Reading on Empathy with guest reader Sheng-Wen Lo
John Steinbeck, The Long Valley,
SEA Foundation Tilburg 2021
Reading on Empathy
with a guest reader
Readers can attend the session either online or offline. Please sign up via secretariat[-]seafoundation.eu with subject ‘Reading on Empathy no. III’
This reading group is part of SEA Foundations’ longer term research on art and sustainability fold #01 on Empathy.
Donations are welcome
In the third reading session on empathy, artist Sheng-Wen Lo takes us away with the story The Snake written by John Steinbeck. Sheng will accompany the reading with the discussion about his practice which takes inspiration from his past experiences as a scientist, as well as his recent interests concerning animals in laboratories, animals in crisis, and plants in manipulative horticulture.
Steinbeck’s essay The Snake is found in the short story collection The Long Valley, originally published in 1938. This mysterious story takes place in a laboratory, where the scientific work of Dr. Phillips is disturbed by a woman who suddenly walks in and demands to pay for the snake kept in a cage as a research animal. However, her motive is not to take him away from the laboratory settings but to watch him while eating the rat.
According to Sheng-Wen Lo, the short story would help us to navigate the dark waters concerning the scientific usership of non-humans (the tension between science, empathy, utilitarianism and regulations), which is also relevant to us during the pandemic when the research animals were highly demanded by pharmaceutical companies before vaccines could have been tested on humans. Sheng also recommends reading the New York Times article “Future Vaccines Depend on Test Subjects in Short Supply: Monkeys” from February 2021 bringing up the topic of animals as test subjects.
John Steinbeck III was an American writer, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for this novel The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and writer of the novel Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories. In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Artist Sheng-Wen Lo investigates the relationships between non-humans and societies, often taking daily experiences as points of departure. Why do people love and pet certain animals? Why do people eat certain species but not the others? Why are some people scared of little bugs? Sheng believes these relationships reflect people’s values, attitudes and collective memories toward their surroundings.
For his project Extendable Ears (2019 – 2020), Lo made a wearable device which transforms ultrasound (20~70 KHz) to audible ranges, allowing his ears to register sound frequencies similar to cats. In the connection to empathy, we can say that Sheng-Wen Lo literally went a mile in someone else’s shoes and made himself directly experience what the life of an animal, surrounded by human-made noises, is like.
Lo is the creative director of Lightbox, a public photo library and a center for contemporary photography at Taipei and he is currently an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie (2019-2021) in Amsterdam.
Readers can attend the session either online or offline. Please sign up via email@example.com with the subject line ‘Reading on Empathy no. III’. The text will be sent to registered readers one week before the event. The session is in English and hosted at the SEA Foundation premises. We will take notes for our study purposes.
Website Sheng Wen Lo
For more suggestions for reading, check out the recommended reading fold #01 on Empathy.