Following on from Yvonne's thought provoking session that made us reflect on notions of empathy and care in relation to the post-human conditions, the group has decided to write a short text each asking 'What does it mean to be human?'. The collected texts will be shared in July prior to the next session.
Next PIRG session: 17 July 2020 (session will be led by Jane Bennett)
posted by Noriko
(Session led by Yvonne Jones on 19th June 2020)
In light of previous sessions, I was keen to focus on the junction between empathy identified as a human phenomenon and the possibility of empathy being noted in androids and the implications of this.
Texts for the discussion can be found here. To see the wide range of areas that arose see Yonat’s summary.
The fictional situation in Blade Runner gave rise to discussing different angles of empathy and how it sits with issues of androids and the era of the posthuman. We considered the fundamental human attributes, of feelings, emotions and the imagination in relation to androids and to notions of the posthuman.
A shift in humanity could go unseen, one to being more adherent to timetables and data, a shift away from the fundamentals of gifting, empathy and caring, that have been discussed in our sessions, a move away from feelings. Luisa put forward that the Covid Hibernation period gave the opportunity to reflect and that this offered her the realization that we were indeed becoming posthuman in the respect of less human towards fellow humans. I have long considered this to be happening and that there is the opportunity to develop a different posthuman future that is not android focused, NOT less caring, less feeling or less human, one that is develops the posthuman subject, using distributed cognition so important to the Roboticists, in a different way, to enhance our world, to overcome inequality and poverty.
My hope to bring the human-machine relationship and the posthuman discussion into the wider public, in order that we can choose our future rather than be walked blindly into a future we would not want, took one step forward today, during this session.
posted by Yvonne
The June PIRG session will be lead by Yvonne. We will be reflecting on what it means to be human in light of post-human theory and notions of empathy.
Click here to access the texts which will be used for the session.
Our second group art activity, Empathetic Grid, involved each PIRG member creating a 4 x 4 grid that became filled by the other members as the grid was passed on. The last person on the list (the fifth person) was then allowed to complete the artwork by altering or transforming the filled in 4 x 4 grids. Below are the 5 separate grid artworks that resulted from this activity.
Image 1: Luisa - Jane - Yvonne - Noriko - Yonat
Image 2: Noriko - Yvonne - Jane - Yonat - Luisa
Image 3: Jane - Luisa - Yonat - Yvonne - Noriko
Image 4: Yonat - Noriko - Luisa - Jane - Yvonne
Image 5: Yvonne - Yonat - Noriko - Luisa - Jane
Empathy and care are meaningful topics to reflect on in the current situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are made to think about others who may be more vulnerable, help your neighbours, re-engage with community values, appreciate key workers and also to 'look after oneself'. The conversation that developed around the notion of 'looking after oneself' was insightful as we all reflected on the what and how of 'taking care of oneself', particularly as mothers. We all agreed that it was actually quite a difficult thing to do. How do we become empathetic to yourself? I suggested we could listen to Elizabeth Day's podcast 'How to Fail'. In one particular recording, philosopher Alain de Botton talks to Day about vulnerability in the time of Coronavirus.
We also discussed about whether empathy could be connected with creative activities such as painting, drawing, sculpture and dancing.
Is it possible to empathise with materials?
Can we also see our group art activity (the previous one being the Gentle Act in Isolation) as a form of care?
So we decided to embark on a new art activity 'Empathetic Grid' to develop the notion of art as form of care. The activity involves each participant creating a 4 x 4 grid (of any size) then filling in 4 spaces before passing on to the next participant. By the time the drawing reaches the fifth person, all of the grids would be filled. The fifth person then responds to the images/texts/drawings that fill the grids in whatever way she likes to create a final artwork.
The final art works will be uploaded on this blog page before the next PIRG session (19 June) so watch this space.
Posted by Noriko.
Session led by Luisa Menano
Text: 'The Joys and Sorrow of Empathy' by Eagleman, D. The Brain - the story of you (2016). Canongate Books, pp. 157 - 163.
Following our previous session, when we discussed the subject of 'care as value', there were several relevant keywords that came to my attention, and I felt that it might need more thoughtfulness, such as: ‘gift-giving’; ‘care’, ‘exchange’, amid others.
Our brain connects with our own personal experience and therefore with the world we live in; therefore, I proposed a reflection on the way we perceive things, for instance: why does it matter to care? Is it for the ‘joy of empathy’? or is it for the “sorrow of empathy'? In sum, I brought to our discussion the subject of ‘empathy’, which is crucial in our emotions. This ‘control’ of empathy is located in our prefrontal cortex and other areas of our brain. ‘Empathy’ helps to clarify what makes us be more ‘humanising’ people and/ or ‘dehumanising’.
The text “The Joys and Sorrows of Empathy’ reflects on the subject of ‘empathy’ and helped us to discuss, to be more self-aware about ‘empathy’. Our senses are also an essential part of ‘empathy’ because it helps us to feel that we belong to a niche/ a group, makes us feel that we are accepted in the society, we live in. The strategy of propaganda, made by politicians and others, are very good at ‘manipulating’ our senses/ our vision, if and when we don’t have the capability to control and turn off our own our medial prefrontal cortex. “Empathy is, literally, feeling the other’s pain as if that were your pain.’(Eagleman)
Next session: 15 June 2020
Resulting from the conversation we had on care as value and thoughts on gifts, exchange and reciprocity (PIRG session 20 April 2020), Luisa suggested the group to conduct a small 'exchange' art project. The project asked each participant to create an original piece of artwork that would then continue to be worked on as it got passed on (via email) to the other group members. The finished artworks resemble a palimpsest of sorts, capturing the unique interpretation of each of the participants.
Below are images of the 'before' and 'after' of the artworks:
Image 1: Luisa - Jane - Yvonne - Noriko - Yonat - Luisa
Luisa - I initiated my image because I heard that a colleague of mine lost her husband because of Covid-19. I chose these geometric shapes to represent the world and its ‘shadow’ the lines represent the net/ connections, emotions/communications…
Yvonne - Felt disconnected, with the isolation and sadness we are all in currently. I needed to connect them, to sense we are all in this together.
Noriko - The image that I received had green and purple oval shapes, some texts and a bright pink squiggly line. The text read ‘the husband of a colleague just passed away’. I wondered whether the death was due to Coronavirus. During one of my early morning walks (one exercise a day allowed during the lockdown) I happened to come across a field of ‘forget-me-nots’. The dainty but intense blue of the flowers in the local churchyard had caught my eyes and I took a picture. I decided to offer the flowers to the sad text. There is so much ‘death’ in the air at the moment. I thought about all the people who had been affected by it recently. The pink squiggly line seemed to disrupt the clean edges of the purple and green shapes and it reminded me of the steps going up St Catherine’s Hill and its mizmaze. I have a whole collection of ‘sky’ pictures that I had taken on top of St Catherine’s Hill. The addition of the semi-translucent sky, I hoped, captured the atmosphere of the strange times we are all living through at the moment.
Image 2: Noriko - Yvonne - Jane - Yonat - Luisa - Noriko
Noriko - Over the Easter break, the PhD students were asked to take part in a Easter Challenge activity. One of the challenges involved making a drawing of the view from our desks. I liked the pink almond tree and made a drawing using oil pastel and tracing paper. I taped the drawing on to the window to create a layer of the ‘actual view’ and my interpretation of it. The process of photographing 'flattened' the layers. A laughably analogue process. I decided to reuse this image for the Gentle Act in Isolation activity. I thought it would be interesting to see how the image would become further processed digitally.
Yvonne - Came across to me as both isolated yet with an oppressive sky bearing down., so I chopped it all up, offering some clear spaces, to breath.
Yonat - This group drawing was initiated by Noriko. By the time it reached my inbox it already went through Yvonne’s and Jane’s interventions. I knew that after my intervention the drawing will continue its morphing journey with Luisa’s final intervention. I was thinking of being between, as well as being part of a chain. I was also thinking about change; I remembered a collaboration long time ago with Noriko where cultural particularities (Japan, Israel) surfaced; but most of all I was thinking about the screen as a medium of communication and expression. The latter got more prominent with COVID 19 and lockdown here in the UK since March 2020, as well as in many other countries. Looking at the etymology of the word ‘prominent’: ‘Latin … from pro- forward + -minēre (akin to mont-, mons mountain) ...’ Also ‘standing out or projecting beyond a surface or line’ (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prominent). As this group drawing was done through screens I wanted to make the screen visible in the drawing. After playing with different possibilities, I finally attached a lamp to my desk, positioning the screen to get the reflection within the drawing. I then filmed and edit it, playing with the effects of appearance and disappearance. The moving image’s undertone was determined by its structure: a second for each still. This evoked an association of the Japanese flag where the red circle in the middle of a white rectangle represents the sun, a strange interpretation where, rather than a slow, organic movement of the sun rising there is a mechanical movement. Luisa’s intervention – positioning a ticking clock partly covering the projection – intuitively responded to this mechanical rhythm. How could we carry on thinking about what is now simply described as a ‘group drawing’ with ideas that were discussed at PIRG’s sessions? Ideas such as relationship between image, line and word; care, time and thinking; care as value and gift; autoethnography methodology; and material thinking, amongst others.
Luisa - I inserted the clock in the video that I have received because there was a ‘light’ that was ‘disturbing’ the balance of the image… I felt that the clock meant time, order and space.
Image 3: Jane - Luisa - Yonat - Yvonne - Noriko - Jane
Luisa - When I received this drawing, from Jane, I wanted to print it out to play with it in the space, as it came with instructions; instead, I decided to use it electronically. I started drawing on the top of the flowers, but then decided to use the empty squares and wrote some letters, forming words that are imperceptible to read. (heart; care; love; lone; gone) all these words represent my feelings, at this isolation period. (I do regret not have print out this work and played with it).
Yvonne - I could see the flat box and how to construct it, the image moving around the space frustrated me, I wanted it to stop and to balance somewhere on the page. I also wanted to set it free, I played with abstract shapes until it felt free.
Noriko - The colourful artwork that came my way contained large circular shapes, a purple star and some pixelated images of plants or some kind of vegetation. The image looked more or less complete…I just felt that it needed something on the right hand side to finish it off. I had been working on a ‘self-assigned’ project of creating an A to Z list of words from the daily Guardian Opinion section. The list of words seemed the perfect thing to fill the strip of pale purple space. Although the words have no correlation to the shapes and colours that already occupied the image, it was interesting, nonetheless, to observe how they start to influence the ‘reading’ of the artwork.
Image 4: Yonat - Noriko - Luisa - Jane - Yvonne - Yonat
Noriko - I was intrigued with the various qualities of the marks on the image that I received. I started to crop and enlarge them to see if I could see them better, like inspecting with a magnifying glass. I wondered what would happen if I were to sandwich the marks by layering the images. The resulting picture reminds me of gazing into a pond and seeing leaves and other materials floating in water.
Luisa - The drawing that I’ve received was very gentle and reminded me of the refection of the water. I wrote a few words, using the colours of the painting: “the nature of; emotions; Empathy; feelings; VOICE; isolation; culture; thrashed; vision; gift; thinking”.
Yvonne - This image felt complete in itself, it was profound. I chose to make an intervention, a gentle, grey line that weaved quietly across the circles. Bringing gentle influence of its being into to the energy of the circles and benefiting from its visit through the circles being able to take something ‘good’ with it as it meanders on its way.
Image 5: Yvonne - Yonat - Noriko - Luisa - Jane - Yvonne
Yvonne - As the author of this beginning, I played, what I saw when I looked at the played scribbles were bluebell flowers, an unintentional field of bluebells. I had been looking at the bluebells in the garden.
Noriko - The expanse of creamy white and the dots made me think of the Milky Way, which then made me think of stars and constellations. Using the drawing facility in Photoshop, I tried to connect the dots to make my own star signs. The lines are awkward and clumsy but I was happy with the way I was able to create new images within the existing image, connecting different elements together.
Luisa - This time, I decided to print out the work sent to me. I went to pick up some threads and stitched it onto the paper, using colours to match the lines that were transparent when I received it.
Jane - Initially, I was procrastinating about making interventions into the images passed on to me. I hate to change other people’s work and get too precious about my own work. The only way I could get around it was to treat it as a game and be a bit playful, but still in a gentle way.
In the last PIRG session (23 March 2020), the group discussed broadly around the topic of 'care', which Lisa Baraitser describes as 'the ardous temporal practice of maintaining ongoing relations with others and the world' (Baraitser, 2017, p.4). There was one particular paragraph that Yonat had chosen where Baraitser comments on care as 'often assumed to be a value' (ibid., p.14). I was curious to reflect further on this notion of 'care as value'. What kind of value are we talking about?
I introduced the text: 'Mothering, Co-muni-cation, and the Gifts of Language' by Genevieve Vaughan, in The Engima of Gift and Sacrifice, Edith Wyschogrod (ed.), New York: Fordham University Press, 2002, pp.91 - 113. I thought it would be interesting to reflect on what Vaughan talks about as 'unilateral gift giving' in relation to ideas of care as value.
Text: Lisa Baraitser (2017), Enduring Time, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, pp.14-15.
Session led by Yonat.
First Skype session due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Two paragraphs from Lisa Baraitser's book, Enduring Time, were chosen for this session. Jane started the conversation by questioning Baraitser's interpretation of Tronto's understanding of care as an action that goes ‘beyond the limits of the relational self to include forms of action not limited to human action…’. What did Baraitser mean by 'not limited to human action?' Isn't care primarily associated with human action? Yonat felt that both human and non-human can have access to agency (referencing concepts such as 'agential realism' that Karen Barad talks about).
According Baraitser, one of the actions that can be understood as care is 'maintenance'. Yonat created an additional list of actions that she felt could be considered as 'care': listen to, respond, response-ability, communicate, feed, support, protect, love. It makes reflect on Elizabeth Povinelli articulation of care as a 'small theatrical gesture'
'...an "object of knolwege" is no longer a resource, ground, matrix, object, material or instrument to be sued by humans as a means to an end. Rather an object of knowledge is an "active, meaning-generating axis of the appratus of bodily production"'. (Haraway, 1991, p.200)*.
Yonat's texts for the session included paragraphs from Barbara Bolt's 'Material Thinking and the Agency of Matter', in Studies in Material Thinking, Vol. 1, No. 1 (April, 2007), p.2 (www.materialthinking.org), Jackie Goode, ‘On Autoethnography’ (Chapter 3) in Jackie Goode (ed.) (2019), Clever Girls: Auotoethnograpies of Class, Gender and Ethnicity, New York, US: Palgrave Macmillan and Tim Ingold (2016), Lines: A Brief History, London and New York: Routledge.
* Donna Haraway (1991), Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, London: Free Association Books.