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October 24, 2007 / Amy Bradney-George

A Culture of Fear

We sat in the dark performance space waiting for the audience to enter. An eerie song was playing and the only light came from four torches. Once audience member followed the light to the centre of the room before changing their mind and moving outside the light. When it was dark, we began to talk.

I walked around, taking photos of people in the dark, then handing them disturbing images which they could look at when the lights were turned on. The stockings on our heads made us uniform, and the scattered sentences unsettled a lot of people. The lights, when they came up, were only light enough to illuminate the space, not much more.

It sounds strange, and possibly a little over-dramatised in written form, but the effect on the audience was what we had hoped for. Our performance was exploring the phrase “a culture of fear” and we were both facilitating and sharing fears with the people around us. In a post-September 11, post-Bali Bombings, post-London bus scare, terrorism is fear’s word of choice. And suspicion is rife.  How do you know who is planning something? Could that person talking quietly into their phone and rapidly looking around be someone suspect enough to call the National Security Hotline?

You know there’s something wrong with society when the sound of fireworks can be mistaken for gunfire – even if only for a second. We’re more on edge than before, and in some ways I think that is a normal, reasonable reaction to recent world events. But in many ways I wonder if there is an alternative, and this performance gave me a chance to make others question their own fears.

When the fluros were turned on and our performance was over someone gave the best feedback I could have asked for.

“My heart was racing. I was scared, but I also asked myself why I was scared.”

That was what I had hoped to hear.

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