ISSN: 20456298
First published in 2012
2 issues per volume
Volume 5 Issue 1-2
Cover Date: December 2016
Projective art and the ‘staging’ of empathic projection
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Authors:  Ken Wilder 
DOI: 10.1386/miraj.5.1-2.124_1

reception aesthetics,video art,empathic projection,philosophical skepticism,filmic apparatus,Stanley Cavell

Michael Fried’s unexpected contribution to defining the ontological status of video art includes an intriguing claim that projective art is particularly suited to the ‘staging’ of empathic projection. Fried applies Stanley Cavell’s notion of empathic projection, developed in relation to skepticism of ‘other minds’, to moving image installations that not only exploit the beholder’s capacity for empathically projecting, but do so in such a way as to reveal the mechanism at play. In developing this claim, I compare Fried’s key example of Douglas Gordon’s Play Dead; Real Time (2003) with Bill Viola and Kira Perov’s Martyrs (2014), a work that likewise elicits an emotional response but without a compensatory (and hence critical) foregrounding of the underlying structuring mechanism. However, the comparison suggests that the staging of empathic projection should not be interpreted as an anti-theatrical strategy (as Fried contends), but rather as an exemplary manifestation of what I am calling the configurational encounter – a revealing of the artwork’s conditions of existence. I reference Paul Sharits’s Epileptic Seizure Comparison (1976), an important (and unacknowledged) precursor to Gordon’s staging of empathic projection. Finally, I consider Chris Welsby’s landscape films in the light of the capacity of technology to reveal psychological mechanisms of projection, tracing such processes of projection to early childhood experiences of differentiating the human from the non-human.
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