Can people in power really empathize? Or, the Failure of Empathy.

Tania Bruguera plays with power dynamics in her work, offering people a chance to experience power. However, it only a slightly different contextual shift from their normal powers, they do not fear mounted horses; they listen and move. Is there any real danger for them in getting out of the way? How can they empathize with people who genuinely fear authority? Fear uniforms? Fear authoritarian states?

In the documentary of the Couple in a Cage, we see how easily people were willing to be spectators of these humans, regardless if it was an artist’s critique or an anthropological study, they analyzed the caged creatures with superiority. The person who did shed tears in the documentary was not for the couple, but for the fellow humans they identified with that were participating in the spectator sport.

As Jennifer Gonzales mentions, there are many artists who have used alternate/fictional identities to interrogate questions of powerCouple in a Cage investigates, but it continues to create the spectatorship of the gaze, which in yields some power. However, I find Coco Fusco’s Dr. Zira to be an interesting example because it seems to balance the position of other with a position of power.

Here is a short clip

Gonzales points out that James Luna’s work

“estranges the rules of recognition that informs the mainstream art criticism by introducing unfamiliar signs or denied knowledge – such as the sacred forms of color- that remains undecipherable for some viewers, thereby shifting the balance of interpretive power to disenfranchised power.” (30)

I think that playing with this power structure has more fertile ground than finding empathy.

Speaking of empathy, here is something else written on that idea which could stimulate conversation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.