Critical Writing Index

Projective art and the ‘staging’ of empathic projection

by Ken Wilder

Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ), 2016, v. 5, no. 1&2, pp. 124-140

Michael Fried’s unexpected contribution to defining the ontological status of video art includes an intriguing claim that projective art is particularly suited to the ‘staging’ of empathic projection. Fried applies Stanley Cavell’s notion of empathic projection, developed in relation to skepticism of ‘other minds’, to moving image installations that not only exploit the beholder’s capacity for empathically projecting, but do so in such a way as to reveal the mechanism at play. In developing this claim, I compare Fried’s key example of Douglas Gordon’s Play Dead; Real Time (2003) with Bill Viola and Kira Perov’s Martyrs (2014), a work that likewise elicits an emotional response but without a compensatory (and hence critical) foregrounding of the underlying structuring mechanism. However, the comparison suggests that the staging of empathic projection should not be interpreted as an anti-theatrical strategy (as Fried contends), but rather as an exemplary manifestation of what I am calling the configurational encounter – a revealing of the artwork’s conditions of existence. I reference Paul Sharits’s Epileptic Seizure Comparison (1976), an important (and unacknowledged) precursor to Gordon’s staging of empathic projection. Finally, I consider Chris Welsby’s landscape films in the light of the capacity of technology to reveal psychological mechanisms of projection, tracing such processes of projection to early childhood experiences of differentiating the human from the non-human.

ITEM 2016.027 – available for viewing in the Research Centre

Videos, Artworks and Artists Cited

Play Dead; Real TimeDouglas Gordon

MartyrsBill Viola

MartyrsKira Perov

Epileptic Seizure ComparisonPaul Sharits

10 ms-1Douglas Gordon


Seven DaysChris Welsby

Wind VaneChris Welsby

Windmill 3Chris Welsby