Gob Squad: Managing fear

Winnie Love

Three members of the German-UK collaboration, Gob Squad (Johanna Freiburg, Bastian Trost and Simon Will), are reporting back to us on Me, The Monster, the first of their research residencies conducted for Inbetween Time.

The audience is seated according to their monster type. Are you a werewolf, ghost, alien or vampire? This subtle categorization is determined for you by the Squad from your answers to their questionnaire. I miss this process and find myself sitting with self-identified Frankenstein’s monsters. Two tables are angled on the stage, the speakers opposite taking in each other as well as the audience; we are all in on this collaborative process.

We are told the characteristics of each monster group and measure ourselves against the descriptions. I discover that Frankenstein’s monsters are understandably fond of hybridity. It’s like identifying or not with your astrological sign. Gob Squad use humour in their approach to questioning the public about what makes them fearful, their public interface is fun, with large endearing childlike monster graphics and the tag “Scare in the community”on their display boards.

The questionnaire was developed as a tool to engage the public in a research exercise in Bristol’s central shopping mall. On video we see the set up, a stall amongst other outlets. We see the monster masks and the graphics display boards (they dress the stage for the lecture). Three members of the company explain how they fine-tuned the research methodology – apparently people are more likely to talk to a person who’s not wearing a monster mask.

The video zooms in on a woman shopper who was prepared to take on Gob Squad’s invitation to be taped while inhabiting her monster self. We hear how she has met the challenge to extrapolate on the idea, developing her monster profile into a storyline. Our willing public collaborator is a young mum who admits to being a vampire, describing the occasion of her conversion – romance was her undoing – and explaining how as a nursing mum she needs regular nourishment. She reveals that she hangs around on the ceiling of changing rooms waiting for her next meal.

The central concern of Me, The Monster is FEAR!!! Apparently, there are thousands of phobias listed on the Internet including a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. The company elaborates on the contention that in a time of relative safety, free from political oppression and in the absence of real threats, fear may be manufactured to control people. They are suggesting that fear may be self-generated or perpetrated by governments for political motives. The recent upsurge in the production of zombie thrillers is cited as a further indication of a current need to generate anxiety.

We see some early developments in the research: explorative video works by Robert Shaw (with sound design by Jeff McGrory) initially morphing shoppers and security guards with their monster persona. We then observe the application of another process; the re-making of a scene from Halloween, home-movie style to be played alongside the original on a split-screen.

I found it unsettling to see a house I know as a site for what appeared to be a copycat murder. It could almost have been a satirical TV news report – THE DAY TODAY!!! Inquiry-into-danger-of-movies-influencing-vulnerable-minds SHOCK!!! I felt it was creepily close to the Happy Slapping* phenomenon. Could Gob Squad be seeding the next hideous new youth craze? On the contrary, the company thought paralleling the 2 films potentially “emptied” them of fearful content and were intending testing the effect by remaking yet more horror scenes from Hollywood films using the same formula.

I think Gob Squad have defined a rich area for development and look forward, with appropriate trepidation, to seeing more of their take on horror, fear and monsters in our postmodern climate.

*Note for the Australians and other out of town folk: Happy Slapping: an unprovoked physical (occasionally fatal) attack on Joe Public, the purpose of which is to provide a spectacle to be recorded by videophone and distributed to mates.

3 February 2006