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The Origins of Fear: An Exploration of the Social and Biological Foundations of Phobias
This work hopes to explore the perceptions of fears and phobias common in today’s world. The expectation is that each person will see the work through a separate lens – one viewer may see a piece as horrific and vile, while another finds the same object as utterly mundane.
The poster works on the exterior wall of the room serves two main purposes: to further set up the space as an environment, and to act as works themselves, priming the viewer to question what generates anxiety in themselves and others. It is important that this work feels like an environment, and not merely sculptures in a room. To further elicit the sense of a cohesive space, these posters sought to mimic vintage circus advertisements, showcasing elegant athletic acts and freaks of nature alike. Several forms are repeated on cheap paper and the text is placed with paint instead of print, resembling how such advertisements would appear in an urban space and provoking a sense of vandalism. The pieces themselves utilize microphotography images, often of uncomfortable origins, to evoke a sense of the unknown. They compromise several pieces, ranging from the more unusual sights, such as a woman with four breasts, to the more common scenes of an ethnic minority or two ladies kissing. Both on opposite sides of the spectrum of abnormality, yet to many they are both treated with the same level of disgust.
Once inside, the space plays on a plethora of fears and phobias drawn from research, first-hand accounts, and societal norms. Ideas such as fear of the dark, spiders, enclosed spaces, self-doubt, unsanitary conditions, being observed, heights, fetishism, areas of low socioeconomic status, the unknown, and imagined monsters are all throughout. Still, the work takes on an air of playfulness and parody, in a manner to simultaneously highlight and undermine the harsher underlying themes. Using softer materials such as fabric and toys, and employing an excess of colors and childish patterns throughout, any sensation of anxiety at the subjects is muted by the frivolity. No matter how any one individual views each fear, they are all brought to the same level of humor to emphasize that, to some, the themes can be viewed with implications dissimilar to your own.
Which comes to the main question of the show: where do fears originate? Do we fear some things by an innate biological predisposition, by environmental cues and adverse events, or by societal expectations? As an example, a man with significant facial scarring could indicate the presence of disease, something we might innately avoid for safety, or it could be the aftereffects of a burn, something we might shy away from due to societal pressures. Even the simple nature of the colors black and white have opposite associations across cultures, and so both are used with frequency throughout the room – the only shades really present on the wall.
Pushing this further, how do ordinary fears – a necessary component in human development and survival – become disordered phobias? Given our diverse backgrounds, one individual’s predispositions could compromise a perception that directly opposes that of another. Which frightens you more: a spider formed entirely out of toys, the demented mocking laughter from an abandoned old phone, or the discomfort of viewing a vibrant masturbating mannequin? Few of these answers are particularly straightforward, but I ask the participant to question how and why they react to each piece in this work the way they do.
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Finkelstein, Rachel Isabella, "The Origins of Fear: An Exploration of the Social and Biological Foundations of Phobias" (2013). Senior Projects Spring 2013. 407.
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