Irene Lusztig

Irene was born in England to Romanian parents, grew up in Boston and has lived in France, Italy, Romania, China, and Russia. She received her BA in filmmaking and Chinese studies from Harvard and completed her MFA in film and video at the Milton Avery Graduate School of Fine Arts at Bard College. Her work has won film festival awards and has been screened around the world, including at MoMA, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Anthology Film Archives, Pacific Film Archive, IDFA, and on television in the US, Europe, and Taiwan.

She has received grants from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, Massachusetts Cultural Council, LEF Foundation, and New York State Council for the Arts. She has worked as a freelance documentary editor and taught at Harvard, SUNY Purchase, and Temple University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Film and Digital Media at UC Santa Cruz and was a 2010-11 Film Study Center / Radcliffe Institute Fellow.

She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains and is working on a new project about the socio-historical construction of motherhood, as well as her first web-based art project, the recently launched Worry Box Project.

Session Title: The Worry Box Project

Our dreams often speak the unspeakable: will I love my baby? What if my baby is deformed, sick, or abnormal? Will I be the same person after having a baby? Anxiety — both in dreams and in waking life – seems to be at the core of many of our experiences learning to be mothers. This project began as an attempt to archive, catalog, and make visible the anxieties that we are so often asked to suppress.

The Worry Box Project is a participatory web-based archive of maternal anxieties based on the concept of a collective virtual worry box. Women who visit the website are invited to anonymously submit a written worry (either an anxiety dream or a waking anxiety); they are also able to view the anxieties of other women. As anonymous anxieties are collected, I hand-transcribe each submission onto a piece of paper that is placed inside an actual physical box. This participatory stage of the project is ongoing, updated regularly with new worries until the box is full. The handwriting process is documented on video, and the resulting videos are returned to cyberspace be viewed online.
Inspired by public spaces of collective yearning and wishing rituals like the Wailing Wall and the Fontana di Trevi, I imagine this project as a revision of those spaces of hopeful iteration: posited against a contemporary motherhood culture that has become relentlessly optimistic and positive, the virtual worry box provides a safe public space for women to express private worries and negative feelings about motherhood, a taxonomy of our shared fears.

By moving from the virtual, anonymous, and intangible to the embodied, concrete, and handmade, the project also contemplates issues of translation. The time-consuming process of writing and videotaping the anxieties invests each submitted text with the labor of craft and a kind of sustained attention different from the automated posting of text onto an online bulletin board or forum. The transformation of invisible anxiety into material object articulates a polyvocal narrative space of women’s experience that is both intimate and communal.

The Worry Box Project
Video demonstration / project user guide