2015 FEAR:Horror|Terror

2015 FEAR:Horror|Terror

IPEP India 2013-14-15 – Catalogue
.pdf, 8.5MB

Mireille Bourgeois
Art Writer, Curator, Canada

Fear of the unknown is the ruler of all things, and a leading force in political tactics used to create global conflict and drive a community to act out of fear. This text runs through the basics of fear by identifying differences between fear and trauma, and linking trauma to political propaganda by way of looking to earlier forms of successful fear-based tactics due to the rise of technology, industry, and individualism.

Fear is caused by an unconscious reaction of the brain. When something occurs in our immediate reality, such as hearing a noise at the door of our home, our brain kicks into what we know as fight or flight. We hear the noise at the door and because we don’t know what it is, our brain tells us to jump up, prepare yourself, and run to protect yourself. The conclusion of this reaction quickly runs through the brain from the thalamus to amygdala to the hypothalamus instigating the survival mode called flight. The other scientific stream of fear is fight, and will activate the part of our brain that thinks about what the noise could be, and cross-references past experiences and how to protect ourselves. It is the part of fear that will make you get a knife and defend yourself and your home. Because this reaction goes through the extra step of passing through the sensory cortex and the hippocampus before the amygdala, it is also the stream that will eventually calm you down if the noise ends up being nothing. Both of these reactions take place simultaneously and make up what we know as ‘fear’.

If we look at fear psychologically, we see that trauma can have lingering effects that fear could only reach momentarily. Trauma can perpetuate moments of panic and fear based on a past event such as experiencing live gun fire and then months later seeing gun fire on television, which can incite those reactions once again. Rather than experiencing the fight or flight, one might let it influence his or her behaviour in order to avoid feeling true moment of fear once again. In the same vein, mass media images can instigate a fear-based thinking process that lies somewhere between empathy and terror; a visual trauma that might encourage who we vote for, which house we buy, countries we visit despite the statistical risk of danger being very low.

Fear of the unknown is responsible for the flight reaction of our minds. If we don’t know what “that” thing is, it could be “anything”. An example of this is the rise and political use of technology during the renaissance, which brought the movement of Dutch shadow play to new heights with something called Phantasmagoria. Scientists and magicians joined forces for public events that featured creative lighting techniques to project by candle light images of ghosts and evil spirits on painted glass and smoke-filled rooms. The manipulation of lights and screens lead to a historical invention when they added wheels on the projectors and created the first moving image. The concept of most of these events was to create otherworldly experiences, such as re-creating hauntings in a type of evil spirit theatre. With the ghostly images approaching and receding from the crowd, and with a truly spiritual 17th century audience, it was believed that these light shows actually channelled the underworld and caused audiences to faint and scream out of complete terror. The French Revolution and the then expanding frontier of the Americas made for the perfect setting to conjure fear in communities that were in a state of political unrest, suggesting that the collective experience of fear in times of an unknown future can be fuelled regionally on a small scale, in response to the global context of politics.

What we are afraid of today hasn’t changed drastically. Generally, the fear of losing or lacking in something, whether it’s mental or physical security, water and food, religion, independence, connectedness with others, health, happiness, family, love, sex. These are the perimeters of having and losing that can trigger trauma into fear. Fear was manufactured in the closing century of the Renaissance through technology, religion and war, and the same can be said of contemporary times as biological attacks and the infiltration of security in a globalized world are claimed as severe threats. The renaissance was countered by the dawn of enlightenment, which turned to individualism as a way to resist and launch away from tradition, not unlike contemporary movements of protest and the avant-garde in artistic practices. The controversial art group Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) works in installation, performance and use technology, and biology among other mediums for their interventions. In their work Germs of Deception (2005-07) they study the tactics used by government to induce fear in the general public regarding bio-terror and the ways in which the military has informed decisions on highly disputed bio-warfare programs based on fraudulent or overblown scientific reports. Much of their artwork serves to break down the perception of power, in an age when public sway is at the forefront of politics. CAE have been harassed, detained, and criticized by authorities, which has nearly destroyed the collective in the past. The authorities flag them as a risk to the public, some would say not for the materials with which they work, but for the influence they can have in society through stimulating mass critique of governing structures.

Despite the sophisticated strategies of mass media, many attempts at reaching the masses fail to sway the public. Responses range from ridicule to resistance when the public realizes they are being manipulated through television, film, newspapers, and political campaigns, and even more so in nations experiencing single party governments. In 1980 Communist Poland saw the creation of the Solidarity, a movement that organized a series of protests against the communist regime. In 1982 civilians of the Polish town of Swidnik were regulated by a 10 pm curfew, and organized “walk abouts” during the evening news at 7pm, in protest of the regime propaganda spread by the media. Adding to this action were their blank television sets, which they would unplug and place in a baby stroller for their evening walks. This clear message of “I know what you are doing”, was heard by the authorities who then changed the curfew to 7pm. In response, the locals went outside for their walks during the 5pm news. Current analysis of this act could be compared to individuals on Facebook changing their profile pictures in protest of a perceived injustice. However, with a thriving society of individuals, the ‘I’ has become more important than the ‘we’. Changing a profile picture is seen as an act of joining mass media rather than an act of protest, and has significantly less impact in the digital universe than uniting in person.

We would be hard pressed to find a more skeptical and cynical time in our existence, but our cynicism doesn’t deter us from looking at images of terror. In Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others she discusses war photography and the obsession with war documentation. Sontag describes the viewers who revel in the uncomfortable moments of seeing these images as being caught in the pleasure of flinching. “Those with the stomach to look are playing a role authorized by many glorious depictions of suffering. Torment, a canonical subject in art, is often represented in painting as a spectacle, something being watched (or ignored) by other people. The implication is: no, it cannot be stopped – and the mingling of inattentive with attentive onlookers underscores this.” Our willingness to witness terror, and to feel fear; through art, horror films, and even dare-devil adventure, may simply be a human behaviour of wanting to learn more about a feeling so mysteriously linked to the unknown.

This text is one of two texts that are written to give critical dimension to the 2015 International Print Exchange Programme theme on Fear and Terror. Many of the prints in the Print Exchange show interpretations of terror, or are representative of the divide between helpless and useful in the context of the individual experience of fear. Some prints such as Krystyna Maniecka-Bodgan’s study of an exhumed Polish mass grave site speak of paying tribute to horrific devastation in history, others focus on knowledge being the key to identifying and surmounting difference as in Drew Doblinger’s, while Hannah-Amelia King’s work speaks to the literal action necessary for protest and change rather than engaging in a passive representation of action such as in social media.

Their lines and compositions are sometimes forced through hard body gestures and at times polemic, emblematic of fight or flight. A common color is red, for blood, anger, or shock, but more common than red surprisingly is the color black. Reminiscent of Goya’s later black paintings for the lack of light and detail, open-ended scenes of horror showing no end in sight, and terror in the night. It is used in almost all prints and strongly references the fear of the unknown like in Julia Wakefield’s print of a demon huddled in a dark cave. In the selection for the International Print Exchange, we see that the unknown is the most powerful fuel for propaganda as it comes from the human psyche’s arsenal.

A black and grey print by Neeraj Singh of an animal housing various tools and weapons in its belly has a human head that howls at the moon. It somehow is the outcome of all histories, and shows us an icon of a postmodern way to the future. The super-creature holds everything we are in its belly: the advancements of technology, the rise of ego and willpower, our identity perhaps shielded behind these weapons, yet it reminds us of the perverse ways by which we achieved these historical landmarks. The depiction of fear and terror in cultural practices still share an inescapable hope that we are critical enough to discern truth from images of mass media. Balance between the brain (thinking) and the heart (feeling) is becoming more of a challenge, since the basic need of criticality for survival is breaking down our ability to trust or be compassionate for those experiencing trauma. What may keep society intact is its physiological response to fear. Experiencing the adrenaline, the fight or flight of fear, fulfills the innate hope that we can save ourselves.

Read ↓

Nikhil Purohit
Art Writer, Artist, Poet, India

Humanity is defined by the unanswerable questions.
Being devoid of emotions, humans would cease to exist as humans. We all nourish, cherish, use, employ, engage predominantly with one emotion so extensively that we entail it a significant, irreplaceable position in our lives. The vacuum between known and the unknowable, of absence and presence, of past or future, the concerns surrounding these notions arouse fear in us, all.

Our inner lives have been drugged to an end where we accept fear as a fundamental component of human life. Many forms of fear coexist in our minds and surface as a response to particular threat to something, we value-tangible or intangible. Comparison to others, their lives and material life mainly lead us to the dangers of fear. Fear of finding one self to be either inferior or superior. Through comparison we are constantly confirming our existence from others point of view, eventually leading to depression.

We look for security-of many kinds. We create things around us to make ourselves feel secure, better placed by creating likeminded others, a society of likeminded people who continue to make one feel secure-without any threat. Difference in opinion leads to change in the thought, moving towards the sense of hierarchy.

Fear is always a relative phenomenon. As the philosopher J. Krishnamurti quotes “Fear is always in relation to something; it does not exist by itself. There is fear of what happened yesterday in relation to the possibility of its repetition tomorrow; there is always a fixed point from which relationship takes place.” Thus we employ this relation to control the happenings of our lives either by inducing fear into others or self through the known channels of religion, politics, socio-cultural practices and science.

The IPEP participants explore the emotion as experienced or observed or critiqued by them in their lives and society. While some choose to narrate it from personal experiences through metaphorical imageries, others present perspectives pertinent to a larger implication of regional politics, unjust communal differences, phobias that haunt individuals in seclusion and by using mythical undercurrents. A diverse set of visuals could be witnessed as the artists attempt to establish a semiotics of some sorts engaging conventional mediums of print making to encapsulate the notion of fear.

Read ↓