CFP: Empathetic Images

View. Theories and Practices of Visual Culture #26
Peer-reviewed online academic journal
Stichtag: 31.01.2020

Empathy requires the creation of an image. You imagine what another – human or nonhuman, individual or collective – actor or being is going through at a given moment, how they feel. So empathy assumes that there is a relationship between the seer and the seen. It is related to a reduction in distance and to a heightened awareness; it inclines the subject to transcend themselves and perceive what is beyond – instead of averting one’s gaze or turning a blind eye. It may be a choice, a conscious decision and it might even be the effect of training. It does also happen that empathy simply happens, appearing without our influence, explicit intention or involvement. Contemporary humanities 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, whether based on class or ethnicity. Empathy is dangerous, 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 that issues from occupying the position of passive observer or of moral self-satisfaction – i.e. remaining in a private sphere and limiting oneself to individual gestures (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 with nonhuman actors; humanitarian campaigns attempt to evoke our compassion; artistic projects use relational art to get mutually hostile groups or subjects in touch with one another; 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, a landscape, 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 this, 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 by a hand 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 diving 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?

Deadline for articles: January 31, 2020.

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