Burden of feeling others’ pain

In her book “Regarding the Pain of Others,” American author Susan Sontag whispers a question, asking how long a person can stand looking at photographs that display others’ pain.The question, which sends shivers down one’s spine, can take one’s heart to the doorstep of compassion.

Let’s go back to the 14th century, to Dr. Henri de Mondeville, who was a surgeon in Paris at the time. Mondeville called it a compassionate reaction when the organs of the body rally to support each other when one organ is injured. Mondeville believed that if this compassion between organs of a body could be developed between bodies, people would find peace. Stating that such a situation results in people having moral responsibilities, Mondeville confidently explained that fear from pain which we see in the bodies of others would develop the emotion of compassion. (Here we shall remember the provocative question of Sontag.)

According to Mondeville, who asserted that loving a person is possible through seeing his/her pain as your pain, feeling sorry for a person is melancholic. “Melancholy of Compassion,” a new exhibition curated by Mürteza Fidan and Melih Görgün, takes its conceptual framework from Mondeville’s point of view. Artists Müge Akçakoca, Audrey Bakx, Burak Bedenlier, Petrit Halilaj and Şükran Mertcan interpret the emotion of compassion through their works, which include installments, videos and prints. A number of art pieces on view also illustrate the concept that loving someone or feeling sad for someone is a melancholic emotion.

One of the curators, Fidan, says concerning the artists whose works are being displayed in the exhibition: “Their common feature is that they develop a distance from the attraction of image with their works. Artists coming from different lifestyles make comprehensive art by bringing their works together in a qualitative consistency and without deviating from the context [of the exhibition].”

According to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, ethics is based on compassion. This emotion takes a person to the Almighty. When we think about the difficulty of sharing in somebody else’s pain, we are able to perceive art differently. Sometimes, one may want to get lost in the image that is surrounded by compassion.

The exhibition fills two floors of the gallery. In the entrance on the first floor is a video that shows a chef who is focused on the principle of not reflecting the pain that he feels while cooking lobster. You are also welcomed by an acrylic work adorned with recipes.

A video created by Halilaj, who grew up in Kosovo during the war, is also among the pieces that have attracted attention, depicting the construction of a poultry house. Bedenlier’s images show animals with human heads. The works by Akçakoca illustrate that people can relate to someone’s pain if they are familiar with it. Bakx, whom curators call a sensitive person, highlights that vulnerable emotions need to be protected in this cruel world.

The exhibition can be viewed through Feb. 5 at the Siemens Art Gallery in İstanbul’s Beyoğlu district every day between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Musa İğrek, İstanbul

Zaman Gazetesi