"Architecture, unlike any other form, allows us to not only express the transcendence of our hopes and the prison of our fears- but also to live in them". -Kevin Sites, from The Architecture of Fear
Welcome to the first ever exhibit in the Museum of Fearology! The MOF project is a collaboration between myself, Trevor Malkinson, and R.Michael Fisher, a scholar who's been studying fear for over 25 years. For more background on how we came to be working together (for close to a year and half now), see our post Coming Soon to Beams and Struts- The Museum of Fearology. We plan on having exhibits on a number of topics as they relate to fear, and our first is The Architecture of Fear, which Michael wrote a short introduction to in our second post Introducing the Co-Curators of the Museum of Fearology.
So come on in. We invite you to dwell within our exhibit rooms, which we've designed to hopefully generate thoughts, feelings, emotions and a critical analysis about the role and relationships between architecture, politics, economy, art, design, fear and love. So right this way, here's a map of the museum layout!
Exhibit Room #1- The Museum Theater
Now Playing: Gavin de Becker 'The Symposium on Federal Architecture'.
Welcome to exhibit 1 and the Museum of Fearology Theatre. We trust you'll find a cosy seat and watch all 3 of the videos (total 30 mins.) on a very interesting man who's on a mission to create a safer world; but uniquely, he's doing this without letting unwarranted fear rule our definitions, ideas and designs for safe anything.
Gavin de Becker, an internationally known American security expert, and founder/president of Gavin de Becker, Associates, has for several decades been thinking and writing about fear and applying his theories to improve how we manage it and manage ourselves to be less irrational. For more information go to his website https://gavindebecker.com/. He's the bestselling author of The Gift of Fear, which spent four months on the New York Times Best Seller List. His books are now published in 14 languages. As you watch these 3 videos on a talk he gave to The Symposium on Federal Architecture, soon after 9/11, you'll hear what he thinks about how unwarranted fear, distinct from true fear, can easily run our lives including how we design the buildings we dwell in.
Exhibit Room #2- Hands On Activity
This exhibit 2 is for hands-on experience. Enter the space with the memory glow after having attended the Theatre (exhibit 1) and what Gavin de Becker told federal contracted architects in the USA. Above you'll notice the hands-on activity where you can examine several images under various kinds of architectures. First of all see if you would like to move any of the images under another architecture category that is given. Also, see if you can come up with images for architectures of fearlessness and love. Send us your ideas and your images and/or fill out a response in the Comment box.
Thoughts to consider:
(a) in ancient Sparta (Greek culture), there was a temple known at the heart of the ancient great city, and it was dedicated to FEAR (1). Why do you think the Greeks at that time in their history made a temple with this focus and to what uses can you imagine it was put to? Can you find what it looked like, or at least imagine it? Send us your findings.
(b) long before gated-communities in urban centers began to explode in popularity with "white flight" from cosmopolitan cities, Callwood (2), writing about emotions, believed "'fear' .... is a fence behind which people feel safer." What do you think she meant, as a metaphor, by claiming fear to be a fence, an architecture itself? What purposes do fences serve, for the good, and for the not so good and depending on who's perspective? The word defence must have an interesting etymological origin; tell us about it.
(c) a disturbing philosophical question plagues the topic of architectures of fear, and it's one that will arise again in other exhibitions at the Museum of Fearology, and that is: Where does fear exist, only in the mind, or can it exist in the external world in which humans participate and co-create with? Any thoughts on this from you budding and/or serious philosophers out there?
1. Tuan, Yi-Fu. (1979). Landscapes of Fear. NY: Pantheon Books, p. 35.
2. Callwood, June (1986). Emotions. NY: Doubleday [origin. publ. 1964], p. 92.
Exhibit Room #3- Architecture of Fear and Love
Even Walls Fall Down- Fences and Fears in the Post/modern Age (by Trevor Malkinson; wall image- RMF)
In the collection of essays The Architecture of Fear (ed. Nan Ellin, 1997) architect Steven Flusty writes a piece called ‘Building Paranoia’. In it he contrasts walking into his parents' LA suburban home in the 1970s, with its simple small gate and unlocked front door, to the semi-fortress he would have to enter in the 1990s. Now, he's faced with bright security lights outside with photoelectric sensors. After he gets the deadbolt open and enters the house, he has a tense thirty seconds to deactivate the alarm in the dark hallway, and if he fails, the whole neighborhood will fill with sirens. Once he’s done that he has to move to deactivate another alarm that works by foot sensors. After that he can sit down and wipe off the sweat and presumably have a drink to calm his nerves.
The essays in The Architecture of Fear focus mainly on the United States, but not only, and as we look at some of the underlying sources of the “wallification” or “fortification” of America we’ll see that these will be easily exportable, if they haven’t been already. So what’s behind this growth in gated communities, in walls, in car and house alarms, in the middle class flight to ‘safe zones’ outside of cities, to corporate citadels and police helicopters, to the proliferation of private security guards and patrolled public space? What’s going on here with or besides paranoia?
I think there are two main source currents to focus on, neither being primary, both feeding off of each other. Let’s begin with the first axis, political-economy.
Some of the essays in the book reference the new economic climate of the past thirty years explicitly, while many others only describe its crippling effects. But a core underlying source of the social turbulence in this period, and the fear-based reactions I’ve just described, has been the result of a particular form of capitalism known as neoliberalism. Ascendant in the 1970s, and put in place by national leaders such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, it supports policies like deregulation, tax cuts (particularly for high-income earners), reduction in social spending, controls on labor power, privatization (esp. of public or state owned assets/enterprises), free flow of capital and so on. For more background see Gregor Bingham’s article The Shock Doctrine- The War Against Us All.
In her essay ‘Creating Landscapes of Safety’, Sharon Sutton writes, “Crime escalated during the latter part of the 1980s- the era when differences between wealth and poverty also sharpened…. In response, gated communities and other defensive mechanisms multiplied, attempting to ensure the safety of those barricaded inside. The number of handguns owned by individuals also grew.” (1).
In a post-Occupy world it’s now possible to speak openly about the incredible disparity in wealth that this new economic system created anywhere it was implemented; it was much harder during the bubbles of the 1990s and the 2000s when pundits like Thomas Friedman were writing about the “golden-straightjacket” (i.e., neoliberal policy) that all countries must put on for them to succeed (2). But this economic situation was creating a new underclass and immense amounts of poverty, and this was creating a “pervasive sense of insecurity” resulting in mass securitization (3).
But it wasn’t only the new dangerous class that was creating the insecurity, but the very nature of work itself was both threatened and became threatening all the way up and down the line. Sociologist Richard Sennett summarizes this nicely in his (1995) essay ‘The Search for a Place in the World’:
Now a new chapter has opened; mammoth government and corporate bureaucracies are becoming both more flexible and less secure institutions. They employ new technologies to connect globally, while ridding themselves internally of layer upon layer of managers and skilled workers. The character of work has thereby shifted away from fixed functions or clear career paths towards more limited or shifting tasks. Work is ceasing to provide the worker with a stable identity.
Thanks to these economic changes, place has changed its meaning. The identity of places has weakened, becoming more hybrid in composition because of the impact of global labor migration. In this sense, the power of place has weakened, as the emerging economic network evades the controls of national or local geography.
The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu referred to this in a 1998 essay on neoliberalism as “the absolute reign of flexibility”, noting that this created an environment of deep uncertainty for workers, as well as intense competition for work, which undermines almost any possibility for solidarity and collective actions among peoples. These were prime conditions for the corporate profiteering class and their ability to capitalize on fear and insecurity.
Skip ahead to today and this scenario has only intensified, with sociologists now talking about a whole new class of people they've dubbed "the precariat" (a neologism combining precarious and proletariat). There was an article just last week called Temp Work Nation- If You Do Get Hired, It Might Not Be For Long, which began with these words- “Almost one-third of American workers now do some kind of freelance work, and they lack almost every kind of economic security that permanent full-time workers traditionally have had”. Here’s a key passage from later on in the article:
“This gives companies tremendous flexibility without any risk,” [Glenn] Greenwald says. ‘Flexibility’ means they don’t have to keep people on the payroll during slack periods, pay them when they’re sick, pay for their health insurance, or obey workplace regulations. This, he says, has “shifted all the risks that large institutions used to have onto the backs of individuals”.
It’s really important to understand this not so obvious background political-economic context of our times. And even if we notice and understand it to some extent, it still has such a powerful pundit/ideological apparatus working on its behalf, that it’s all too easy for us to accept it as “the way it is” and then struggle to find a way to survive in this new jungle (4). But if we’re going to reverse the steady production and consumption of fear in our societies, we'll need a critical analysis and practices to understand these economic underpinnings and begin to combat and reject them. More on that when I write about solutions at the end.
The other major axis of growth in the culture of fear has been a more psycho-spiritual one (see also exhibit Room 1, de Becker). I wrote about this last week in a piece called Fear and Trembling Under the Open Sky- Sloterdijk on the Postmodern Condition, and I invite the reader to see that for a more in-depth study of this point, as it was intended to be a companion to what I’m writing here. Here's a few brief comments that I think are of particular importance.
One is that the turn from traditional societies to modernity- with it’s industrial production, mass culture and vastly accelerated pace of life- brought about a new wave of modern fear. This was new and unstable territory, inherently alarming to people. This is how Marshall Berman describes this period:
[Modernity] is a unity of disunity; it pours us all into the maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to part of the universe in which, as Marx said, all that is solid melts into air.
Modern culture was more or less successful in holding off the fear created by this maelstrom through the beliefs in inevitable progress and the growing wealth of all that a capitalist society was promised to produce. But the movement known as postmodernity came to reject this cultural story- so often a smokescreen for imperialism and domination- and left an even more exposed, anxiety-ridden populace in its place. As described in the above article, many turned to nostalgia, escapism, and fundamentalisms of various kinds to protect themselves from this new profound insecurity, which was being intensely exacerbated by the new neoliberal economic setting.
I mentioned at the beginning of this section that the cultural and economic factors played off of each other. How was this the case between postmodern culture/values and neoliberal capitalism? Terry Eagleton explains:
Post-structuralism and postmodernism subverted the metaphysical underpinnings of middle-class society with something of its own market-type relativism. Both postmodernists and neoliberals are suspicious of public norms, inherent values, given hierarchies, authoritative standards, consensual codes and traditional practices. It is just that the neoliberals admit that they reject all this in the name of the market. Radical postmodernists, by contrast, combine these aversions with a somewhat sheepish chariness of commercialism (5).
Whatever the intentions of many of the critics of modernity, who were trying to move beyond its limitations, much of what was created in its stead only unwittingly flamed the spread of neoliberal capitalism, a somewhat tragic irony that key theorists in the Marxist tradition have pointed out. According the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman modernity “was to be the great leap forward” away from the blind fate and insecurity of premodern times, but succeeded in producing its own unique set of fears. And now postmodernity, which was also premised as a better way to live, is creating its own new ever more uncontainable fear(s), or "liquid fear", as Bauman named the contemporary problem (6).
So in sum, we have a virulent strain of economics and a corporate-political class that’s growing increasingly wealthy off of it, and a subsequent rise in poverty and the breakdown of institutions that could adequately respond to the increasing social ills. With modernism but particularly with postmodernism, we also have an overall loss of meaning (Nietzsche’s visionary ‘death-of-God’), and the retreat of many into fantasy realms and narcissism to deal with it, all of which is further preyed upon by commodity producing corporations and politicians. We could add that this relatively brief period (1960s onward) has experience record levels of anxiety, depression and addiction. It’s not a pretty scene to be sure.
There are two last things I want to mention in regards to this whole scenario and the growth of the architecture of fear. The first is that one major general response to this culture of fear has been a retribalization (as Ellin suggested). This tribal, xenophobic, in-group loving dimension within us is very old, and has clearly been reactivated (or further stoked) under these conditions (7). Essay after essay in The Architecture of Fear describe variations on this theme, the fearful outbreak of what Freud called ‘the narcissism of minor differences’. Once again, Terry Eagleton captures the situation succinctly:
Capitalism has always pitched diverse forms of life promiscuously together- a fact that should give pause to those unwary postmodernists for whom diversity, astonishingly, is somehow a virtue in itself…But we are now witnessing a brutally quickened version of this melt-down, with the tearing up of traditional communities, the breaking down of national barriers, the generating of great tidal waves of migration. Culture in the form of fundamentalism has reared its head in reaction to these shattering upheavals. Everywhere you look, people are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to be themselves.
This is an understandable enough reaction, but one that brings with it troublesome outcomes. The other context worth mentioning is that this cultural-economic background is creating very unstable societal conditions in general, as we have amply seen across the world in the past two years, with popular uprisings in many countries. In response to this (and for many years, in preparation for it), the elite-ruling class has been implementing its own architecture(s) of fear, from bunkered and corporate citadels, to the constant surveillance and patrolling of public space, to militarized police forces. See my post David Graeber on Occupy, Social Movements and Police Repression for more on this unfolding story. (see also the links in the comment section).
(1) Sharon Sutton. 'Creating Landscapes of Safety'. Architecture of Fear. p.248
(2) Thomas Friedman. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. p.105.
(3) Steven Flusty. 'Building Paranoia'. Architecture of Fear. p.48.
(4) see Joe Corbett, Corporatized Electronic-Media and Collective Consciousness.
(5) Terry Eagleton. After Theory. p.29.
(6) Zygumant Bauman. Liquid Fear. 2006.
(7) "The defended neighborhod is characterized by a homogeneous social group exerting dominance within its boundaries in reaction to perceived threats of territorial violation by outsiders. Street gangs use spray paint while homeowners associations use neighborhood watch signs; either way we're talking informal militias". Steven Flusty. 'Building Paranoia'. Architecture of Fear. p.57.
(8) Terry Eagleton. After Theory. p.29.
Beyond the Architecture of Fear: Solutions - Trevor Malkinson
So what are some solutions to this rather messy overall situation? As I described in my piece Fear and Trembling Under the Open Sky, I think a relationship to the new cosmology is a crucial axis in the struggle to move beyond the abyss of meaning and connection in our times. We can legitimatley feel at home in the universe again. I also think we need to come out of our houses and bunkers and take part in our communities and societies again en masse. This engagement is what Hannah Arendt called "public happiness", and I think many of us don't understand how much we've lost as we've escaped into our inward realms of fantasy and refuge. I'll quote Beams contributor Joe Corbett, who helped draw this point out of me in the comments to that piece:
trevor, i think you are right-on about the potential of fulfillment through public happiness in civic engagement for the greater good as an alternative to late capitalist consumer fulfillment and the modern pursuit of self-interest. communal connection and participation is precisely the post-postmodern antidote we need (in combination with the new cosmology and evolutionary theory) to modern and postmodern alienation, fragmentation, and disenfranchisement.
Amen to that. To this I would add a third axis of global solidarity. One of the beautiful things about globalization and the spread of neoliberal economics is that much of the planet is now living under the same predatory regime of capitual accumlation, which also means we're now allies together in the fight to move beyond it. It was heartening to see the emergence of a global solidarity over these past two years, whether it was protesters in Tahrir Square holding up signs for Wisconsin and watching Occupy protests via the internet, or over one-hundred cities marching in support of the Montreal student protests, or the people of Isreal and Iran speaking directly to each other that they want peace. We're witnessing the emergence of a planetary awareness and connection that moves beyond the factionalisms and negative tribalisms that beset us, and this needs to be nurtured, fed and held.
Architectural Solutions- RMF
Postmodern architectural educators and theorists, like Alberto Perez-Gomez and Gregory Caicco (McGill University, Montreal, QB) as well as others like Joseph Rykwert, Dalibor Vsely, Juhani Pallasmaa and John Hejduk, have being working to bring a more critical architectural engagement with phenomenology, hermeneutics, poetics and ethics as foundational to address the modern and postmodern crisis in architectural education. These thinkers and artists are not intending a nostalgia or fantasy for new architectural approaches as much as they're inciting a new aesthetics of a life-world which is "a difficult negotiation between our intentions and the giveness of things within the history, culture, and prejudices we are already immersed in as a condition of mortality" and the ashes of modernism, writes Caicco (1). They advance us beyond an imaginary of architecture as utilitarian and for capitalist achievement symbols of immortality, they bring us down from massive inflated showy highrises to encounter the ground of being, of sacredness, of the unconscious, of dreams, of forgetting and remembering as Heidegger saw as essential structures of "an existential Being-unto-death" that challenged modern Enlightenment obsession (and anxiety) by denial of death. As Gomez wrote, it's time for us to educate architects in the best architecture schools to build upon love (2), in the desire and longing of everything architecture can provide for of our highest (non-fear-based) ideals.
(1). Caicco, G. (2007). Introduction. In G. Caicco (Ed.). Architecture, Ethics, and the Personhood of Place (pp. 1-38). Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.
(2) Gomez, A. P. (2006). Built Upon Love: Architectural Longings After Ethics and Aesthetics. MIT Press.
(3) Maslow, A. (1968) Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.
If all that you've just read has your head whirling, or has produced a current of anxiety, one solution is to sit, breathe and take a moment to meditate. As you'll see on the Museum Map, we've set aside a small sacred space in exhibit room 3, a place to dwell in, with and as the eternal and timeless.
Exhibit Room 4- Occupy Fear Posters
Welcome to the Occupy Fear Poster Room. We still have a Call for any of you who would like to create some creative image (jpeg) that demonstrates a way of occupying fear consciously and that helps humans negotiate a more empowered relationship with fear. We have described this permanent exhibition room and its purpose in this prior post at Beams. -RMF.
First three posters courtesy of R. Michael Fisher.
This next image is courtesy of the Miami based artist/activist Ivan Martinez, who did a guerrilla art project called "Fear Itself". According to Yes! Magazine, "Martinez drives through the city projecting a boy “running scared” while typing his fears—our collective fears—into a laptop. Those fears are then projected in real time onto building facades. Sometimes the boy stops to catch his breath, or speak with someone, but then he is scared again and off and running".
The image to the right is projected on "a new multi-million dollar performing arts center [that] was built where there used to be makeshift homeless shelters. Says Martinez's boy:“WOW! How much did this cost? Looks nice, can me and a couple hundred of my homeless friends live in it?”
Exhibit Room 5- The Art of Milan Golob
"Come closer if you dare.... If you are afraid that you will be washed away and you don't come close to me, we are going nowhere," writes Milan Golob as a theme in his Artist Statement for exhibit #5 (for full Artist Statement see end note 1). Enter this room and you have to enter the world of this well-seasoned Slovenian artist (see Bio. end note 2). One gets the sense he expects you to be intimate. He doesn't tell you what or how nor forces anything. Art is not for telling and propounding. Art is all about showing.
Golob's work (which you can see on his website) ought to serve as a showing of his intimate response to death, to symbols and architectures of death (i.e., the tombstone and its adornments), and to a unique individual now past with only traces and gestures placed around the tombstone by a community of the caring that visits the grave or not. He takes the time to go there, and be there, and photograph, study and make notes visually, arranging his own composition based on the composition he experiences in the graveyard.
He does not know the individual who died and prefers it that way. He is looking to communicate something more universal. His idea of intimacy at the grave, the dwelling place of death, is a metaphysical experience with a resultant metaphysical architecture in his carefully designed artworking responses. He has created many of these portraits for a decade (or are they blueprints of the transcendent nature of the soul?), which allow us a place to dwell in an architecture of ideas, feelings, memories, and re-calibrations of possibilities of what it means to access and be-there-with the unknown known 'other.' It is a place of fear but not fear alone. Where there is fear, so fearlessness arises, whether we recognize this or not (3).
The grave and tombstone are architectures of fear, as most of us would experience them, especially in the Western world. Few people really like to go there, dwell there, and feel their own sense of a tragic life soon to dissolve and deteriorate with no exit from the existential leveler of death and mortality. This architecture Golob studies is a death-reminder, as the terror management theorists would tell us (4), and upon such a reminder most people unconsciously shrink in some part of their being into a fear-based patterned response, a defense against death, a recoil to the familiar and traditional and homogenous, and many act more violently from reactions to death-reminders (mostly unconsciously, often very subtle).
In a later exhibition the Museum of Fearology will look at the social psychology of fear and its relation to death-reminders and violence. But Golob does the opposite, instead of a fear-response he enters a liminal zone of creative and artistic engagement with the architecture of fear, and emerges with a metaphysical architecture of fearlessness in his paintings, which are probably shamanic-like visions informed by his in depth knowledge of physics and aesthetics combined. "Death is often associated with darkness and gloom, but what Golob's images suggest is eternity.... [a] pictorial depth [of field], like a psychological membrane bearing the stamp of the artist's perception...," wrote curator Milos Basin, 2010.
Yet, like Golob himself, who refuses to tell us what the paintings mean and what he's doing or not doing in these works, he leaves inquirers to explore for themselves their own meaning and feelings. If you want to investigate what others have said see past art gallery curators' statements on his website.
Curator Statement - RMF
1). ARTIST STATEMENT: I'll grind you up like sugar and I'll ride my bike so far that carmine will be split all over your thighs. In Pisanello's Vision I'll tell you that it makes me feel sick, that we are all so bloody clever and spiritual nowadays, but in fact nothing more than three-week-old doughnuts. I'll throw away conceptual anti-painting, and if by chance there's a flood of pop-minimalist industrial products, I have an inflatable boat with me. In the case of nothing but increased moisture, we'll just ride over Kosuth's intelligent worms. Cutting the throats of ready-made fetishes will not smell of ping pong zen philosophy. Sand, a mirror and a burek can be blessed by whosoever wishes to it's all the same to me. Our bike can also break down, but don't worry, we'll borrow some handcart from the nearest gallery. It won't get rusty, I have enough oil. I'll imagine myself a thoroughly good painter and you - whatever you want.
If you are afraid that you will be washed away and you don't come close to me, we are going nowhere. Keep on paying the postal orders regularly so that you don't miss ordinary and every month lick some god afresh, which isn't more than nothing. Even without centrifuge it may be possible to get by, I don't know. With the little effort the sky is yellow after mowing, and at least take care that there won't be only stains of hot beef soup with artichokes on it. Oh, yes, I can be benevolent only to those who have at least a little bit of yellow in them. Because life is surely yellow and that's what you don't understand. Ciao. -Milan Golob (1994)
3). See Fisher, R. M. (2010). The World's Fearlessness Teachings: A Critical Integral Approach to Fear Management/Education for the 21st Century. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
4). Terror management theory (TMT) comes from the philosophy of the late-Ernest Becker, and is finding its most powerful empirical and predictive outcomes in social psychology in the past few decades. See for example, the DVD Flight from Death: The Quest for Immorality (Patrick Shen, Transcendental Media, 2005). For a technical elucidation of TMT see In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror (Pyszcyznski, Solomon, Greenberg, American Psychological Association, 2002).
So that concludes our exhibit on The Architecture of Fear. We invite you to return to the rooms a second time or as many times as you want, and we'd love to have a conversation with you, so feel free to drop us a line in the comment section. Be sure to join us in a few months time for our second exhibit on The Geography of Fear. Until then, we hope you enjoyed your stay at the Museum of Fearology, take a museum badge on your way out if you want to support the project!