A multi-authored word composition from Cambridge University Library

Powerhouse Live

As part of an artist's residency at Kettle's Yard, Bettina Furnée staged an 8 week continuous word association game at Cambridge University Library during Full Easter term 2008. The game started off on Tuesday 22nd April with a single first word 'powerhouse' on display in the entrance hall of the library, recorded by time-lapse photography. Every day between 11-12am, six library users or staff were asked by Furnée to respond with the first word which came to mind, to be displayed next (and so on). During any other time of the day further word associations to the latest word were submitted via this website, linked to the University Library homepage. The most frequently submitted response was displayed in the library at set intervals. Thus around ten new word associations were displayed each day.

This website documents the project by way of a word association index and scholarly contributions (see links on the right). It is also intended that a short time-lapse film will be made.

All words were colour coded by gender and by origin. A website entry could not be submitted without choosing male/female fields. A single word or concept was required. Multiple submissions made within a short period of time were considered as single entries. Offensive words, or words not in the spirit of the game, such as personal messages, were not displayed in the library, but were indexed. A list of 32 'banned words' (the usual suspects) was subject to censure from the start.

Individual submission times at the library:
Monday-Saturday: between 11am-12noon (at 10 mins. intervals)

On-line polling times were:
Monday-Friday: 7am, 10am, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm BST
Saturday: 7am, 10am, 3pm, 6pm BST
Sunday: 9pm BST

Colour code:
Words submitted at the library: Male= red, Female=Yellow
Words originating on-line: Male= Green, Female= Amber, Equal gender= Striped

Powerhouse to Albatross

Over 8 weeks a chain of 483 words was displayed above the door in the entrance hall of the library. More than half of these words were word associations submitted individually by library users or staff, and the rest constituted the dominant responses from submissions made on-line. The individual responses were on display for ten minutes each, whilst web responses were up for 3 hours at a time, or over the course of a night or Sunday.

Out of a total of 7236 submissions, 3688 were unique words. Of these 483 words were displayed as the word association chain in the library.

The words most frequently displayed in the library were: House, Mouse and Play (4 times each), followed by Books, Cheese, Happy, Control, Power and Sad (3 times each).

The words most frequently submitted and displayed were Aardvark (30 entries, displayed twice) and House (29 entries, displayed 4 times).

Of all submissions 61% were made by women, and 39% by men.
Of individual submissions in the library 48% were made by women, and 52% by men.

Of the displayed words 54% is coded Female, 38% Male and 8% as submitted by equal numbers of each gender.

For further data counts and lists see:

Word association: can your research interests be linked up?

I would be interested to hear from members of the University who could inform, link up any research projects, or contribute to this project. I am keen to evaluate the nature and qualities (other than aesthetic or narrative) of word association in this context. I am particularly interested to receive responses from scholars familiar with word association tests used in the fields of Psychology, Neuroscience, Linguistics, English, Philosophy and Sociology, and from scholars in Gender Studies (words are colour coded by player's gender), Information Science (word associations can form an alternative thesaurus to literary based retrieval systems) or Computer Science (for visual models of sorting the words).
Your contribution will be added to this website.

For existing contributions: see link on the right


Bettina Furnée (The Hague, 1963) trained as a letter cutter, and text is her primary material. She lives and works in Cambridge. Her public art projects can be seen on http://www.axisweb.org/seCVPG.aspx?ARTISTID=8193. Furnée previously initiated 'If Ever You're in the Area', held at two arts venues and coastal locations in Suffolk and Essex during 2005-06 (see: http://www.ifever.org.uk). 'Powerhouse' resulted from selection for 'Space for 10', a national professional development programme led by the Arthouse, Wakefield. This 'Space for 10' residency was hosted during Easter term 2008 by Kettle's Yard and Hughes Hall in Cambridge.

"Cambridge University Library is a world-class academic as well as legal deposit library, keeping one copy of every published book in the British Isles. I live in Cambridge, where the Library's industrial scale building by Giles Gilbert Scott casts its physical presence and intellectual authority over the town. I aim to capture something of what it feels like to be inside this powerhouse, investigating the uncertainties of identity and knowledge, and how these concepts might function in architectural space." (Bettina Furnéee)


This project has involved the participation and skills of many people. First of all I would like to thank the Cambridge University Library Syndicate for granting their permission for this project to be held. Katy Woods at The Arthouse, Elizabeth Fisher at Kettle's Yard and Sue Mehrer at the University Library have generously given their time, advice and support to make this project possible. I have had the benefit of professional advice and support from Professor John Newling and Duncan Higgins at Nottingham Trent University. I gratefully acknowledge the expertise and sheer hard work (under time pressure) of Dylan Banarse, for the technical development and camera setup, and Paul Allitt, for the website design.
Without your help this project would not have been possible.

THANK YOU to all of you players who have contributed!

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