Monday, March 10, 2008

heeeeelp meeeeee: Those Damn Spiders

There I was, perusing the Sunday Styles pages of the NYTimes online, feeling all was right with the world, when I spot a fashion feature entitled Arachnophilia.

Love of spiders. I don’t think so.

I have a mild form of arachnophobia, one of the most common fears on the planet. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. We always had some spiders in the house, particularly in the upstairs bathroom. I dreaded going in there, and spotting one, sometimes two, up in the corner, threatening me, sometimes dropping down a bit and them climbing back up again. All that jiggling around made me nauseous.

I know that one time I walked into one as it was dropping down. I know that I had one sitting on my head when I was five or so, and my mother told me and picked him off.

What is it about the spider that creates such dread? For me, they are the embodiment of evil. Not that they are evil themselves, but that in their ugliness, and eight jointed hairy legs, and ability to swing in the air and drop on people, and eat prey that they have caught and anesthetized in their webs—-they embody evil.

I am not alone in this view.

Tolkien Knew.  He Got It.

Hence Shelob, She who lives in the mountain bordering Mordor, and to whom Gollum delivers Frodo. I can’t watch that part of The Return of the King (although in the books she’s in The Two Towers).

But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness."

Then there is the all-time most gruesome spider scene ever in The Fly—-the special effects which were improved upon in the 1986 remake, when the fly with the human head is caught in the spider web, and she is quickly moving in to eat him/it. I would have been much faster with that rock than Helene was.

I never saw Earth Vs. the Spider or Tarantula, but I watched bits and pieces of Arachnophobia on tv in one of those masochistic compulsions to do things that really repulse you.

These spiders were at least safely within the movie screen or could be switched channels on. Imagine my horror, in 2001, when I walked through Rockefeller Centre, near where I work, and saw a family of 35-foot metal spiders!

It was horrible—-my worst nightmare alive in my waking day. There was a mother, a father, and a baby spider. You had to walk underneath them to go north to south in the plaza. The Mommy spider clearly had an egg sac hanging from her. I’m getting light-headed just typing the words.

People are always so worried about religious art in the public square-—why no outcry to these objects of widespread phobia?

Spider as Mother as Art?

The pieces are art by the sculptor Louise Bourgeois:

“For decades, Bourgeois has used the spider to explore issues related to memories of her mother, who died when the artist was 20.

‘My mother was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and useful as a spider," she once wrote...’”

Woah. Spider as mother. The thought gave me nightmares for weeks.

All that summer I lived with a sickening, creepy sense of the spiders waiting over in the canyon of Rockefeller buildings. They were there a long time.

The next summer I was in Spain, touring with a small vocal group, and we went to Bilbao to give a performance at the Guggenheim. We got to our hotel on Nervion River late in the day on the bank across from the museum. I was walking along the beautiful river before dinner, when sparks of light near the museum caught my eye. I walked closer and closer to it, and to my amazement—and complete horror—it was a crew with acetylene torches, securing the last leg of a giant BOURGEOIS SPIDER.

A cold chill went down my spine. Was my trip to be so marred by the presence of evil? How awful. I hated them in Rockefeller Centre, now I felt the evil was following me. (That spider is a permanent installation at Bilbao—lucky you, you can still go and see it.)

Maybe there was some good mojo counteracting the evil presence, because the tour went very well. Besides Bilbao, we sang at Santiago de Compostella, and in Lisbon and Coimbra in Portugal.

On the way home, we had a long enough stopover in London that allowed us to pop in to the Tate Modern. And there, in the book shop, I opened a book about the museum, and there in the frontice spread was a huge photo of ANOTHER FREAKING BOURGEOIS SPIDER.

Apparently, Maman was commissioned for that cavernous Turbine Hall space. What kind of a journey was I on? Why did these gigantic arachnids keep turning up in my path??

And now, the Style section has a photo feature of Parisian women dressing to honor the Bourgeois spider now in Tuileries Garden.

Sigh. There is no escaping THEM!


dorki said...

Sorry M.A., but I had to laugh out loud about this write-up! No I am NOT laughing about you, but at the almost universal repulsion that humanity has to spiders, snakes, and other such critters.
I have tried to recognize and avoid real danger (any Black Widows and Brown Recluses in my house would immediately get smashed) but a LongLegs or common spider would get tossed outside on a (big) sheet of paper.
I will have to check out where I might see some of these sculptures - they look awesome! And yes, one of an artist's callings is to create an impact on the viewer. Those certainly do it.

M.A.Peel said...

dorki--for me, it's very spider-specific. My first apartment had a lot of cockroaches. They were icky, but they didn't bother me the way a wandering spider would.

It is funny about snakes and Indiana Jones.

Tim Footman said...

I know what you mean about the Bourgeois spiders. I was terrorised by the Tate one, and flew all the way to Tokyo to evade it... BUT THERE WAS NO ESCAPE!!!

Give me proletarian spiders any day.

M.A.Peel said...

Tim, good grief--that's really funny about Tokyo. Stay away from Seoul and Ottawa, too.

Kenji Fujishima said...

I have yet to see a Bourgeois spider up close. I do, however, have fond memories of seeing a really cheesy ABC TV movie called Curse of the Black Widow when I was young. Tony Franciosa! Patty Duke speaking in a weird German accent! How can you go wrong?

If anyone is curious and has never seen this, well, here you go:

Ellen O'Neill said...

Wow, I have very vague memories of this TV movie delight myself. Thanks for the blast from the past.

As for Bourgeois, the permanent ones in US are in Kansas at the Kemper. Full list of where they are lurking is on Wiki