Magazine article Artforum International

The Horror!

Magazine article Artforum International

The Horror!

Article excerpt

What is an artist's biggest fear? Surely a persistent journalist telephoning to ask this question might number among them. Nevertheless, this month I gritted my teeth and accepted the daunting assignment of tabulating the art world's terrors.

One might expect artists to shield the inner working of their psyches as one would the cards in a poker hand, fearful that exposing the unconscious motives that motor the art might give away the store. Not so with most of the artists, writers, and musicians we contacted. On the contrary, my calls were often greeted as a welcome diversion from an even bigger fear--that of the blank canvas, page, or stave.

In most cases, sheer delight in cherished symptoms outweighed the fear of divulging psychic secrets. Though Louise Bourgeois is not exactly known for her reticence when it comes to sharing childhood trauma, I still had to pinch myself when she picked up the phone on the second ring and, after modest encouragement, began to recount the less than doting ministrations of her decidedly austere dad.

All in all, the artists polled answered with candor. Jeffrey Eugenides, author of the much-praised novel The Virgin Suicides, revealed a pair of highly personal, highly primal worries; King Buzzo of the pre-/postgrunge band the Melvins described a not-so-quiet moment he shared with his wife during the recent L.A. earthquake; Martin Kippenberger took three days but (thanks to the somewhat beleaguered curator of his retrospective at the Museum Boymans van Beuningen in Rotterdam) faxed back a response worth the wait in pith--a word per day, to be precise. Only Sophie Calle balked at my request, but she had good reason: she didn't know me from Adam--but then neither did anyone else. A medium-sized fear of my own--that my tape recorder would malfunction mid interview--played itself out as Calle explained how she works her own lesser fears in the name of art; in one case she allowed complete strangers in the South Bronx to take her where they wished.

Why did these estimable persons make their private fears public? After admitting that she generally loathed this style of inquiry, Bourgeois summed it up: "The question's definitely a good one." After all, a hundred years of Modern art have proved more than once that trolling psychic depths can yield esthetic rewards.

MARTIN KIPPENBERGER (artist): To be alone!

JEFFREY EUGENIDES (novelist, The Virgin Suicides): Anything having to do with the prostate.

Phobically speaking, the first thing that comes to mind is being thrown into a pit of snakes. On a Freudian level this is quite an embarrassing fear. When I was a kid, my father used to take me to these dubbed Hercules movies to instill in me something of our Greek heritage. Someone was always being thrown into a snake pit in those movies; I think my fear derives from them.

Working on something I'm writing, I remembered those movies, those bastardized renditions of Greek mythology. They brought back bits of my childhood. This fear isn't pervasive in my life--I don't have to deal with snakes too often, or snake pits. But being thrown into one is the worst thing I can imagine.

SOPHIE CALLE (artist): I don't want people to know my biggest fear because it's a power I don't want them to have over me. I have sometimes experienced fears in my work, but only lesser ones, which I can control. For example, in a piece called Suite Venetienne, I followed a man everywhere he went. My fear was that he would realize not only that I was following him, but also that he could take me wherever he wanted. In effect, he could control me.

In another piece, in the South Bronx, I asked people from the neighborhood to take me wherever they wanted. The fear, obviously, was the danger I might be in. But these are fears I can manage. I might want someone else to know my larger fears, but not a man I have never seen, interviewing me on the telephone.

PATRICK MCGRATH (gothic novelist): It's very mundane--it's heights. …

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