(Jeff_L) #1


The aim of the work was to explore the nature of
empathy between participants in a drawing perfor-
mance, within a gallery setting during the Thinking
Through Drawing conference. Participants lay flat
on a large roll of brown paper in the centre of the
gallery while I lay head to head or toe to toe with
them. I requested that they draw on the paper with
both hands at once whilst I recited a passage from
Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I then
asked permission to palpate my participant’s spleen
whilst they continued to draw.
The performance used blind drawing, a practice
previously explored by Claude Heath, accompanied
by a poetic text. I added bimanual splenic palpation
to this practice; it is not only a medical technique^1
to find an organ that sequesters blood and patho-
gens, but also my own playful way of exploring
anger and melancholy.
Participants took a colored pencil in each hand
and lay down on the roll of brown paper, which
stretched down the length of Macy’s gallery. They
were asked to draw with both hands whilst I recited
the following passage from Midsummer Night’s
Dream, in which Lysander, one of the main charac-
ters, speaks about sympathy, heaven, earth and the

Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,

Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and
And ere a man hath power to say “Behold!”
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Act I, Scene I, 141-149

I then drew, lying head to head or toe to toe,
together with each participant, both of us lying
along the line of the paper which bisected the gal-
lery floor. Following that I palpated the spleen of
my participant. I also had brief discussions with
each participant afterwards.
Using the above complex mixture of words and
actions I wished to examine the “hovering atten-
tion”^2 aspect of the practice of empathy, or “putting
yourself in the shoes of the other”^3. The experience
could be summarized as an “entrance into a trance
like state where one had the feeling that two souls
had been briefly knitted together”, which reflects the
words used by Hermia, when replying to Lysander.^4

Definitions of terms and concepts
Empathy: The word empathy was not coined
until the early 1900s. It is likely that when Shake-
speare used the term sympathy he included the phe-
nomenon we would call empathy.
My description of empathy^5 can be summed
up as “putting oneself in someone else’s shoes”. It
includes movement (hovering attention) and yet

Locating Empathy with Double-Blind Drawing

and Bimanual Palpation

Angela Hodgson-Teall
University of the Arts, London

Free download pdf