Managing editors: Agata Zborowska, Magda Szcześniak

Deadline: January 31, 2020

Joan Jonas, Moving Off The Land II, wideo. Installation shot from Ocean Space, Chiesa di Saint Lorenzo, Venice (2019). Photo: Agata Zborowska

Empathy requires creating an image. In order to feel empathy, you have to imagine what the other - human or nonhuman, individual or collective - actor or being is going though at a given moment. Empathy thus assumes that there is a relationship between the seer and the seen. It is related to a reduction in distance and a heightened awareness; it inclines the subjects to transcend themselves and perceive what is beyond – instead of averting one’s gaze. It may be a choice, a conscious decision, or it might even be the effect of training. It does also happen that empathy simply happens, appearing without our influence, explicit intention or involvement.

But contemporary theories also draw attention to dangerous consequences of empathy. It may be used instrumentally with the potential for interference with - and even the neutralization of - more structural social problems, deriving from class or race inequality. Empathy is dangerous, some researchers warn us, because though it appears to be an authentic personal emotion, it may also be tied up with power relations and acts of appropriation against the experience of others. When it manifests itself as false identification, it takes the form of a pleasure derived from occupying the position of a passive observer or of moral self-satisfaction – i.e. remaining in a private sphere and limiting oneself to individual gestures (philantropic acts of kindness). At the same time, the ability to understand others or gauge their emotions seems to be a most human of reactions – indeed social relations may be said to be based on the experience of empathy.

A wide range of empathetic images appear in the space of the media: Facebook and other social media photo frames manifest support or solidarity both with human and nonhuman actors; humanitarian campaigns attempt to evoke our compassion; artistic projects use participatory strategies art get mutually hostile groups or subjects in touch with one another; social projects use archive materials to overcome the emotional distance separating us from past events and characters. Moreover, contemporary artists provide images that show the possible spaces for compassion with animals, landscapes, avatars or forms of artificial intelligence. Contemporary technologies, which facilitate the generation of historical characters or more traditional archive materials – diaries, documents, photographs, film chronicles – all suggest that it is possible to overcome the emotional distance between myself and another, by imagining how “they” experience life.  

In the 26th issue of "View", we would like to take a look at images of empathy and empathetic images, inquiring after the political potential of their affective dimension. We ask: How can individual emotional moments, the wiping of tears at the sight of another’s suffering, be transformed into a social movement? In what way can visual tools help in going beyond what is strictly personal, and also beyond mere collective experience – to reach political action? How can images realise (or embody?) difference – that unsurpassable gap dividing us from others? Can the creation of images become a politically productive practice of solidarity? And if so, are there genres, media or kinds of image that are more suitable for these practices of empathy? Can empathy become a critical contemporary category for aesthetic experience? How does refusal manifest itself visually, a refusal that is often in reaction to forced, affective participation – the refusal to share others’ emotions, emotions that are frequently too strong or too challenging?

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Deadline for submissions (full article, abstract, author’s bio): January 31, 2020.

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