• 11.03.11

Secret Satellites And Spy Stations: The Hidden Architecture Of Fear

A new exhibit at the contemporary art space Z33, in Belgium, explores the physical infrastructure that props up our culture of fear.

Architecture of Fear is the title and subject of an intriguing new exhibit at Z33, a contemporary art space in Hasselt, Belgium–fear now being something we’ve politicized and commodified and generally made into a global way of life. The show’s goal is to explore the “emotional, social and spatial mechanisms” of our collective terror.


If that sounds a bit woolly, just consider some of the pieces in the show. There are photos of secret satellites and space shuttles. There are snapshots of military bases hidden in such remote locations that the photographer, Trevor Paglen, had to use astronomy-grade lenses to shoot them. There’s Laurent Grasso’s model of a receiving station in the Echelon network, a global surveillance system reportedly used to spy on terrorists, drug lords, hostile foreign governments, and that pernicious threat to national security known as stage mothers. Our guess: Grasso’s in their system, too.

The takeway here is that fear is so institutionalized, it has a full-blown infrastructure–an architecture–complete with its own bizarro look. And you find it everywhere, even in the most innocuous places. The exhibit features a set of photographs by Charlotte Lybeer, who spent five years snapping assorted shops, resorts, and residential complexes in what appear to be traditional Belgian and Dutch buildings. Look closely, though, and you’ll notice that the architecture is actually new: manufactured to look old and quaint, because “old and quaint” makes us feel safe. The buildings are gingerbread talismans against faceless bad men. And what their pervasiveness suggests is that fear isn’t just an aesthetic, it’s the aesthetic of our time.

[Images via Flickr; hat tip to We Make Money Not Art]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.