Random acts of silliness


Fairfax Media Australia

Date of original publication

Oct 6, 2004


They appear out of nowhere, assail your senses, then disperse like smoke. Their organisations are highly secretive, their activity mysterious and no one really understands what they do. Part art performance, part cult, flashmobs are the new situationists.

"We gather, do the thing we agreed to do, then get out," Rak Razam, a Melbourne flashmob organiser, says. "It's a flash in the pan but the key is that we are brought together by the use of technology."

Flashmobbing - where people meet to perform an act of silliness for a short time - is on the rise in Australia.

The rules are simple. Participants co-ordinate an action via the internet, firming up details by text message. On the day, they meet, perform an act, then scatter. The nature of the act varies from group to group.

Razam, whose group is called Barrel Full of Monkeys, says the practice has origins in New York, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"I think the climate there, at that time, there was a lot of concern about the Patriot Act, about people gathering in crowds and what they could and couldn't do. These [people] wanted to keep it positive and neutral and not a political act - they would meet randomly to do instant theatre and create an art experience that was short and sharp," he says.

Australian flashmob stunts range from pointing at the sky simultaneously to pretending to be on the phone.

Razam says his most memorable flashmob was in January, where Barrel Full of Monkeys broadcast music on a particular frequency and participants donned headphones and danced to their radios.

"It was a silent dancing party where if you knew the wavelength we were transmitting on and had radio and headphones you could join in," he says. "It only went for 11 minutes and 11 seconds in front of the Victorian State Library," he says.

Razam says the act is inherently political and artistic.

"The word 'mob' has bad connotations and I think it's inherently political because people are gathering. It's like a human art exhibition," he says. "It's also drawing on the idea of reclaiming public spaces. There's so much rigmarole with permits and things, whereas flashmobbing is all about spontaneity. It's organised spontaneity."

It's an activity that couldn't have existed in the past.

"It's so instantaneous," says Razam. "You can literally say 'turn left' and the whole group can turn left without speaking."

Sydney flashmobbing is co-ordinated mainly through a group called SydMob, which has organised 24 flashmobs in over a year.

A SydMob organiser, Tempest Waters, says she doesn't need a political agenda to get a giggle out of flashmobbing.

"I can't begin to tell you how many people try to look for a point in flashmobbing. Yes, there's not a point, but it's so much fun and liberating for a lot of people. You laugh yourself silly about it for a couple of days," she says.

Waters, whose most recent flashmob was forming conga line in front of "the Toaster" at Circular Quay, says her group has more than 1500 members, from students to grandparents. Fortnightly flashmobs attract about 100 people. At a global flashmob this year, where groups performed at the same time internationally, Sydney drew 450 people.

"We formed two great big lines up to the stairs of the Opera House and we did Row, Row, Row Your Boat," says Waters.