaths from people uncontrollably dancing and collapsing from exhaustion and starvation. The case in Strasbourg was only one case out of many occurring between 14th and 17th centuries.

Delving deeper into the rituals and beliefs of other groups, leaders, cults, institutions and even situations created for social experiments like Philip Zimbardo’s ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’, she uncovered more and more bizarre and fascinating scenarios that left me with further questions and fewer answers.

The pieces she created in response to her research were drawn directly onto wood panels using lead and colouring pencils. Certain pieces were extended figments of her imagination, and others were created with the intention of capturing a moment in history that she felt needed more attention.


Instagram @fipsi_seilern


Contact Ema Marinova,