theFearbox

Exhibition Design, Blog, User Research, Information Graphics, Illustration

 

theFearbox is an independent project created during my senior year at Carnegie Mellon University. 

It consisted of a wooden box for collecting fears. The box traveled to different public locations around Pittsburgh. Instructions displayed with the project prompted viewers to face their fears by writing them down, facing the fear, and throwing them away in the box. Paper and pens were set up for this purpose. Between five Pittsburgh locations and an online blog over 500 responses were collected.  The fears were categorized and analyzed to understand  to fears changed based on location. In addition, academic research was conducted into how disciplines such as history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and biology discuss fear.


A funny thing happens when you ask a person to calmly consider their fears. Instead of engaging our primal instincts, we use our rational brain and are able to consider our fears without primal reactions that cloud our judgement.  In this moment, we're able to question why we have that fear, why it drives us, and how we can choose to control the fear, or let the fear control us. 

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

The first off-campus location took the box to the main branch of Pittsburgh's public library system. It was the first encounter with young children and offered a glimpse into how fear grows and changes with us. 

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Rodef Shalom

 

Put up during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the box fit into a day of reflection and repentance at this local synagogue.

A sample of the collected fears 

Despite trying to remain an unbiased observer, I found the project impacted me personally. As I open, documented and analyzed each fear, at first I felt my own anxieties build. There is much research suggesting that fear is contagious – we express our fears and others who may not have considered these fears develop them as well. However, as I dove deeper, I moved past internally collecting fears and found a sense of calm and reassurance in holding the most private fears of random strangers. For me, three main ideas arose from the project.

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1 - Everyone feels fear.

Fear is arguably the most basic human emotion. Everyone feels it. But was also forget that everyone else feels it, leaving us isolated in our fears. 

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2 - Fear hasn't changed.

We're still afraid of the same basic things our ancestors were afraid of - from the physical like spiders and snakes, to the emotional like death and sorrow. The fear that has driven history is the same that continues to drive us. The project found little no fears about technology or terrorism. Instead, fears focused on things like feeling alone and finding happiness.

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3 - Hiding our fears doesn't rid us of them.

In American culture, we've come to view fear as evil. We whisper our fears like secrets, hoping to keep them from others and from ourselves. And yet we value bravery and courage without understanding that courage cannot exist without first feeling fear. 

Exhibition

In January 2012 I presented the project and my research at the Hawaii International Conference on Arts and the Humanities in Honolulu. 

In March 2012, Pittsburgh's JCC hosted a month long exhibit that displayed the box, in depth research, and the physical fears that were submitted. I arranged, designed and constructed the exhibit and marketing.

The exhibit remained true to the participative nature of theFearbox project by allowing viewers to physically add to the show. Each could submit their own fear in the box, open an old fear and pin it to the wall, or write their own response to fear. 

theFearbox exhibit took full advantage of the unique space provided by the JCC.

The niche walls, created by the columns, function to break the exhibit into four main sections - Why We Fear, What We Fear, How We Fear, and Overcoming Fear. Each section included a main body of text, subtext on a more specific topic, illustrations of famous persons and their quotes on fear and actual fears. 

The columns act as interactive stations that encourage participation and a physical connection with the exhibit. 

As time progressed, the exhibit expanded with contributions from viewers, encouraging them to revisit the project and discuss it with others. The exhibit's location in a community center meant hundreds of individuals passed through the space daily. The exhibit was designed with this in mind, to create a full experience for the community rather than simply a display of findings. 

Wall of Fears

Guests were encouraged to experience opening someone else's fear, and adding it to the exhibit.

 

Special thanks to: The Pittsburgh Squirrel Hill JCC, Dan Boyarski, Alex Fisher