May 25, 2011

‘Everybody Freeze Now: A flash-mob meditation on disability

News and Information

Participants in 'Everybody Freeze Now' become statues in Red Square at lunchtime Wednesday, May 25. The flash-mob event was part of Disability Awareness Week.

Mary Levin

Participants in "Everybody Freeze Now" become statues in Red Square at lunchtime Wednesday, May 25. The flash-mob event was part of Disability Awareness Week.

It was a bit of spontaneity planned in advance — a public meditation on disability, access and how we see ourselves.

It all started when Jurg Koch, assistant professor of dance, looked up and called out, “Oh no, my blue balloon!” as the balloon he held rose into the gray sky.

That was the cue, at 12:20 p.m. Wednesday, May 25, for dozens of participants on Red Square to freeze in place, no matter what they were doing. And so for five minutes, passers-by wondered what was happening when people to their left and right stopped cold. The rain turned the flash mob into something of a splash mob, but no one seemed to mind.

Above: Jurg Koch starts the event by 'losing' a blue balloon to the sky. Below, a participant strikes a dramatic pose while a UWTV cameraman gets a shot.

Mary Levin

Above: Jurg Koch starts the event by "losing" a blue balloon to the sky. Below, a participant strikes a dramatic pose while a UWTV cameraman gets a shot.

The event was called “Everybody Freeze Now,” and was, advance notes stated, “a collaborative project to raise disability awareness by gathering a diversity of people (of varying ability, race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, and allies), flooding Red Square, and freezing in unison. The goal … is to raise awareness of access as well as different ways of perceiving and experiencing Red Square, a public common space.”

Koch was faculty mentor for the flash-style event as part of Disability Awareness Week, presented by the Student Disability Commission. The main organizing influence was Ann Luetzow, a Disability Studies major. The week of events continues Thursday evening with Cripping Culture, a poetry slam and art show with live performances in the Art Buildings Parnassus Café, and other events through Saturday. The UW Dance Program co-sponsored the event.

“Everybody Freeze Now” was inspired by the work of Improv Everywhere, the group that made headlines with its 2008 event at New Yorks Grand  Central Station, where about 200 people suddenly froze in place for several minutes before going on with their day.

Participants freeze in place, and are inspected by others, during the 'Everybody Freeze Now' flash mob event.

Mary Levin

Participants freeze in place, and are inspected by others, during the "Everybody Freeze Now" flash mob event.

The flash event included Seattle writer Jesse Minkert, who provided voice description of what he saw as it happened. One passer-by said he had “no clue” what was going on when he and a friend were suddenly surrounded by motionless people. Another said it was “a little scary.”

In addition to Minkert, Stanley Sakai provided CART captioning and Andrew Scudder ASL interpretation. “This is the aspect that particularly framed the event as inclusive and accessible and which also distinguished it from other flash mobs,” Koch said. “This is approaching Universal Design in arts and event organization.”

Organizer Luetzow pronounced the event “awesome.” She wrote in an email, “The flash mob definitely surpassed my expectations, both in participation and reactions from bystanders. I think the event was a great way to bring disability to people’s radar, inviting them to reconsider Red Square as a public space and to think about different ways people experience it.”

Still, one may ask, whats the connection between this event and the experience of disability?

Thats left largely to the eye of the beholder. But Koch said its partly about the physical access to spaces that people without disabilities tend to take for granted.

“At one point it became tricky to tell if you were a spectator or a participant,” he said, enjoying that such blurred lines can make interesting food for thought.