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Projective art and the ‘staging’ of empathic projection

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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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Keywords: Stanley Cavell; empathic projection; filmic apparatus; philosophical skepticism; reception aesthetics; video art

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of the Arts London

Publication date: 01 December 2016

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  • The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) is the first international peer-reviewed scholarly publication devoted to artists' film and video, and its contexts. It offers a forum for debates surrounding all forms of artists' moving image and media artworks: films, video installations, expanded cinema, video performance, experimental documentaries, animations, and other screen-based works made by artists. MIRAJ aims to consolidate artists' moving image as a distinct area of study that bridges a number of disciplines, not limited to, but including art, film, and media.
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