Julia Wagner

The Empathizer

Video Installation
June 2018 | Prediploma @Hochschule Darmstadt (GER)

The semester topic for my prediploma was „Pause“ which translates to break or intermission. In my class we were given the task to examine excerpts of multiple movies including the lunch scene in „Mean Girls“, the Diner scene from „When Harry met Sally“ and the cafeteria scene from „Animal House“.

After analyzing the excerpts I was most intrigued by the nonverbal communication (1) and the emotions displayed in the intermissions of the conversations. Movies are meant to transport us from our own life into a different narrative. They want us to feel with the protagonist, make us laugh and cry. When watching someone being sad, even if we KNOW it’s not a real emotion but rather acting, we reciprocate that emotion. We display empathy. But is empathizing experiencing real emotions or merely mirroring what we think someone else is feeling? I started collecting all facial expressions without dialog from the movie exerpts and categorizing (2) them into emotions. The three categories I found most distinct where: sadness, happiness and disgust. In order for my material not to be influenced by color grading, I added a blue filter to all of the material as a hint to the german word „blaupause“ (blueprint).

The videos are meant to be displayed (3) in three small booths that seclude the viewer from the outside world and only have enough room for one person at a time so that the viewer can focus solely on the displayed emotion. Each emotion video is played on loop within their own booth and nothing hints the emotion displayed inside as not to falsify the result. When watching people come out of the booths after watching the videos I noticed that they were indeed reciprocating the emotions displayed in the video they had just watched. However the intensity of this varied drastically from viewer to viewer. For example after watching the „happiness“ video some people showed a faint smile while others looked genuinely happy.

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