the worry box project (2011)

a collective archive of maternal worries

Full Description

THE WORRY BOX PROJECT is a collective web-based archive based on the concept of a virtual worry box: visitors to the website anonymously submit written maternal worries and anxiety dreams; they are also able to view the maternal anxieties and dreams of other women. Each submission is transcribed by hand and placed into an actual physical box that holds the material version of the archive as it expands.

Work metadata

  • Year Created: 2011
  • Submitted to ArtBase: Wednesday Jul 6th, 2011
  • Original Url:
  • Work Credits:
    • Irene Lusztig, primary creator, designer, handwriting
    • Noah Pedrini, technical collaborator, developer
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Artist Statement

The first dreams in this project are my own.

I’m not in the habit of remembering or recording my dreams, but my dreams when I was pregnant astonished me: I dreamed of giving birth to nine-pound pears and of struggling to hold shape-shifting rabbit babies. As I started asking other women to share their pregnancy and early motherhood dreams, I found the familiarity of their dream worlds comforting: their dreams, like mine, were populated with funny and grotesque images of birthing litters of kittens, supermarket chickens, and shapeless bags of water.

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.

This web project is based on the concept of a collective “worry box.” Visitors to 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 weekly 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.

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