Unstable Empathy

From Rhizome Artbase

Two players, one in front of each other, behind a giant screen.
On the background, forms follow abstract imagery trying to emerge from chaos,
but abruptly coming back undefined.

Suddenly forms settle and a voyage begin:
branches, rhizomes and inflorescences develop in a formal narration of increasing complexity,
in an equilibrium which is the resonance of two minds,
a feble tuning, constantly changing, fragile:
an unstable empathy .

An Unstable Emphaty is a reactive environment constantly remediated in real-time
by the mind activity of two players which are constantly forced to negotiate their emphatic state.
It’s a collaborative game in which the meanings of cooperation, entangling and collective
consciusness are directly perceived on the physiological level.
At the beginning of the game two participants are select-
ed from the audience; then some electroencephalograph-
ic (EEG) electrode are being mounted on the head of
two players. Their Alpha brainwave (8-10 cicles/second)
is measured in amplitude in order to assess the mental
state and the level of relax and concentration of the two
participants, while the players’ brain activity is rendered
in real time as visuals on the big screen behind them and
as spatialized sounds surrounding the environment.
The two players quickly realize that the narration of the
imagery is directly driven by their brain activity.
They also realize they can continue the journey only forc-
ing themselves in an emphatic relation: shifting between
chaos and organization, they constantly have to renegoti-
ate their own mind states in order to let the narration go-
ing on, in an unceasing research of a shared balance.
As the journey goes on, visual and sonic stimulis in-
crease: the players watch the evocative imagery gener-
ated on the screen, and at the same time they are forced
to focus on their own immer insights to keep the state of
empathy and let the narration going on.
Maintaining a balance become more and more difficult:
“driving” the journey requires an ever demanding stress
and increasing synergics, until the end of the game..
How much empathy do we need to face with the voyage
that humanity undertook?
Only those who are able to “travel” together will finish the game ...

The journey of An Unstable Empathy is the one every
man pursues when immersed in his inner world and when
empathetically engages himself in the emotions of the
Above all, An Unstable Empathy shows to the users the
difficulty to keep control over his own emotions and inner
Beside that, it also seek to overcome the mental barri-
ers between the people, urging to tune his Self and the
its own feelings according to the other’s emotions, in an
attempt to get rid of preconceptions or biases concerning
the interpersonal relation and giving back to the emotion
its deep transactional value in the relationship with the
others and the surrounding environment.
An Unstable Empathy engages the languages and tech-
niques of both interactive installations and live media performances embracing them under the same experience:
the interactivity between the two participants is paired by
the linear narrative of the visuals on the big screen re-
sembling the cinema’s fruition modalities.
Furthermore the two players are both performers and
spectators: the show is literally generated by their own
The real-time generative visuals are always different and
even with the same player will be virtually impossible to
see twice the same sequence, while the sound generat-
ed is the direct consequence of brain activity, constantly

Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand the
state of mind or emotion of another person. It is often
characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s
shoes”, or to in some way to experience the outlook or
emotions of another being within oneself.
It may be described metaphorically as an emotional kind
of resonance or mirroring.
Research in recent years has focused on possible brain
processes as neural correlates of empathy (Preston &
de Waal, 2002). Functional magnetic resonance imag-
ing (fMRI) has recently been employed to investigate the
functional anatomy of empathy (for reviews see Decety
& Jackson, 2006; Decety & Lamm, 2006; deVignemont
& Singer, 2006).
These studies have shown that observing another per-
son’s emotional state activates parts of the neuronal
network involved in the processing of that same state
in oneself, either for disgust (Wicker et al., 2003), touch
(Keysers et al., 2004), or pain (Morrison et al., 2004;
Jackson et al., 2005, 2006; Lamm et al., 2007; Singer et
al., 2004, 2006; Gu & Han, 2007).
The study of empathic neuronal circuitries was inspired
by the discovery of mirror neurons in monkeys that fire
both when the creature watches another perform an ac-
tion as well as when they perform that action.
Mirror neurons represents a possible neural mechanism
for mapping others’ feelings onto one’s own nervous sys-
Based on some of this work, the simulation theory of em-
pathy has been developed during the past decade.
In An unstable Empathy, the individual state of emotive
and attentional activation is measured by an important
and well known psychophysiological index: Alpha wave
This index, easily and precisely measurable by simple
EEG equipments, has been often employed in various
neurofeedback techniques, since the human ability to
indirectly control it, intervening on the individual level of relax or activation (For an introductive review see Batty et al., 2006).
Moreover, due to his relatively short times of variation
and his easily of recording, Alpha brainwaves have been
extensively employed in interactive installation and live
performances and to drive visual or acoustic representa-
tions (Brouse et al., 2006; Filatriau et al., 2006).

“the brain is just the weight of God,
for, lift them, pound for pound,
and they will differ, if they do, as syllabe from sound”
Emily Dickinson

Mattia Casalegno
1 July 2009
Variant History