Quantum Physics, Laser Cutters, Leaves, Empathy and Having to Remove Myself from the Cave

Given that I was not allowed to enrol in GCSE Art by my then long suffering teacher, Mr Downey, considering me, as he did both “disruptive and incapable”, I have fairly successfully removed myself from any practicalities of visual art – confining myself to either my cave or my ivory tower (depending on relative pessimism or optimism of my perspective), where only theoretical or academic concerns were pertinent to me. This removal of or reticence towards physical investment does not wash as a curator. You must somehow breech the gap of ideology and activism. Ideas must be visualised and manifested. That is the point. This is the fundamental point of staging exhibitions and the fundamental difficulty that curation works to overcome. Or is it…..?

The sincere and heightened vision of the artist that I have the pleasure of working with presently, Dr Jasmine Pradissitto (a Quantum Physicist whose art work, whilst being visually arresting, investigates and visualises QP – including a playful approach to the Uncertainty Principle), in the face of a recent set back concerning Laser Printers is such a catalyst as to decimate this aforementioned struggle. Restrictions in the availability of the school’s laser cutter has led me to find a wonderful outfit called London Hackspace (https://london.hackspace.org.uk/) – A non-profit hackerspace in London: a community-run workshop where people come to share tools and knowledge. Creativity does not blossom in isolation, we are way beyond the Byronesque, Pete Doherty lie of a Romantic solitude. I look forward to meeting all these good people and to help Jasmine create the wonderful plastic leaves that will cover the gallery floor in their hundreds come May 2015. That being said, what are these leaves? and what is the show? glad you asked…..

For the last few months I have been meeting with artists, writers, poets, quantum pysicists, neurologists and psychologists to develop a series of exhibitions and events under the working title of The Empathy Circuit. Investigating the development of empathy from its roots in 19th century German philosophy with Robert Vischer’s essay “Uber das optische Formgefuhl” (On the optical sense of form) where empathy is developed as a kind of central transposition when encountering visual forms (note that the first development of empathy as we know it now was between human and object rather than human and human – Vischer transposes himself “as a sensible and intellectual subject into the inner being of the object and explore its formal character from within as it were”) and Lipps, who conceives of empathy as a psychological resonance phenomenon that is triggered by our perceptual encounter with external objects – these resonance phenomena’ trigger inner experiences that give rise to experiences similar to ones we have when we engage in activities involving the movement of the body – since attention is perceptually focused on the external object, we experience them – or we automatically project our experiences – as being in the object. I see empathy as the psychological space or arena in which the idea of beauty is experienced as a co-dependant relationship between subject and object.The old maxim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is a lazy half-truth: as for beauty to be felt as an empathetic experience, the reflection of the projected psychological state/ gaze must meet the viewer on its return from the object. If this resonance is felt as ‘life-affirming’ then the object is seen as beautiful – beauty = objectified self-enjoyment.
Then we move through to contemporary experiments in neuroscience and recent research in evolutionary biology….. The project is sprawling, and diverse, to try and be as engaged with disparate publics – staging workshops and roundtable discussions as well as exhibitions and events – to actively bring communities together in moments of empathy as well as taking a reflexive perspective upon its own actions. As a side note I am interested in forming a counter argument to the seemingly accepted fact that empathy is a source and drive for morality and socially rewarding behaviour as developed by evolutionary biologists – I think there needs to be more of a delineation of types of empathy and the type of morality that it directly supports, ie: I think there is a split as there is with Buddhism’s Lesser and Greater Vehicle’s (that could just be the split between cognitive and affective empathies), or perhaps it is more realistic (or cynical perhaps) to think of it in terms of platonic Forms: there is the ideal 1). Universal Emapthy, where the entire populace, independent of nationality, religion or creed can be accepted, understood and responded to with sensitivity and appropriate emotion. this is the Ideal. the reality is 2.) Tribal empathy, where members of the series of communities we belong to as individuals (neighbours, religion, state, nation, creed etc etc – subdivisions) are understood and responded to in a pro-social manner – but does this kind of empathy actually provide us with a moral authority to act out the worst and least empathetic deeds upon those that lie outside our narrow conception of our own tribes? What atrocities have been perpetrated in the name of security for your country? what atrocities have been perpetrated in the name of your god and his followers? Empathy for the tribe leads to a herd mentality, a swarm that will engulf and consume those anomalous to its shared beliefs – through empathy we can lose ourselves and justify spilling blood.

Before I go further off at a tangent, I will stop there – more coherent and reasoned research will be forthcoming!

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Dr Jasmine Pradissitto
Dr Jasmine Pradissitto

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