Caterina albano

In her essay, Dr Caterina Albano takes us on a journey through the history of fear of place in modernity and its connection to urban space to a discussion of the the contemporary angst and a sense of placelessness generated by the virtual, with refrerences to Certeau, Milun, WG Sebald, Simmel, and Vidler.


Associated with stage fright, topophobia refers to the emotional response to one’s environment and situation. It concerns our subjective experience of being in space according to the coordinations of a location, of the physical room that the senses apprehend and in which the body moves, a space that, following Michel de Certeau, acquires its specificity through movement and actions, and is enlivened by emotion.1 The compass through which we navigate this place is one of embodiment in both its physical and mental figurations. Fear deeply affects such images, rendering real and imaginary places the unstable sites of anxiety. In what follows, we shall consider the cultural configurations of topophobia as the vertigo of our time, as it manifests across physical and virtual environments. We shall first briefly trace the historical coming to be of spatial fears such as agoraphobia, as it emerged as an emblematic fear of modernity in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and further consider the pervading feeling of void ensued by contemporary environments and the estrangement that they engender.

The Practice of Everyday Life (trans.Steven Rendall),
Berkeley and Los Angels,
University of California Press, 1984, p. 117.

For the full essay text please see the publication.


Caterina Albano holds a PhD in Renaissance Studies (University of London) and is a research fellow and curator for Artakt, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. Albano curates, lectures and publishes in the field of art, cultural history, in particular on the history of emotion, and on the theory of curating. Her publications in the field of art and emotion include a forthcoming book on Fear and Art (Reaktion) and essays and journal articles on issues concerning the uncanny (“The Uncanny: A dimension of contemporary art” ESSE arts and opinions, Fear II, n. 62, January, 2008); the historical construction of emotion (“The Puzzle of Human Emotions: Some Historical Considerations”, Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 50: 2008); and the spatial dimension of memory in relation to fear (“Balnakiel in the Spaces of Memory”, in The Watchman – Balankiel, Shona Illingworth, Film and Video Umbrella, 2011). Albano has also published on the history of anatomy, the history of self-starvation and on biographical exhibitions (“Displaying lives: the narrative of objects in biographical exhibitions”, in Museum and Society, 5:(10), 2007). Her curatorial work includes the exhibitions Psychoanalysis: The Unconscious in Everyday Life, Science Museum (2010); Crossing Over: Exchanges in Art and Biotechnologies, The Royal Institution of Great Britain (2008); Head On, Science Museum/Wellcome Trust (2002); The Genius of Genetics, Mendel Museum, Brno (2002), and Seduced, Barbican Art Gallery (2007) for which she curated The Voice of Sex. She collaborated on Spectacular Bodies, Hayward Gallery (2000); Medicine and Art: Imagining a Future for Life and Love – Leonardo, Okyo, Damien Hirst, Mori Museum, Tokyo (2009), and First Time Out (2011).