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Interviewee Name: Stefi

Interviewed By: Lulu

Course: Daylong Into To HCD - 2016-02-03 PART 1-2

L>What does empathy mean to you?

S> Empathy means to understand the other person, to put yourself in his situation, in his shoes, to see through his eyes and try to feel and think as he does, thus making it a natural thing finding the causalities of the other person’s actions and feelings, and becoming able to understand them without judgment. Empathy occurs when a heart vibrates together with another, reaching the same level of pulsation. 

It is something that brings us closer, unites us and makes us human. Using empathy we can be good friends, good colleagues, good parents - better people. Empathy means, for example, merely to listen carefully when someone speaks- how else can you have a two-way communication without empathy? When a man is emphatic, he shows a series of human qualities: an openness to the world, a lack of selfishness, lack of self centeredness. A world where there would be more practice of empathy would be a world without war and hatred, a wiser world.. Empathy is something actively living inside human beings, able to affect and to get things moving in the outside world.

L>What is your best experience with empathy?

S> One interesting experience regarding empathy was volunteering at a retirement home. We (members of an association) were holding an ikebana workshop. Besides this activity, we talked a lot with the elders and we listened to them, so that at the end of the workshop we received a really warm and touching feedback – they told us that after meeting us they felt younger.

It meant a lot for them to feel that someone is there to listen to what they have to say and connect, given the fact that most of them lost their families and they felt alone.

L>Have you experienced a need for empathy in your life? Can you give an example?

S> When my father asks me “Can’t you paint something prettier? why do you paint like that? ” How am I supposed to feel then?

L>How do you feel when you are not receiving enough empathy from your peers?

S> I don't feel understood.

L>How would being empathic improve life for you and/or those around you?

S> I think that empathy helps us not only to better understand the world around us, but also to understand ourselves. Through empathy we crumble the walls of egocentrism and individualism and we can build friendships. Capitalist society suffers from a lack of empathy, shown by the differences between social classes, which are too big. And even if it is hard to believe, things like slavery still exist. So if each man would try to practice empathy more, there would be no war, refugees, famine, slavery, etc. An empathic world= a better world!

L>Please tell me a short story that would involve both art and empathy.

S> I would like to tell about my school practice from this summer: I held painting workshops and tour guides in museums for a student association from Kassel. It is so interesting how through art we created an atmosphere of great friendship! For example- when one paint a self-portrait or a rainbow or simply something experimental, there was an atmosphere of mutual encouragement and appreciation of discovering the others through colour.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the beautiful friendships that were bound there and then. In the end we organized an exhibition, which was definitely the most peaceful and happy opening I have ever attended. Through art you can discover a lot about each other, you can get to understand each other – what I lived there was definitely an empathic experience.

   L>As an artist, do you use empathy in your creative processes? In which way?

S> Empathy appears as an important element as much in choosing the subject and defining the concept as in choosing the materials with which you are going to work. I believe in a kind of art that has purpose, an art that not only meets the internal needs of the artist, but which is addressed to the world and sends a message. So ... how does one chooses his/ her subject and what message to send? I think at the time when you create something, you are like a sensitive membrane that receives reality. Now I can think of an example - in September we were about to organize an exhibition for which I decided to change the title of one of my works from Unknown – a painting representing blurry characters, invaded by gray, that can not be identified, but wrapped in gold – into Refugees WELLOCOME. The colors are similar to those in the ”Refugees welcome” logo. The work is querying, playing with the fear that began to grow in Romania regarding the tide of refugees and coldness displayed with respect to the international rights of the refugees. The characters lose their faces, no one knows who they are - as we could read from the online social media, but they are protected, clad in  gold (like the halo that appears in Orthodox icons) trying to make the viewer empathize with them, recalling the soul.

When I went to Munich I was impressed seeing people giving thanks to God, and a lot of people supporting them and applauding  while they were getting into coaches. I was impressed by the gratitude of those people who experienced war.

    L> How do you think art could influence building empathy?

S> I think that art has tried to do that from the very start - since the cave paintings  and up till now, whether it was dedicated to the gods (in the ancient and medieval Christian art), or if it was rather humanist, even with all the crazy phases it went through until today. Even when we talk about the simplest portrait – that’s clearly an empathetic process,  which only gets  stronger with complex works aimed at sending a message to the society - like Joseph Boys’ project at Documenta, which led to the plantation of 700 trees. Art opens the mind, it is a way of communication.


    L> What's keeping you from becoming more empathic? Why?

S> Maybe we show little empathy when the other person is not showing empathy herself, or in a relation with a person who has already disappointed us. Why?  Perhaps we don’t empathize because we fear not to get hurt, or perhaps because of lack of patience, or because of stereotypes or egocentrism. That’s still to reflect upon.

    L> Do you think there is any way that could be solved through art? How?

S> This is a great wish/goal/ideal!