Scary? If so, is that ok?

This is Bosci. He’s the main feature of an installation made by my partner, Brian McKenzie, in the chapel of Nunhead Cemetery. He is supposed to be living in the chapel for 3 months. Visitors could look through a closed gate to see him sitting innocuously on a bench, a nest and pile of bones behind him, forming an artwork called Animal Within. He’s not intended to be frightening but to disturb you mildly by being ambiguous, to raise questions about the nature of animality and humanity. His face and pose are intended to be slightly amusing and urbane, perhaps making you feel empathetic for a human-like creature, rather than horrified by a beast. The setting of a ruined roofless chapel, with a stone angel looking on, and beneath a crypt containing coffins, and the woodland all around, are all part of the experience. It was installed for one day, and caused a bit of a reaction. Loads of people loved it and spread the word, so today lots of people are arriving on word of mouth to see it. However, two people complained that it was too scary, especially for children. One of the complainers says that Bosci is satanic, although that wasn’t at all Brian’s intention.

Iona Hine, a Bible scholar, provided a well informed opinion on whether Bosci could be deemed or defined as Satanic, if not intended as such. She concludes that, although she can understand why reasonable people may make allusions to Satan on first impressions (as it’s black and its ears seem like horns), it can’t be judged as Satanic. Read more here. Zoe Young pointed out that most of what is deemed Satanic is not intended to be, citing false accusations of witchcraft. Because Brian modelled the figure on himself, and because the image came out of himself, he feels accused of being Satanic himself. Zoe said: Imagine if Brian actually looked like Bosci (e.g. suffered from hypertrichosis) – would he be banished as being too evil and fearful if he was a living human?

Brian named the figure Bosci because of a vague sense that this was a suitable name for a wood-dweller. It turns out that the Bosci were a Mediaeval monastic sect of Grazers. (Thanks to photographer Andrew Hewson, who we met wandering the Cemetery with an ancient camera, for pointing this out.) These men and women were so dedicated to an ascetic life that they lived as grazing beasts, wearing fur or growing their own hair sometimes to cover their nakedness. They believed that because animals had not been cast out of Eden they were closer to God, so wanted to emulate them as a spiritual practice. On discovering this, Brian felt that this is very close to his intentions for Bosci.

Anyway, without any consultation with the artist, the Cemeteries Manager for Southwark Council ordered Bosci to be removed from sight, and is unmoved despite hearing how many people want to see the work. Since her initial decision, she has expressed regret but the Cemetery friends are adamant that the work is unsuitable because it is insensitive for Cemetery visitors.

Now, I don’t like children to be exposed to violent imagery or stories, for too long, without support to engage  critically. However, I do believe that children need to face and discuss things they find frightening, with the help of adults. Children might find many things in the cemetery scary, such as dogs barking, crows, open graves or dark woodland paths. It’s the role of adults to help children differentiate between things which are genuinely threatening and things which are only unsettling. If adults respond to children’s fears by demanding that the source of their fear is removed, they are reinforcing the fearfulness of the scary thing. If authorities support adults’ demands to remove the source of fears (except those which are genuinely threatening), they are dismantling the foundations of good parenting. We must have open debate about where to draw the line between what is genuinely threatening and what is unsettling, so that we can make decisions to protect children from harm. However, this decision was made without debate or consultation.

What do you think?

5 responses to “Scary? If so, is that ok?

  1. Interesting post! When my daughter was little she once asked me at bedtime to tell her a scary story, a really scary one. So I did, and it freaked her out – beyond her tolerance level, and upset her terribly. I don’t think it’s uncommon: most parents I know have stories about how something went too far. We don’t know until it happens. There really is no way to regulate this: fear is totally personal.

    Your post also makes me think of Bill Hicks’ skits about smoking and pornography and how we respond when we are offended by others. And on a tangent, it reminds me of the advertising billboards on the corner of my street, which I regard as ugly, damaging, offensive things to walk past with my young daughter (yet no one else I know seems to mind them at all, and think I’m a crank when I mention it.) I remember when she was about six years old, one of the hoardings was posting a public service advert from the Scottish Government and prompted her to ask me “what’s kerb crawling, mummy?” (Appropriate?) On the other hand, because we walked past the billboards every day and I shared my views about them with her, she now knows how to look at advertising critically, and to ask who’s behind it, who paid to put it there and why, what is their motivation? She knows that it is designed specifically to be compelling, and that she can choose to ignore it – or dismiss it, anyway.

    Have you come across the work of Tim Gill, about play? He wrote a good book a few years ago called No Fear: Growing up in a risk-averse society, which looks at similar issues to the one that Bosci’s exhile has raised. 🙂 Also, to put a different little spanner into the discussion: the work of Judith Rich Harris is very interesting (and controversial) as it questions the role of parents themselves, and their degree of influence over their children’s development.

  2. Bosci is a fantastic work, I wish I could have seen him in that setting! I’ve been thinking and talking about the idea and potential of re-engaging with our animalness a lot recently, and this is a great visual and physical expression of this idea. It’s a shame, but also expected, that some people find this too scary to engage with. All the more clear to me how important it is to find ways, especially creative ones, to bring these ideas into awareness and discussion.
    I agree with you that children are quite capable of facing their fears with the right support, probably more so than adults.

  3. MY 7 years old son said : “..But it’s just human, Mum! No one to be feared of. Why would I fear ?”

    Well – looking at definition of FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real – it’s OUR illusions we take as real and project them on kids.
    And way the people taking away Bosci behaved/ solved this situation is VERY WRONG in my opinion!

    As THIS example they’ve set and shown to children – only teaches kids being cowards, to run away and hide things/ siyuations/ issuses because of fear (imaginary influence or consequencess or “politicial correctness”) and their way of expressing themselves, their work and ideas may be censored, opressed, treated without respect as it happened to Brian, creator or idea and installation of Bosci.

    That shows to kids instead of facing own fears and ask for help and explanation and support, becoming proud of being fearless and defeating fear, demasking illusions and seeing there was NOTHING REALLY to fear of – to hide, to to live in fear.

    And one who said it’s “satanic” has no knowlegde or idea how satanic art really looks like .

    In MY humble opinion.

    I like it and I like idea and story behind Bosci. I hope he will back soon and will find good place to stay and make way more people discuss about fear – in us adults and in kids…
    As WE also been kids not so long ago – so woth a shot to ask children and remind what and why we feared of…and how we defeated/ grow up from it 🙂

    Best greetings and good luck for Bosci 🙂

  4. Excuse me, but this was in a cemetry! Surely people who thought it so easy to scare children would not take their children there?
    Of course it is better to face fears than run away from them; and good parenting involves helping children understand the difference between real threat and perceived threat.
    The people who removed Bosci would probably have banned Grimms fairytales. How do they think children learn anything?
    The removal was regrettable and I hope Bosci finds a good new home soon.

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