16 fright-inducing artworks for every kind of phobia

At some time or another, we all have to face our fears. If you’re reading this, that time is now. Spiders, small spaces, or old-fashioned existential dread — whatever it is that gives you the jim jams, there’s a good chance it’s on this list. That’s because CBC Arts took an informal poll of world’s most common phobias, Family Feud-style, and we found works of art either inspired by or evoking all that scary stuff — stuff so creepy you'll sleep with a Ginsu under your pillow.

Whatever you're afraid of, it's probably in this gallery

Spiders, flying, skeletons: this still from Brian Andrews' Hominid is a trifecta of super-fears. (Brian Andrews)

At some time or another, we all have to face our fears. If you're reading this, that time is now.

Spiders, small spaces, or old-fashioned existential dread — whatever it is that gives you the jim jams, there's a good chance it's on this list. That's because CBC Arts took an informal poll of world's most common phobias, Family Feud–style, and we found works of art either inspired by, or evoking, all that scary stuff — stuff so creepy you'll sleep with a Ginsu knife under your pillow.

So, what scares you? Scroll on, and you'll know soon enough. Or just stop reading now and share this with someone else — someone deserving a Halloween freak-out.

Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)

Louise Bourgeois. Maman, 1999. (Canadian Press)

The bigger the spider, the bigger the fright? If that logic seems about right, watch your step in Ottawa. Louise Bourgeois' Maman, which was the National Gallery of Canada's most expensive purchase ever when they acquired the sculpture in 2005, lurks outside the institution's front doors. Twenty-six white marble eggs incubate in its belly, threatening the capitol with an outbreak of arachnids.

Marlin Peterson. Seattle Center Armory mural, 2012. (Marlin Peterson)
Marlin Peterson. Seattle Center Armory mural, 2012. (Marlin Peterson)

But Maman could be a bronze breakfast for these two other super-crawlies. Even from the top of Seattle's Space Needle, Marlin Peterson's photo-realistic spiders are monstrously large.

Mu Pan. Spider Woman, 2015. (Mu Pan)

As for the lead beastie in Mu Pan's Spider Woman, it might be a little closer to Maman's scale, but we'd still pick her in a fight. That's Spider-Man who's haemorrhaging in her jaws. Our spidey sense is crying.

Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)

Guido Mocafico. Lampropeltis Pyromelana, 2002. (Guido Mocafico)
Guido Mocafico. Naja Pallida, 2002. (Guido Mocafico)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the same goes for fear. But most of us are thoroughly freaked out by anything that slithers. The No. 1 fear in America is snakes — at least according to a 2011 Gallup Poll, which was not, to our knowledge, overseen by Dr. Indiana Jones. Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes, Guido Mocafico? The Paris-based photographer's Serpens series is like staring into a box full of nightmares. 

Zoophobia (fear of animals)

Afraid of snakes AND spiders — and just about everything that breathes? Brian Andrews must have made Hominid just for you, a 2012 short that fuses human and animal X-ray films to create a new, hybrid animal kingdom. Nature's brutality can be awful enough — but these surreal, spliced-together creatures make the circle of life even more horrific. 

Trypanophobia (fear of needles)

Laurence Demaison. La novice, 2012/2013. (Laurence Demaison)

Getting your flu shot is nowhere near this terrifying. Sorry, not sorry, trypanophobes. The same goes for much of Laurence Demaison's work, really — and this piece, La novice, is just the beginning. Her surreal, black-and-white photographs often aggressively distort the human form — or just our sense of reality — with ghostly effect.   

But if L'il Baby Pinhead here isn't giving you the creeps, please direct your attention to Ted Lawson's Ghost in the Machine. Imagine refilling your Inkjet printer with Type O Negative. In 2014, the Brooklyn artist fed his own blood into a robot via IV. The machine was programmed to paint with the stuff flowing directly out of his veins, ultimately producing a self-portrait. See it to believe it — if you can handle the sight of blood. Which leads us to…

Hemophobia (fear of blood)

Cao Hui. Visual Temperature - Sofa No. 2, 2009. (Cao Hui)
Cao Hui. Visual Temperature - Coat, 2009. (Cao Hui)

Cao Hui's resin sculpture series, Visual Temperature, is meant to spark a range of feelings: "surprise, sorrow, anger, sadness or laughter" — and if you ever ran shrieking out of high-school biology class on dissection day, there might be a pinch of fear in the mix, too.

Aviophobia (fear of flying)

Naoki Sasayama. Recollection, 2012. (Naoki Sasayama)
Naoki Sasayama. Blue Sky, 2012. (Naoki Sasayama)

Please stow your belongings and return your seat to the upright position. Also, passengers should not view anything by Naoki Sasayama before take-off.

Xenophobia (fear of strangers)

Trent Parke. The Camera is God - No. 376, 2013. (Trent Parke)
Trent Parke. The Camera is God - No. 796, 2013. (Trent Parke)

Humans of New York, meet the Ghosts of South Australia. What you're seeing, really, is the street photography of Trent Parke. Set up on an Adelaide street corner, Parke captured candid pictures of strangers with a remote shutter. When a passerby crossed the intersection, his camera would snap 30 frames in four seconds — and these fleeting moments came out as the eerie portraits of his 2013 series, The Camera is God

Bjorn Griesbach. Hollow Children, 2015. (Bjorn Griesbach)

German illustrator Bjorn Griesbach puts the strange in stranger. Faceless, save for their Julia Roberts smiles, his Hollow Children series is sure to scare.

Acrophobia (fear of heights)

Jonathan Borofsky. Walking to the Sky, 2004. (Jonathan Borofsky)

You can find versions of this 30-metre sculpture in in New York, Seoul, Dallas and Pittsburgh. According to artist Jonathan Borofsky, his piece, Walking to the Sky, is meant to be "a symbol for our collective search for wisdom and awakened consciousness," even if anyone who's afraid of heights would interpret it as a scary nightmare ladder to crap-your-pants town.

Aquaphobia (fear of drowning)

Tomohide Ikeya. Breath, 2015. (Tomohide Ikeya)
Tomohide Ikeya. Breath, 2015. (Tomohide Ikeya)

Breath, a photo series from Japanese artist Tomohide Ikeya, examines the struggle between life and death, and as per his artist's statement: "When we are covered in water, the fear inside of us comes to the surface." That's especially true if you're 45 and still afraid of bath time.

Pediophobia (fear of dolls)

Perttu Saksa. A Kind of You - Untitled, 2013. (Perttu Saksa)
Perttu Saksa. A Kind of You - Untitled, 2013. (Perttu Saksa)

These images, by Finnish artist Perttu Saksa, are unsettling enough. But the real-life subjects have an arguably more troubling story. Those are real circus monkeys under the doll masks. Saksa photographed them in Indonesia, where they were subjected to controversial training methods. 

Animatedgifaphobia (fear of dancing albino hydra babies)

Not a real phobia, and yet the fear we're feeling is all too real. Check out the animated, biological terror of Hayden Zezula's Oswra Tumblr. Happy Halloween!


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