fold #01 on Empathy


fold #01 on Empathy

emapthy fold at seafoundation design by Jinhye Lee
Design by Jinhye Lee

Full programme

March 2021 – June 2021

April 2021 –  May 2021
Residency Hillside Projects

29 and 30 April
6,7 and 8 May
Performance ‘The Scavenger Collapse‘ Hillside Projects

24.04.2021 – 05.06.2021
Exhibition ‘They Who Where‘ Hillside Projects

Artist Talk with Hillside Projects in collaboration with Das Esszimmer, Bonn

April – July
Collaborative research on Empathy with Jesse van den Berg and Eva Spierenburg

Reading group I   with Mari Keski-Korsu
Neimanis, A. (2012), Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water, in ‘Undutiful daughters: Mobilizing future concepts, bodies and subjectivities in feminist thought and practice’.

Reading group  II with Katarina Jazbec
Intercalculations 4 (20.), ‘The Word for the World is Still Forest’: Edited by Anna-Sophie Springer & Etienne Turpin.
We read: Mimetic Traps; Forests, Images, Worlds by Neves Marques, Pedro

You Can’t Automate Me (2021)
Katarina Jazbec

02.07.2021 – 21.08.2021
Exhibition ‘Intertwined’  by Jesse van den Berg & Eva Spierenburg

Reading group III with Sheng-Wen Lo
Steinbeck, J., ‘The Long Valley’, a collection of short stories, published by the Penguin Group 1995. First published in 1938
We read The Snake from p.49


Find the full reading list on empathy here.


Unfolding Empathy

Performing an ability to understand and share other’s feelings and thoughts – empathy – is the first step towards creating compassionate relationships. Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal (2009) claims that empathy is common to humans and animals according to studies made on diverse groups of animals, and mainly primates. Being humane is perhaps not as much belonging to humans but comes naturally within and across the species.

From March – June 2021 we will unfold via the empathy lens by means of artistic work and collaboration the relationship of empathy and sustainability. Opting for empathy in a situation of conflict for example, is a risk. And the cost of the risk increases as we scale up from individuals to institutions, to communities, to countries.  And in spite of Empathy being acknowledged as one of the defining characteristics of humanity, the presence of empathy within policy making is very small, if nonexistent. Our Empathy project derives it shape by the collaborating efforts of artists, curators, art theoreticians and scientists and it is a fluid exploration of the theme of empathy through a continuum. Together we address issues of systemic failure in contexts of contemporary global crisis in connection to empathy. We aim to better understand what role empathy plays in modeling the future environments and how it fits in contemporary artistic practice.

Capacity to listen

We (humans) often long for a better future for us and those who come after. Sustainability is thus a concept for the future. As we decide to unfold sustainability it is interesting to ask what set of values, attitudes, skills or statements we shall manifest in the present while taking a position towards the past. In relation to sustainment, through empathy we learn to understand that the future is shared by many as well as recognize that the knowledge about perceiving the world might be different across the naturecultures. The artists or curators that are motivated by empathy take into consideration inseparability of nature and culture and question the dominance of only one perspective. As a curator and writer Ivette Yutumba wrote in her letter from the editor Living in an Age of Empathy (online, 2017), the empathy used in artistic research ‘can be a tool for curating exhibitions, writing texts, and editing magazines that not only offer answers but also raise questions’. This I see as particularly important. With asking a question, empathy becomes a method of training our capability to listen. Would empathy help to facilitate more speculative, enriching and insightful learning encounters?

Rational vs Emotional

If we think of empathy as a building block for a sustainable future, it is also interesting to ask if empathy in artistic practice becomes a driving force or an obstacle to acting, or in contrary, to refraining from acting. Psychologist Paul Bloom who wrote the book Against the Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (2018) stands against empathy, as he thinks that concept of empathy can be abused. Instead he suggests to act with compassion. According to him, empathetic feeling inclines towards certain groups and he finds it problematic if we make moral judgements based on our emotions. The acts that are influenced by empathy (and in his case by emotional rather than cognitive empathy) apply to moral norms of what we consider bad or good therefore not leading towards rational decisions. He is privileging rationality over emotions and would refrain from action if it is based on emotional empathy. Rational is considered responsible. However, it might be questionable if it is only the emotional side of a human that is based on biases and if the access to taking rational actions is provided fairly within all groups of society.

In the artistic practice, the capacity to walk a mile in another ones’ shoes is often crucial in responding to sufferings of those whose voice is not heard. The artwork which is evolving from empathy may thus correlate with a concept of compassion – a recognition of suffering that is taken into the action – as it can become an action questioning the cause.


The programme is born out of a conviction that artists’ perspectives have an important role to play in the framing of international, national and institutional responses to threat and conflict. We believe that the capacity of the arts to effectively influence policy development has not been systematically explored, exploited or applied. The world is at a crossroads as humans have tapped natural resources of our world that by far exceeds the rate of nature’s ability to recover. The ecological crisis is overwhelmingly the result of human action, and at the same time, humans must find ways to sustain our species. Over the span of year 2020, we presented artists/artist collectives in virtual vitrine that brought us closer to the specific focus of diverse practices which we saw as crucial in addressing sustainability. The #sea_youhere virtual vitrine started as a showcase of artistic practices and developed into an open-ended researching programme.

Mari Keski-Korsu was the first artist that we presented in #sea_youhere 2.0. The Finnish artist practice focuses on inter-species communication and on creating the environments that stimulate empathy. It’s an exemplary research driven practice on the theme. The artist recommended the following texts and some of them became a part of our growing library and will be explored further via the reading sessions.

Reading sources

Kaijser, A. & Kronsel, A. (2014): Climate Change through the Lens of Intersectionality, Environmental Politics, 23:3, 417-433

Neimanis, A. (2012): Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water. in Undutiful Daughters: Mobilizing Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice, eds. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni and Fanny Söderbäck. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Powys Whyte, K. (2013): On the role of traditional ecological knowledge as a collaborative concept: a philosophical study. Ecological Processes 2013 2:7.

Singer, T. (2006). The neuronal basis and ontogeny of empathy and mind reading: Review of literature and implications for future research. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 30(6), 855–863.

Bird-David, N. (1993): Tribal metaphorization of human-nature relatedness: A comparative analysis. In K. Milton (Ed.), Environmentalism (pp. 112–124). London: Routledge.

Puig de La Bellacasa, M. (2017): Matters of Care – Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds, University of Minnesota Press

Bloom, P. (2018). Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (Reprint ed.). Ecco.

de Waal, F. (2009): The Age of Empathy – Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, Crown

Krznaric, R. (2014): Empathy – Why It Matters, and How to Get It

Solnit, R. (2016): Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, Canongate Books

Hribal, J. (2012): Animals are Part of the Working Class Reviewed, in Borderlands e-journal, volume 11 number 2

This is a selection of reading resources on empathy. For the full reading list suggestions visit the Empathy reading list.

logo Gemeente Tilburg
mondriaanfonds netherlands
Logo Kunstloc Brabant
Logo impulsgeld provincie Noord Brabant
Hillside projects, artist duo from Sweden They Who Where Jonas Blottern partner in the Swedish artist duo at work at SEA Foundation
books at seafoundation on empathy