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Duncan Speakman’s Subtlemob ‘as if it were the last time’ at the Milton Keynes International  Festival 17th,18th, 22nd + 24th July 2010

Unlike a flash mob (a gathering of a group of strangers in a crowd who suddenly perform an action on mass, that amaze or surprize the rest of the  crowd), the Subtlemob ‘as if it were the last time’ unfolded poetically over thirty minutes.

An air of the unexpected surrounds Duncan Speakman’s Subtlemob events. Open to anyone and a partner who wishes to participate. Registering you await further instruction. The anticipation builds, then close to the event, via email, the exact location is revealed. An MP3 and detailed instructions are provided. Listening to the MP3 is prohibited until the specified date and time. The very particular preparation is not merely functional. It signals that you are not merely an attendee but a participant.

Photo by D.C. Masters: Midsummer Place Shopping Centre

Photo by D.C. Masters: Midsummer Place Shopping Centre

Once located inside the Midsummer Place Shopping Centre, you and your partner are surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of the generic shopping mall experience. Watches synchronised, the MP3 begins. As the calm voice tells you what to do, the space begins to loose its frenetic quality and slows down. No longer in the role of a shopper, channelled through corridors moving between outlets, your purpose is now different from those around you. Shoppers become interesting subjects to gaze at and you become aware of yourself moving through the space.

Something like a play unfolds, but it is unclear if what you are hearing pertains to what you see. Are you and your partner (listening on their own MP3 player) the characters described, or is it those people over there…? The ‘us’ and ‘them’ is dissolved in the unifying of all anxieties, all suffering, all happiness, all fear; yet you are forever separated from those around you because they can’t hear what you are hearing. Are they participants? You look around, trying to make connections with others hidden in the crowd, who may be looking at you, as you stare intently at your partner.

Recorded sounds overlay with live sounds in the space. They fuse, deepening your immersion, then clash. You are jolted back into the space, and then immersed once again as you spot a possible participant smiling at you; are you their archetypal character?

Moving your body in the ways directed, you glance around, are there others colluding in this ‘secret club’?

Your fellow participants converge and partners dance. You are revealed to each other and those around you, and then the recording comes to an end. Bereft, like reading the last words of a good book, or as the credits roll and the lights come up, you know that things are not as they were thirty minutes ago. In the inbetween space, of knowing and not knowing, the fact and fiction interweave once again, as previously complete strangers – participants greet each other warmly as friends.