Choreographing Empathy

April 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

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I recently read this book by Susan Leigh, Choreographing Empathy: Kinesthesia in Performance. Three words in the title have already occupied me for years; now I can add choreography. Leigh is writing about dance, but the underlying tone of her book suggests that she has something to say about life more generally, about the ways in which we feel into each other with our bodies. I’ve been trying to think about this in relation to the memorial. How do visitors experience the space of the memorial, how do they perform the chronotope of its architecture, physically and cognitively? Empathy, Kinesthesia and Performance are all part of the memorial experience, but I believe we can also think it in terms of choreography. It is a choreography at one prescribed and improvised: a collaborative choreography between the visitor, the space, the other visitors. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin is the perfect stage for such performances and their collisions; here we see choreographies of play and laughter coincide or conflict with dances of sadness and solemnity. These videos posted by visitors serve as records of the dances, and show the similarities and differences between performances. In each case I think we can speak of a form of kinesthesia or embodied empathy at work between the space and the people occupying it, as well as between the people themselves – all three are linked, so that the observer is the observed, the spectator spectated (a metaphor well extended by the videos themselves, and us watching them). Why do people post these videos? Is it to prove they were there? To find an audience for their performance: what is the performance to them? Do they see it as a form of witnessing, or simply a form of fun?

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