THE IMPOSSIBILITY
OF EMPATHY

 

WEEK 01             

BODY WASH

ARTIST STREET STORE DOLLS 

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION:  Typed text in English in black font against a white background.  Transcript is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The tacit ways in which our identities and memories are told through the routine items in our lives give these items meanings that might be impossible for their other consumers to even imagine.

 

WEEK 01             

EYES, EYES, EYES ...

ARTIST HARIBO

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows multiple pictures put together to form a collage. (from clockwise) There is a glass bowl of almonds with an arrow pointing downwards to two collages of eyes. There is a black and white picture of a woman with her hand on a boy’s shoulder and a coloured picture of a bottle with ‘Bournvita’ on the bottom right. There is an arrow leading from this picture to a collage of eyes. There is an image of a group of people in white coats working in what seems to be a lab where they are observing a person perform an experiment. An arrow connects this image to a collage of eyes. Below this collage is the word ‘Prejudice’. Next to this word is a picture of a goddess and an arrow connects this image to a collage of eyes. Next to this collage is a picture of open books with some of the text highlighted in different colours and an arrow connects this image to a collage of eyes. Next to this collage is a picture of two women in graduation suits with graduation hats and an arrow connects this image to a collage of eyes. Next to this collage is the word ‘Intelligence’ and above this word is a picture of a number of people standing in a queue and an arrow connects this image to a collage of eyes. To the top left of this image is the word ‘Merit’ and to the top right is a picture of fish with yellow transparent tablets next to it and an arrow connects this image to a collage of eyes.

From the artist’s note:

"Access to one eye is 

privilege

to the other and that is 

probably merit to the 

next and to whom 

other assigns intelligence…

Eyes, eyes, eyes, what do 

you see? What do I? 

Or do we see at 

all?

I wonder...I wonder…"

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Values that matter the most to us can become fetishized to the point where they cannot be understood beyond their inherent absurdity. And yet if we see these fetishes as made up of multiple images and perceptions, we just might uncover the common and coherent narrative that undergirds all these seemingly unrelated objects and then suddenly, it is no longer a matter of perspective. It is instead a very real and powerful collective reality.

 

 

WEEK 03             

MAYBE I SHOULDN'T

ARTIST LAVENDAR HIPPO

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

LISTEN TO THIS POEM

00:00 / 06:36

 

DESCRIPTION: Typed English text - “I Think… Maybe I Shouldn't ” - in brown font against a cream background. Transcript and recording of the poem is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Bodies with many, many organs...

 

WEEK 03             

THE ABYSS

ARTIST JEISI AMAWASA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: There are four squares, each consisting of black and white drawings and hand written text. The first square has a drawing of a hand pointing to the screen of a tab. The tab has eyes and at the bottom of the screen the word ‘Swipe’ is written with an arrow on each side of the word pointing in opposite directions. The second square reads ‘For when you gaze long into the abyss’ in capital letters. The third square shows a hand emerging out of the screen of the tab and pointing towards a pair of eyes. The word ‘Swipe’ is written below the pair of eyes with arrows pointing in opposite directions on either side of the word. The fourth square reads ‘The abyss gazes also into you.’ in capital letters. Below this text is a pair of eyes and the words ‘Well, shit’ written in a speech bubble.  

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Try as we might, the medium of our interaction plays a major role in determining the kind of seeing we do. To gaze and to empathise are not exactly compatible. 

 

WEEK 03             

GAZE

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

ARTIST MISFIT MEDUSA

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows a background of black and white waves against which is a white screen with an eye in the centre. The following text is written on the screen ‘My head made a ringing sound against the screen. A square black, About a dozen men lined the walls.’ At the bottom of the screen is a line of what appears to be men looking up at the eye. Across the picture of the men is the line ‘and unleash blitzkrieg.’ At the bottom of the image is the word ‘Gaze’. 

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

To look into another’s eyes (or another eye, in this case) can be an act of validation or objectification. Which of these two kinds of gaze it could be is not as much dependent on the individual gazer but on the medium through which the gaze is constructed. 

 

WEEK 03             

HELLO, GOODBYE

ARTIST SHAMS

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: An A4 size paper printed, with black and white text and illustrations, which was folded into 8 parts to form a zine. The zine is laid open horizontally with 4 parts on top and 4 parts on the bottom.
The first part has the text, ‘hello,goodbye, hope to never see you again’. The second part is a black and white image, the image is not clear. The third part has the text, ‘ There are two doors - 
right and left -  one to enter through and one to forget. Inside you will find memories galore. Each wrapped in their own lore’. The fourth part has an illustration of 2 doors and 2 cats sitting on either side at the bottom of them. The fifth part has illustrated black chess pieces at the bottom and text on top which is,’ It’s a little dusty, a little cramped,  (i shut shop ages ago, you see)  lots of potential untapped untouched -  some are brown, some grey, some vibrant to this day some rotten and a mistake just lust -’The sixth part has the text, ‘this came from that one boy who tried to grab me.And this from another who loved this one i tried to flee and this one - who is she?these few are cute, this one girl takes my breath away. The seventh & eight part has text, ‘but mostly its nostalgia packed into this abyss. It’s a shit place, really. there’s no ventilation and the rent is payed in blood but the company’s nice when you get the odd One (out of a 100 but okay - i had a lot of time on my hand ffs)’ and there is an illustration of a candle stand with a candle burning on the right.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

It takes time to form an opinion and even to undo it. The same goes for prejudice. So, how does the infinitely rapid succession of photos on digital platforms such as dating sites allow the construction and reconstruction of opinions and prejudices within a span of mere milliseconds? 

 

 

WEEK 04            

TREASURE CHEST

ARTIST LAVENDAR HIPPO

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image above have a passport size photograph of a woman with the eyes scratched out with a pen. There is a yellow and green ribbon and two origami ducks, one big and brown and another small and yellow.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

To be immortalised only to be erased, to be devoid of all traces of personhood... 

 

WEEK 04             

EPHEMERAL

ARTIST MISFIT MEDUSA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows pieces of a puzzle put together to form the body of a fish with bubbles all across the image. 

Excerpt from the artist’s note:

“Dear Gulla,


….


When I think of water and bubbles, I smile. It brings back memories of the first time I sat in a bathtub and ate a Ferrero Rocher ice-cream all by myself. Sigh. But as I look towards interpreting it, I find that I am reminded of how short-lived these experiences have been.

Love, M. | S. “

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Will we ever really know what water means to the fish? And what stories about our lives and our locations can an ice-cream brand reveal? While some of the memories of these apparently bizarre juxtapositions might seem fleeting, they reveal insights that are much more durable and are anchored in the passage of time. 

 

WEEK 05             

BLACKJACK WITH LABELS

ARTIST LOKI

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows a person’s hand holding a number of cards with different pictures on them. The first card reads  ‘the feminist’. The card is divided into three parts. On the left side is an image of a woman with purple hair and an orange shirt holding a cigarette in her hand, looking slightly up. There are small white and yellow and orange flowers emerging from the cigarette in her hand, near her mouth and nose going upto above her head,  from her sleeve and on her shirt. On the right side is black and white image of a woman in a short dress sitting with her legs folded. Her head is replaced by a half bloomed rose flower and her body has thorns in different places. The third section is a repeated image of the faces of five women with different hairstyles, hair colours and skin tones. Their eyes are closed and their heads are resting on one another. This image repeats four times on the top half part of the card. The pictures and the text on the rest of the cards are not clear. 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows all 16 cards laid out. The description of each card is available in the dropdown to the right.
 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows all the 16 cards with a traditional red, cream and brown design on their cover  laid down and with 1st, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 14th and 15th cards turned over. 

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

There is a constant need to be wary of the labels through which we define ourselves. We don’t create them but they can create us and, yes, we might grow into empaths but very likely to the extent these labels allow.

 

WEEK 05           

COUNTING PRIVILEGES

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

ARTIST STREET STORE DOLLS 

 

LISTEN TO THIS LETTER

00:00 / 00:56

 

DESCRIPTION:  Typed English poem - “Counting Privileges” - in black font against a white background.  Transcript and recording of the poem is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The stress of passing...those who do not do it are unlikely to know it.

 

WEEK 06             

FEEDING FRIENDS

ARTIST SHAMS

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image is of a hand palm created from light blue woolen threads. The threaded palm rests against a black background that seems to be crumpled black cloth. A thick red ribbon is entangled in the thread and extends across the palm and up the index finger.

DSC_3831.jpg

 

DESCRIPTION: Handwritten note in black ink on white paper. The text on it reads - common vampire bats, after a good meal, share food with others who have not been as successful in their hunt. This isn’t limited to kin, but to friends as well.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

What we think of as an admirable quality of the bat is its very nature. This is the only life that the bat has ever known.

 

WEEK 06              

EYES SPEAK

ARTIST LOKI

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

LISTEN TO THE SONG

00:00 / 03:10

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows a  hand-drawn eye with a green cornea and a QR code in the centre of it. The image also carries the text ‘Scan to hear when the eyes speak’.

From the artist’s note:

“What did the dolphin say to the baby? What did the sofa say to the bottle of water? What did the video camera say to the NAC Mac? What did the mirror say to the underwear? What did the eyes say to the world?

Many a time, what we see is so much more than it appears, and most of the time we take it for whatever we just see, or whatever we want to see. The eyes play an important role in helping form opinions, judgments and intuition. What would it be to embody the eyes that help us enter the world and make sense of it? What would they say? Would they say anything at all?”

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The privileging of sight over all the other senses, also known as ocularcentrism, leads us to form judgments and opinions largely based on what we see. But we are also programmed to watch the way we do and we are constantly watched as we watch. Therefore, all that we think we know is curtailed by my limited experience and by the tacit knowledge of constantly being surveilled. 

 

WEEK 06             

LEGS THAT FEEL

ARTIST MORTY SMITH

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image is a painting of a green boot with a brown sole and brown laces. The word ‘Qualities’ is written with black pen on the front of the shoe, the word ‘Characteristics’ is written on the sole and the words ‘Replicate’, ‘Feeling’, 'Empathise’ and ‘Understand’ are shown emerging from the boot. Behind is a beige background. 

From the artist’s note:

“Dear Gulla, This is Morthy Smith
This week’s prompt for me was all about “in one’s shoes”. I noticed interesting patterns. As I began to do the exercise, I was merely trying to replicate the qualities mentioned about the spider. Once I became comfortable, I started to [think] about how it would “feel” to have those qualities (eg: having electric – field – detecting legs).
Gradually I transitioned into moving what “ being” a spider would be like. The entire process of empathy and what it is to “ be in someone’s shoes”

 

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

It is hard to break out of prejudices because the language, symbols and standpoints available to us to do so are often fixed and we can just about make use of them. 

 

WEEK 06             

BUOYANT

ARTIST Z

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows a small black fish with a white eye against a background of multiple shades of blue.

Excerpt from the artist’s journal:

‘The poem came from the free write. It came as a list of questions and I have never written in this style before. It  reminded me of Mary Oliver’s poetry. She is one of my favourite poets and I could hear her voice in this poem. One of  her most famous poetic lines is ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?'  

• I have been thinking about the tongue as a symbol for a while now. As someone who often feels anxious, the tongue  can be very honest and revealing about where I feel safe and where I don’t. So the tongue can represent the body as  well as language and communication.  

• I wanted to have an image along with the poem – but not an image of a tongue or a seal. So I chose the fish,  something small but buoyant. The fish is now in shallow water (and hence you can see the shadow of the fish), but is  swimming out to different depths of the ocean. Like a tongue, I can imagine a fish hiding among little caves  underwater and then venturing out when safe.’

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The fish, with its habitat that is so radically different from ours, is perhaps the epitome of our absolute and complete inability to put ourselves in other’s shoes…

 

WEEK 07              

नाम | NAAM | NAME

ARTIST KHWABIDA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

LISTEN TO THIS POEM

00:00 / 00:53

 

DESCRIPTION: Handwritten Hindustani poem in blue ink against an orange  background. Transcript and recording is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The boxes into which society classifies us are woefully inadequate to capture the full spectrum of human relational possibilities. They preclude a dense flesh and blood appreciation of the complex possibilities of being human.

 

WEEK 07             

RANDOM NAMES AT A RAILWAY STATION

ARTIST STREET STORE DOLLS 

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: Typed English poem - “Random names at a railway station” - in black font against a white background.  Transcript of the poem is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The things that we yearn for are often those that we tend to think of as commonplace, and our lack of which makes us feel inferior. But the joy, freedom and wisdom that can emerge from finding our identity in this very lack, is unparalleled.

 

WEEK 08             

I AM ASURA

ARTIST LOKI

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The video shows a person dancing and demonstrating various moves that seem to represent tearing open and consuming flesh. The dancer’s hands are painted red.

 

LISTEN TO THIS TEXT

00:00 / 00:49

 

DESCRIPTION: The image has a QR code and a red background with the following text handwritten in black ink : I am Asura. I am the Demon. I am Evil. Blood is on my lips. I am Deva. I am God. I am kind. I am Hari. The Protector. Blood is on my hands.

 

DESCRIPTION: The image has a red background with text handwritten in black ink. Transcript and recording is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The dualisms that come to constitute our common sense can never be known or seen without disruption and discomfort. It is the “other”, the evil other, who shakes this common sense hard enough to make it aware of itself.

 

WEEK 09             

"I" OF COLOURS AND LINES

ARTIST MORTY SMITH

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image comprises of multiple, painted washes of colours in the background (blue, pink, green, purple) blending into each other. Black patterned forms, resembling  jellyfish with tentacles extend from the top left corner of the page into the collage of colours.

From the artist’s note:

“Dear Gulla, I want to say that I feel very uncomfortable with my identity. I always had difficulty  liking myself. When I say identity I mean all aspects that make me into who I am. There is always a longing for a “better me”. I feel angry/helpless/overwhelmed when I look at myself in the mirror for a long time. I have been consciously unlearning all the toxic conditioning of constant negative talk but there is a long way to go. Lots of times I feel that the things I hold on to as my identity doesn’t matter at all. I find it obscure. 

In the artistic response I expressed my thoughts and feelings around my “I”dentity through colours and lines.”

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

It is perhaps a myth that a coherent sense of self is a prerequisite to be empathetic because such a self is almost always impossible to achieve. 

 

WEEK O9              

काग़ज़ | KAAGHAZ | PAPER

ARTIST KHWABIDA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

LISTEN TO THIS POEM

00:00 / 00:47

 

DESCRIPTION: Handwritten Hindustani poem in blue ink against an orange background. Pencil drawings of paper and an envelope on the right side. Transcript and recording is provided to the right of the image.

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

The papers that give us the right to exist represent the desperation of the state to know who we are, recognizing that it will always fail in this endeavour.

 

WEEK O9             

CARDS OF BELONGING

ARTIST GULLA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: There is an image of the eye with a QR code across it and pieces of the QR code are disintegrating to reveal the eye.

Excerpt from the artist’s note:

"Dear partner, 

The use of identity cards to get through registration purposes has begun to scare me. Originally, I think they were meant to provide for us a sense of belonging. But I can’t help but feel in danger every time someone asks to link my Aadhar card, my passport, my driving license. I don’t know what they might do with that data…
Gulla,
11.11. 21

P.S. sending you two responses together cuz I couldn’t send the last week’s"

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

When we assume that we really know someone or something or even ourselves for that matter, it is imperative to recall that it is only through various regimes of perception that we can.

 

WEEK 09             

I TO i

ARTIST MISFIT MEDUSA

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image shows a cream paper burnt at the edges with dots and dashes in various colours ( blue, purple, pink, green and yellow) representing morse code. The following words are pasted at different places on the image: I made, I had, I would. I felt, I didn’t.

Excerpt from the artist’s note:

“Dear L, 

This week’s prompt was very humbling. We speak of being more than just labels or assumptions but to a bigger system, our identity will always be withheld down to numbers – bits and bytes, if you will.

My idea for this artistic response stems from how i felt as i lay down with all my identification papers pasted on me. It felt like a journey to travel from the I to the i. 

I hope to capture how irrelevant we are in the bigger scope of things, the colours we carry, in the end, are still just data waiting to be purged from memory – from life – a little depressing, I know. But I think it also stands as a testament to how much more we can be. Our problems are miniscule compared to this scale of deep time.”




                                                                                                        Love,
                                                                                                        Misfit Medusa”

 

LISTEN TO THIS LETTER

00:00 / 00:58

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

Biometrics, statistics and their discontents would like us to believe that our differences are all diluted in an ocean of lines and dots, that our identities are defleshed, dehistoricized. But each line of each graph is written in our own blood, our own story of where we have been and are placed now. 

 

WEEK 10             

JEALOUS GAZE

ARTIST LAVENDAR HIPPO

ARTISTIC RESPONSE 

 

DESCRIPTION: The image comprises a hand drawn picture of two eyes with blue pupils. Underneath is the beginning of a nose that is cut off by a paper with typed font stuck on top of it. Below the paper is a fire. The write up on the paper is accessible in the transcript dropdown below.

Excerpt from the artist’s note:

“Dear Morty Smith

 

I finally decided that I will go to an art exhibition happening close to my house. I did not know what the exhibition was on. When I went there I realised that the exhibition was on Indian pride. The entire exhibition was Savarnas on full display. I did not see anything or any art representation from anyone who weren’t hindu. Needless to say this angered me and my artistic response could not have been about the art itself. Thankfully I went with a friend...I was very happy to have been with her in an art space again because we occupied them very differently

…”

SEE-SAW REFLECTIONS

If tradition could empathise with the present, would that necessitate its own annihilation?