Empathy | esse arts + opinions


95 - Hiver 2019

Given the problems we face in the twenty-first century, the capacity to appreciate the feelings and emotions of others would appear to be a potential antidote to excessive individualism and the allure of withdrawing into one’s own identity. But can empathy really change the world? This issue examines empathy in the context of contemporary creation and seeks to determine whether art can contribute to building sensitive bridges between people that are geographically, socially, and culturally distant and whose experiences differ.

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Articles à la pièce

Westrey Page
Mirna Boyadjian
Jennifer Griffiths
Grant Bollmer
Michelle Dezember
Annie Gérin
Jakub Zdebik
Amber Berson
Anne-Marie Dubois


From Empathy to Benevolence
Sylvette Babin


With Open Eyes: Affective Translation in Contemporary Art
In 2008, filmmaker Harun Farocki expressed his desire to find an estranging empathy and thereby reclaim a term closed off to him in his Brechtian foundation. Today, artists are caught between the popular call for more empathy as the cure to political apathy and the theoretical implications that such an affective encounter with Others contains. In addition to advocating Carolyn Pedwell’s terminology of empathy as either foreignizing or domesticating affective translation, the author analyzes two artistic devices employed by Candice Breitz and Berlinde De Bruyckere to achieve this empathy that Farocki, and other artists, have searched for.
Westrey Page

Opacity Against the Abuses of Empathy
Empathy is an art, the ability to place oneself in the position of others in order to understand their ideas, feel their emotions, and understand their experiences. This fundamental and widespread acceptation of empathy as the fantasy of having direct access to other people’s states of mind persists, not without the risk of potential abuses, including those of outright projection and the illusion of transparency. How can we conceive of empathy beyond the limits of consciousness and subjectivity, at the confluence of our respective existential opacities?
[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]
Mirna Boyadjian

To Empathize is the Question
This article is a brief opinion piece about the dangers, or at least the questions that should be raised, with regard to empathy as an aesthetic viewing response. Griffiths argues that emotion can be manipulated and that empathetic response should be measured against historical facts.
Jennifer Griffiths

The Automation of Empathy
In this article, the author examines Trevor Paglen’s Machine Readable Hito (2017) and its inclusion of output of emotion recognition algorithms. He briefly reviews the history of facial emotion in psychology and its links with emotion-identification algorithms used in a range of digital technologies. He identifies how empathy has its origins in artistic representations of emotion and how this history relates to current psychological research on empathy. This history demonstrates how computational systems, as represented in Paglen’s work, are used to modulate and manage the possibilities for empathetic understanding.
Grant Bollmer

Muscular Empathy and Not Knowing in Dara Friedman’s Mother Drum
Counterintuitive to the work of many arts institutions and the people who visit them, the pursuit of knowing might not be as important as embracing what is not known. In this article, the author makes a case for the importance of not knowing to the pursuit of what cultural critic Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “muscular empathy” by tracing two frameworks—abstraction and kinesthetic empathy—through an examination of the creation and presentation of Dara Friedman’s video installation Mother Drum (2016). In what conditions can artists and those who experience their work loosen their grip on what they think they know in order for curiosity and plurality to breathe?
Michelle Dezember

Victoria Lomasko and the Graphic Language of Empathy
Victoria Lomasko has been spearheading Russia’s graphic journalism movement for close to ten years. Her reportages create a portrait of contemporary Russia, casting light on issues that are altogether avoided by Russia’s state-dominated media: chronic economic distress, brutal nationalism and the influence of the Orthodox Church, censorship, and the sclerosing effects of the stranglehold of Putin’s government and of the oligarchs on the political and economic life of the country. Her work creates awareness, showing that at least one person cares enough to listen, to draw, to name, to share, and to continue chronicling her time with enduring empathy.
Annie Gérin

Flat Death Jest: Julia Martin’s Performatist Aesthetics of Empathy
Julia Martin’s work deals with death, solitude, and suffering. And yet, it is punctuated by jokes and by references to television and cake. Martin uses humour as a device to mollify the viewer, who is ensnared in an empathetic relationship with her difficult subject matter. The author explores Martin’s recent photographic/textual works through the notion of empathy, as seen through Barthes, Levinas, and Freud, and the notion of sincerity and double-framing found in Eshelman’s performatism.
Jakub Zdebik

Inside and Outside the System: Artists Against Prisons
For many, including people who identify on the political left, the idea of opposing prisons seems nonsensical—logic tells us that people go to prison for committing a crime. Yet, we know that there are flaws in our justice system and that systemic bias is a reality when it comes to criminalization of specific communities. Sheena Hoszko and Jamie Ross have recently made artworks that speak to their experiences as anti-prison activists and abolitionists.
Amber Berson

ATSA: When Art Reaches Out
Commemorating the untimely passing of Pierre Allard on November 25, 2018, this article offers a global overview of the engaged art practice of ATSA, founded by artist couple Pierre Allard and Annie Roy. Two projects—L’État d’Urgence (1998–2010) and Le Temps d’une Soupe (2016–)—are examined more closely in the context of the thematic feature on empathy. The author highlights the artists’ political and artistic engagement in the public sphere by contextualizing their “actions”—installations and collaborative social interventions—as a response to the often alienating and dehumanizing repercussions of social networks and their everyday usage.
[Translated from the French by Louise Ashcroft]
Anne-Marie Dubois


Sylvie Cotton
by Anne-Marie Dubois

Yann Pocreau
by Chloé Grondeau

Maryse Goudreau
by Aseman Sabet

Duke & Battersby
by Mylène Ferrand


Cartographie rhizomique de l’empathique
Michel F. Côté & Catherine Lavoie-Marcus


Visual Arts

Alisha Piercy, Centre Clark, Montréal by Michael Eddy

David Wojnarowicz, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York by Julia Roberge Van Der Donckt

Emily Promise Allison, Untitled Art Society, Calgary by Maeve Hanna

Anri Sala, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris by Nathalie Desmet

Amy Sillman, Camden Arts Centre, London, U.K. by Emily LaBarge

MACBA Collection: Beneath the Surface, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona by Julia Skelly

Agir en son lieu, Les Ateliers des Arques, Arques by Vanessa Morisset

Agnieszka Polska, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin by Anaïs Castro

Allison Katz, Oakville Galleries, Oakville & MIT List Visual Arts Center, Boston by Daniella Sanader

L’architecture en soi et autres mythes postmodernistes, Centre canadien d’architecture, Montréal by Dominique Sirois-Rouleau

Caroline Cloutier, The Invisible Dog Art Center, New York by Didier Morelli

L’imaginaire radical : le contrat social, VOX centre de l’image contemporaine, Montréal by Dominique Sirois-Rouleau

Béatrice Balcou, La Ferme du Buisson, Noisiel by Camille Paulhan

Rebecca Belmore, Georgia Scherman Projects, Toronto by Alex Bowron

Ed Pien, 1700 La Poste, Montréal by Amelia Wong-Mersereau

Performing Arts

Homo sapienne, Festival international de la littérature, Montréal by Julie-Michèle Morin

Lévriers, Montréal, arts interculturels, Montréal by Christian Saint-Pierre

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