The Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb


Amela Frankl: Commission no. 10: Empathy and Art

Collaboration with Jens Hauser

Client: Kontejner | Bureau of Contemporary Art Practice

Kontejner was invited to take part in the project What I Bear by artist Amela Frankl, and so from the outset we paid careful attention to the way it was developing. The artist received a number of commissions that were provocative in several ways. One the one hand they aimed at frustrating the boundaries of the project, or chipping away at it, testing out the strength of the structure. On the other hand there were commissions that were indulgent at an intellectual or sensory level. We were interested in avoiding both of these approaches. We didn’t want our commission to be destructive, although the concept of the project is such that the artist is at the mercy of her fellows, and the first impulse was mostly precisely that. On the other hand, we didn’t want to be brought cheese or wine from Paris, because we’d rather go there ourselves for these two divine goodies. Our intention was to have a constructive approach to a commission. In fact, we wanted to see if our commission in the project What I Bear could result in something good for the artist herself, to be of interest to Amela and her artistic work.

We offered her two options. The first was to exhibit her work in some worthwhile gallery in Paris of her own choice – by arrangement with the institution, or without one. The second was to establish some collaboration with Jens Hauser, a curator of German origins who is living in Paris and is known as a promoter of cutting edge art practices in biotechnology. Kontejner has been working with him continuously since 2005 and the Touch Me Festival, at which Hauser was a guest of the symposium. We think Hauser an important curator, not only because of the closeness of our worldviews, but also because of his enormous ability to establish certain artistic practices, thanks to his exceptional theoretical articulacy. It is also a challenge to us to see how such collaboration will affect the art of Frankl, since she has not previously dealt with projects linking art and science. Since international promotion of artistic concepts, practices and artists is one of the tasks of curators, after Amela Frankl had chosen this option as being interesting, we established links between her and Jens Hauser.*


The outcome of commission no. 10 was the foundation of the Non-Profit Art Association for the Unselfish and Uncontrolled Promotion of Social Empathy – Oxytocin to Empathy – OTE (ODE in Croatian) and the production of the first ODE/OTE Association in the MCA.

The OTE Association was founded in September 2012, the aim being to sensitise and encourage the public to empathy through artistic actions. All its actions will be based on the use of the hormone oxytocin, which has a profound effect on the process of immediate identification with the emotional states and behaviours of others, in other words, on empathy.

Empathy is the intuitive ability to understand the other. And while sympathy is based on equating feelings with the other, empathy enables experience to put oneself in the position of the other. Empathy is the ability to stand back from one’s own feelings and from every attempt to convince others of one’s own vies and ideas, and to direct the attention to the other person. Empathy is the proper understanding of the other person, the person’s interests, needs, feelings and views, irrespective of how we experience that other person. Empathy doesn’t necessary lead to the wish to like the other person, to approve of that person’s views and procedures, to identify with them. Empathy does not lead to harmony. Empathy enables a value-neutral way of observing situations, sincere and constructive relations, gaining trust, understanding, communication and the building of interrelations that are not necessarily based on the same value judgement.

French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote of the importance of empathy for art in his major work Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience.. Empathy is the ability that Bergson considers a condition for the understanding of and solidarity with the work of art. In the study Alone Against All? Violence and Intersubjectivity in Henri Bergson, German philosopher Johannes Schick says: “Bergson in the Essay talks of a relation with the other. Bergson clearly affirms the indivisibility of the other when he says that it is impossible to understand the other without becoming the other and that only art can surmount this impossibility, because the work of art is an expression of the total personality, an expression of which can be clearly comprehended and checked out. The point of departure of a work of art is feeling that totally occupies the whole personality. Feeling produces a special relationship with the world and the other…”

This statement of Bergson is the motto for the first action of the OTE Association in the MCA.

Do you often find that when you visit some exhibition you feel completely apathetic about the work on show? Do you have the power to attempt to get sincerely into the emotional condition of the author, to understand the feelings that the artist conveys to you through his or her work? Guided by indifference, without any consideration of the thinking and feeling, then turn away from this work of art.

Convinced that the museum is a place at which empathy has to be promoted all the time, OTE decided to give the Experimental Research Section of the MCA equipment for an empathetic approach to the work of art. The equipment Model:00 is meant for the curatorial team of the museum to be able to use in cases when visitors of the museum complain that they have not understood or are indifferent to the works of art on show, and when the curatorial team decides that there is no other way to induce visitor empathetic perception except by chemistry, with the use of oxytocin.

Model:00 for an empathic approach to the work of art will be the property of the Experimental Research Department of the Museum in perpetuity, and will be used for the general good.

The ERD of the MCA and the OTE Association invite you to be present on Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 7.00 p.m. and partake in the act of donating the equipment Model:00

*Jens Hauser is curator, critic and theorist who is concerned with the relation between art and technology, trans-genre work and contextual aesthetics. He was curator of exhibitions such as L'Art Biotech (Nantes, 2003), Still, Living (Perth, 2007), Article Biennale (Stavanger, 2008), sk-interfaces (Liverpool, 2008 / Luxembourg, 2009), Transbiotics (Riga, 2010.), Synth-ethic (Vienna, 2011) i Fingerprints… (Berlin, 2011./ Munich, 2012.). He has organised several interdisciplinary conferences and been a guest lecturer at international universities and art academies. He is currently engaged at the Ruhr-Universität at Bochum in research into the paradigms of biomediality and wetware. He is a member of the jury of Ars Electronica Festival in the category Hybrid Art. He is one of the founders of and contributors to the European arts TV channel ARTE.

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