(Jeff_L) #1


Locating Empathy with Double-blind Drawing and bimanual Palpation

For me it felt like being transported to a
different space. I wasn’t aware of this till
afterwards, but when I finished drawing
and opened my eyes I suddenly realized
that the room was actually quite crowded,
and not the quiet, intimate space I had
been experiencing with my eyes closed,
in which I was aware of the words and the
paper, and communicating just with you.
It also felt therapeutic somehow, although
I couldn’t describe in what way. There was
a sort of trust involved in which I just did
what you said without needing an expla-
nation, like in a medical situation, but
without feeling vulnerable, just receiving
something. (participant, artist & teacher)

I felt conscious of rhythm in the move-
ment and sound through the drawing
act, which was hypnotic and triggered the
same sensory experiences as building a
drawing through knitting with hand pins.
Because I was lying on top of the paper I
felt I was immersed in the drawing both
physically and sensually and was creat-
ing the drawing from the central core of
the paper with pencils as conduits for my
own physical presence. (participant, textile
designer & knitter)

I hoped to simulate processes that occur dur-
ing empathic understanding giving participants,
who included artists and teachers, a different way of
thinking about empathy. The physical action of mir-
roring and the psychological process of imagining the
situation of the other are both important. I believed
that this activity would anchor my participants in
an activity that had a physically comfortable (albeit
psychologically challenging) feeling that would allow
them to explore the activity of drawing in a way that
mimicked the experience of being a patient in a hos-
pital, that of lying down and being examined.
In order to explore empathy I also needed a
technique that would lead me to encounter, in
Lysander’s words “war, death, or sickness”. The deli-
cate manoeuvre of bimanual palpation of the spleen
(a blood sequestering organ located in the upper
left quarter of the abdomen) seemed to fit the bill
as, in his words, “in a spleen, unfolds both heaven
and earth”.

The performance in Macys Gallery, helped me
to reconsider the relationships between drawing
and empathy. The act of restoration and reparation
is as important in teaching and gallery settings as in
The notion that both hands are moving, sensing
devices, working in unison unites the two practices
of art and medicine. I made a “field” for drawing
that was grounded on the floor of the gallery. My
intimate drawing space was constructed by a roll
of paper, two pencils and a quotation about heaven
and earth, spleen and a sense of the moment. The
event or collaborative art practice drew participants
into the territory of relational aesthetics (Bourriaud,
1998) and the “gift” economy (Morgan, 2003) func-
tioning as a “therapeutic intervention”.
The interaction allowed a space to come about,
in which engagement occurred in a tactile and
physical way with, for example, the enjoyment of the
activity, the contact between the pencil and paper,
the texture of the paper, the spontaneous move-
ment of arms. In New York the rhythmical sounds
of cello notes, used in previous performances, were
replaced with the rhythm of nine lines of Shake-
spearian poetry, which broadened the engagement
to include notions of war, death and sickness. The
intervention appeared to facilitate an altered experi-
ence of the act of drawing and communicating. Each
participant responded differently, and articulated
different aspects of the experience. The question
remains whether my performance enticed knitting
together of souls. It was a “knitting” in the sense that
the presence of the palpator was not only felt as in a
touch, but was also perceived in a way that might be
experienced as mysterious. To help answer some of
the questions about the nature of the drawn encoun-
ter the performance will be repeated in Cornwall at
the private view of the show Brief Encounters.

1 My PhD is an investigation of my drawing prac-
tice as an artist, investigating empathy, in the
hospital where I also work as a doctor. I entice
others, mainly staff, to collaborate with me in the
making of performances & drawings, which, at
their heart are concerned with relationships be-
tween people.
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