Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Making a map of fear

‘Advertisements’ like the one below are popping up in publications around the world. Now the M&G joins in The Fear Project

Hazel Friedman

ADAM BROOMBERG knows what it is like to be shit-scared. Literally. Or, rather, he has a mediated understanding of it from reading articles on experiments in which white mice were exposed to flashing lights and short, sharp shocks which made them defecate from fright.

This visceral discovery inspired Broomberg to devise a project that sums up — in a simple, four-letter word — the most primal, universal, yet ephemeral, of human conditions: fear.

A student at Fabrica, a research and communications centre near Venice — whose mission is to “infiltrate the mass media with provocative and unedited images, video sounds and publications which question the world we live in” — Broomberg is collaborating on the project with Dutch graphic designer Susan Laws, Italian writer Fabrizio Andrella, and others. Marketed — or, rather, infiltrated — to different countries worldwide through postcards and the media in

the form of magazine features, newspaper articles and television and radio spots, The Fear Project requests a response from “readers” in the form of a description of their fears in any medium: image, text, object or sound.

“We want to bottle, label and display them in order to construct a worldwide map of fear,” says Broomberg. “The replies will be used in editorial form for independent magazines, and television in the form of fear weather reports”.

In addition, an exhibition of the material will take place in Venice in September 1996.

“The replies we have already received have been extraordinary. For example, the responses from the former Yugoslavia completely undermine the depiction of life in a war-zone by a patronising Western press. They are painfully domestic and often full of irony. They are also quite comical. Someone from the US, for example, sent a pair of boxer shorts with the words ‘Atlanta Olympics’ printed all over them; someone else sent some British beef. And some are quite tragic, like the photograph sent to us of a baby with the words ‘sensa cancro’ (without cancer) angrily scrawled on it, together with an X-ray of a malignant tumour on his stomach.”

The South African-born Broomberg has chosen a typically site-specific image for Mail & Guardian readers, that can be seen in part as a reference to Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal — the progenitor of the “readymade”, displacing the very notion of artistic originality.

“The image is conceptually loaded,” says Broomberg, “but primarily it points an ironic finger back at hate which is alive and well and living with two kids somewhere.”

It makes sense when you realise that the man behind Fabrica is Oliviero Toscani, the “author” of the Benetton advertising campaign which constructs shrines to a commodified reality through the appropriation of photo-journalism.

During his sojourn at Fabrica, Broomberg is provided with housing, transport, grants and studio facilities in order to explore the evolution of mass culture, and devise new forms of communication in a language that informs and provokes.

“Fabrica consists of 12 hideously creative people from around the world,” he says. “We all hang out in a big villa in a small town. If this description conjures up the image of a white mouse in an experiment to measure fear,

you’re definitely on the right track.”

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Zondo may miss chief justice cut

The deputy chief justice is said to top Ramaphosa’s list but his position as head of the state capture commission is seen as too politically fraught

Government fails to act on officials implicated in R3bn SIU...

Half of the 127 managers incriminated in gross procurement corruption have yet to be disciplined

More top stories

Zondo may miss chief justice cut

The deputy chief justice is said to top Ramaphosa’s list but his position as head of the state capture commission is seen as too politically fraught

‘Dung Beetle’ turns tech into art and plastic into fuel

Real dung beetles make waste useful and this steel sculpture does the same for plastic

Government fails to act on officials implicated in R3bn SIU...

Half of the 127 managers incriminated in gross procurement corruption have yet to be disciplined

Ramaphosa calls for public nominations for new chief justice

The president has named a panel of experts to help him draw up a shortlist of candidates in an unprecedented move that opens the appointment to consultation
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×