Together-based artist Katie Ceekay is working on a project called City of Empathy. Aiming to establish empathy as a framework of care that can inhabit a lot of different practices, she researches both empathy itself and the systems in which empathy could potentially be integrated. This way, City of Empathy bridges the gap between the formal world of systems and the informal, everyday world in which we all live our lives.
City of Empathy is a concept for the future – an invitation for care-based change. As a project and process, it starts as an opening for ways to establish a series of ‘empathetic-practices’ across society. Katie takes this concept as both a research point and something to participate in. She takes a deep dive into what empathy is, and could be, and tries to imagine it as a unique power structure that takes a more formal role in decision making processes.
As humans, we are familiar with the concept of listening to and trying to understand the perspectives of others, whereby these empathetic responses are often activated in informal settings, or, via our own initiative in formal spaces. What if we could formulate a framework for empathy, to use in diverse teams and settings, in local government, in democratic environments, and for all sorts of decision making encounters? What if this framework could take real, tangible time and space, had agency and was taken seriously? These are the questions that the artist tries to investigate as she zooms in and out of this project.
City of Empathy in context is about practising test-frameworks with others, and inviting time to critically reflect on moments where empathy as a careful process could be more present. Katie is particularly interested in the role of empathy in the political system, such as its potential value in the process of policy making. This is where her project is currently situated, which asks for vulnerability and risk, shared care and a willingness to experiment with change. By making first steps with a few individuals, Katie is now formulating her work into a first-attempt (global) framework. She offers the framework as an invitation and a gift, and reflects on this process critically as an example of the often unseen and underutilised relational-perspective of care-focused artists.
You can follow the progress Katie makes through the City of Empathy website and Instagram page.
Explanation of terms
Together-based ➜ artist / practitioner is one who operates with together-based goals and methods—such as futuring, urging change, and advocating for experiential democracies—as their core driving effort. They are not tied to a specific mode of working, context or aesthetic, and choose when to work with others and when to sit in searching. Their practices need not be reduced to one field or one way, whether autonomous or instrumental as desired.
Empathy ➜ according to City of Empathy is “feeling with,” as posited by researcher Brené Brown. It is the ability to feel (emotional empathy), acknowledge (cognitive empathy) and partake in (mirror empathy) the perspective and experience of another. And more, it is a political issue, a highly complex muscle, feeling and tool and the capacitive concept that could push human and nonhuman existence into a more resilient future. Could the human capacity of empathy be used as a biosensor? As the sensing-thing that will help us to detect injustices and malpractices, before they get to clench their grip? To handle these things with grip now, we need to immediately revolutionise empathetic practices within our many systems; to feel our way back.
Care* ➜ (noun) serious attention or consideration applied to doing something correctly or to avoid damage or risk.
(verb) feel concern or interest; attach importance to something.
look after and provide for the needs of.
*Oxford Languages Dictionary