News  Frozen students promote McGill’s Nuit Blanche

Flash mob raises awareness without moving a muscle

Roughly two dozen students froze in place Wednesday afternoon on the McLennan-Redpath walkway to promote the Fine Arts Council’s Nuit Blanche.

At approximately 12:28 p.m., each member of the “flash mob” struck a pose with a Nuit Blanche sign for four minutes. Passersby were forced to thread their way through the frozen students, many of them pausing to stare at the impromptu wax museum.

“It’s freaking me out,” said John Paul Tasker, U0 Arts, who was eating lunch on the Redpath ledge when the mob materialized. “I feel like I’m at a funeral.”

“I like it,” chimed in Alanna Marcellus, U0 Education. “But I think they need more people to get a real effect.”

Participants adopted various poses with their signs. Some students were content to act as human signposts; others pretended to freeze mid-conversation, while reading textbooks or magazines, or, in one girl’s case, halfway through an apple. All held their positions, no matter how closely passersby examined them.

“People came right up to my face,” recalled mobber and Nuit Blanche coordinator Amelie Dinh, who laughed and added, “Time passes slowly when you’re frozen.”

Celeste Pang, who gave the flash mob its starting and ending cues, was enthusiastic about this novel method of promoting Nuit Blanche’s second year.

“We’ve been putting up posters and flyers,” said Pang, “but this is a really cool way to publicize.”

Publicity stunts like the flash mob, that depend on a critical mass of participants and the element of surprise, have become more popular in recent years with the advent of streaming online video and Youtube extending their reach beyond passersby.

Although Dinh has previously participated in similar events in the Montreal and Toronto areas, including flash dance mobs and subway parties, this was her first time organizing such an event and she was pleased with the outcome.

“Everyone involved had fun. We were hoping for more traffic, but we obviously can’t control that.”

The mob was organized in February via a secret Facebook event and relied on invited friends and word of mouth to assemble. “We were expecting more participants,” Dinh said, “but something like this only appeals to certain people.”

Lack of traffic and participants notwithstanding, Pang was proud of the amount of people who spent part of their afternoon standing rigid in the cold. While the Fine Arts Council is far from abandoning traditional poster-and-flyer methods of advertising, Pang was optimistic about the future of such alternative publicity methods.

Dinh agreed, adding that such publicity stunts and Nuit Blanche’s flash mob make passersby rethink the way we use public spaces.

“It’s art in and of itself, which is the whole point of Nuit Blanche.”