Weekly Update 2 – Empathetic

Also in the Weekly this week, my review of Empathetic at Temple Gallery. Since the Weekly had an empathy failure when they published my review and cut off almost half of what I wrote, I’m going to share with you the missing 200 words, cut off the top of the piece, here. Here’s Libby’s post on the show. Breaking news: the missing words were a slip of the cursor in the cut and paste…that’s all, says my editor, the gentleman Steven Wells, who has lots of empathy and just called me and said it was his mistake and apologized. Thanks for the clarification, Steven! Not that I was paranoid or angry or…anything.

Feel the Pain
Tears and tribulations at Temple Gallery.

Empathetic at Temple Gallery will not make you cry. But the museum-quality show on feeling the pain of others might cause you to consider what empathy means. When so much human pain and sorrow comes to us third-hand through electronic sources and comes at us relentlessly, is our response empathy or is it numbness, depression and inertia?

Pia Lindman
Pia Lindman’s video in empathetic at Temple Gallery. The video shows the artist play-acting images of suffering as displayed in photographs on the New York Times front pages. On the table is the book of her line drawings of the same photos.

Before I get down to specifics, I want to say that this show is an example of how crucial Philadelphia’s university art galleries are to the art scene. In pushing big ideas and in exhibiting ground-breaking works by international artists, Temple Gallery and the others give a larger framework to the discussion of art; and that is crucial for young artists and for art lovers who want to connect with the larger art world. That this non-museum venue can pull off a big, encyclopedic show like this is amazing – and to be applauded.

Happily, in a show packed with big, conceptual works, some of which need some study, the pacing is generous, with moments of pointy-headed discourse bracketed by emotional times that actually give you the opportunity to exercise the empathy muscle.

Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calz
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s piece with the turtles on the Pearl River in the shipping lanes.

Two works in Temple Gallery’s “Empathetic” use animal imagery that immediately taps into wellsprings of empathy for our animal friends. By placing six large turtles in danger—on a log in the middle of the international shipping lanes of the busy Pearl River in China—and turning on a camera, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla created an elegaic six-minute work that’s a metaphor for the fragility of flesh in a hard world. Channeling the turtle in this piece is no problem.

Rachel Owens
Rachel Owens, Falls 2006. Look how she nails the posture of those animals. Virtuoso cardboard construction.

Rachel Owens, likewise, uses animals in Falls, her fantasy waterfall environment made mostly of cardboard boxes, but including a real water element. The piece memorializes the coyotes in Central Park that travel from upstate to Manhattan, only to be captured and sent back up north, or occasionally wounded or killed. The piece’s two cardboard coyotes (one “dead”) are emotional provocateurs even if you don’t know the story.

Jesper Just
Jesper Just’s evocative Bliss and Heaven, here nicely double-exposed through the miracle of my terrible photography of a moving image.

Jesper Just
’s trilogy of short films about men unable to share their feelings uses the framework of cinema and the trappings of opera in works about unrequited love. Just’s beautiful pieces make you witness a deep sadness you can do nothing about. The campy Bliss and Heaven speak of empathy’s burden—the burden of witnessing and not knowing how to act.

CarianaCarianne’s installation documenting their peace agreement.

Other evocative works include Paul Chan’s charcoal drawings of Judas kissing Jesus (made specifically for the show), Kalup Linzy’s smart soap-opera parody Conversations Wit de Churen and the documentary-esque installation by CarianaCarianne, two artists who inhabit one body and have, among other things, signed an official peace treaty with each other. Trisha Donnelly, Pia Lindman and Pedro Lasch round out the show.

Art can be many things, from entertainment to teacher to, as here, a friend telling you a story that could make you cry. Get out there and bring a hankie.

>>Empathetic, until Feb. 17, 2006. Temple Gallery, 259 N. 3rd Street 215.782.2776