We fear being negatively judged and rejected by our peers. The dread of standing before a group and talking is top of the anxiety list and surveys show that we fear it more than being attacked by a shark. Social anxiety is the most common psychological problem in the U.S. and affects 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. At a primal level, we fear rejection because in our primitive past, being thrown out by the group was a death sentence. Early humans survived by their ability to collaborate. Being rejected by the social group meant fending for yourself and almost certain death. We are inhibited by anything that threatens our status in our social group.
An artwork called Creep Karaoke Kiosk by Caroline Lake confronted these fears. It was placed in The Street at Central St Martins College of Art in London. Passers-by were invited to enter a large wooden box. Once inside they wore headphones playing the Radiohead song Creep while they sang the lyrics into a microphone that projected their voices via loudspeakers into the street.
Inside the dark box, wearing headphones, the participants were immediately in a private space, cut off, anonymous and released of inhibitions. No longer self-conscious, they sang freely. The result was powerful. People emerged from Creep Karaoke Kiosk laughing and giggling; their sense of release from inhibition was cathartic. A participant responded afterwards, ‘I felt like I was a teenager again in my bedroom.’ Some people sang badly out of tune, some thoughtfully, others angelically. Passers-by were intrigued by the carefree singing, stopped and listened with fascination. Lake explained, ‘It’s a personal song in an impersonal space.’ By having their identities concealed, participants felt liberated; they became unself-conscious in a public space. Lake produced a brilliant and emotionally charged installation.
Lake recently graduated in Fine Art from Central St Martins College. She is a single mother with two young children and admits she had ‘No intention of doing a degree,’ because she was ‘stuck in catering.’ She took a few evening classes in art. Then her thirteen-year-old son suggested she took art more seriously, so she attended an art foundation course at an adult education centre in London called City Lit. It was a big step to give up her job but she felt it was the right decision because University ‘opened up a lot more opportunities for me.’ Her recent degree show was a great success with international collectors buying her work.