In this talk, I will introduce my new book project, The Empathic Lens, which focuses on ecologically engaged, contemporary photography and video in Singapore, Cambodia, and Vietnam. My study aims to expand a Euro-American-based discourse of the Anthropocene to include an analysis of those art practices most urgently informed by environmental destruction in marginalized areas. I wish to workshop the theories and methods underpinning this project, one that traverses the environmental humanities, art history and visual culture, history, anthropology, Native American & Indigenous studies, and queer/affect theory. Exploring the interdisciplinary concept of empathy, my book investigates how artists in Southeast Asia imbue their camera-based work with affect to create empathy for rocks, plants, animals, and a more-than-human world. Crucially, these artists draw from Buddhist-animist philosophies of human-nonhuman interdependency and ecological kinship. With an empathic lens, they offer a much needed, more ethical vision for long-term planetary coexistence.
Brianne Cohen is Assistant Professor of Contemporary Art History at the University of Colorado Boulder. From participatory art to lens-based activism, she explores artistic practices concerned with public sphere formation, decolonization, political violence, and ecology and environmentalism. Her book Don’t Look Away: Art, Nonviolence, and Preventive Publics in Contemporary Europe (Duke, 2023) examines contemporary art that grapples with cross-cultural affiliation and the active imagining of nonviolence in 21st-century Europe. She co-edited the volume, The Photofilmic: Entangled Images in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture (2016), and has published in journals such as Representations, Art Journal, Afterimage, Third Text, and more.