New media artist, Renate Ferro, premieres her new installation Panic Hits Home for the 2007 Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival.  In this project, Ferro questions what happens when the federal political bureaucracy maps out messages of panic via the media in a way that disrupts the balances of the boundaries between interior/ exterior, psychic/social, and private/public.  Experiencing the Cold War panic of the early sixties as a child, she was struck by the eerie similarity of the urgency for ordinary citizens to be prepared for impending doom that Washington promulgated in light of the tragic events of 9/11.

            The impetus of Panic Hits Home  was inspired by Ferro’s childhood memories of her family stockpiling food and water in their home “fruit cellar” during the Cuban Missile Crisis and her own unexpected paranoia of the terror stemming from 9/11.   Playing on the retrospective confusions between trauma then and now, Ferro juxtaposes original sixties television footage and public service announcements promoting “duck and cover” and bomb-shelter protection with the high tech television and web directives of our contemporary Department of Homeland Security.  Combining and connecting the analog with the digital forges, digital pulses or pauses, allows the viewer to maneuver through the digital data to contemplate, reflect and formulate new discourses of panic.   From collecting water jugs and food supplies to applying duct tape and plastic insulation to prevent air born toxins from infiltrating the private space of the home, recommendations from educational public service announcements lay the foundation states of urgency and panic in Ferro’s installation.

             The installation is layered beneath Ithaca College’s cavernous rotunda.  This architectural space becomes a metaphor for a sheltered psycho-space which “houses” the series of videotaped interviews of cross-generational subjects who reveal stories about their personal responses to the panic of both time periods.  There is an ironic similarity to the psychological tone and content of these interviews retelling anecdotes from each period.  Whether regarding security and protection from the fallout of impending nuclear warheads or the possibility of additional terrorist attacks forty years later, the installation becomes a catalyst for the confusing inter-mix of fright and anxiety both present and past.  In the installation space the viewer’s body traverses the material space to discover digital realms of vision and narration that uncover the layers of the dialectical paradigms that these personal accounts reveal whether they are from memories from forty years ago or fleeting recollections from just yesterday.

            Simultaneously viewers can hear faculty and students whose daily chatter fill the reverberating airwaves above as they climb the stairs that architecturally surround the rotunda space.  These casual passers-by may be able to surveil the intimate revelations below the surface.

Renate Ferro

March 25, 2007