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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.”

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