Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Emily Lenae Dieckmeyer


Pain: an inevitable part of the human condition. We know pain because we have all felt pain. We automatically understand the character and magnitude of the pain that affects our own bodies, hearts, and minds, yet the pain of others is an entirely different phenomenon. Because we often view the self as a discrete, bounded entity fundamentally separate from the “other,” it can be incredibly difficult to conceive of pain that lies outside of ourselves. However, images have the potential to cross this chasm.

In my thesis, Image, Identity, Empathy, I investigate the connections that exist—and those that could come to exist—among human suffering, images (both still and moving), empathy, performance, and viewership. How is pain represented visually? What does it mean to capture an image of pain, and furthermore, to gaze upon it? How does the spatiotemporal gap between image and viewer affect the potential for empathy? Under what conditions are we able to unite the pain we see with our own experience? Is the viewer rendered a voyeur? A victim? Can the act of looking serve a purpose?

Perhaps such images can serve to not only to bridge the chasm, but also to challenge the assumption that the self is so fundamentally different from the “other.” Perhaps they can lead to increased humanity through common feeling.

Re: Utopia is a piece created in response to my research into pain, embodiment, images, and conditions of viewership. It seeks to probe viewers’ understandings of pain by inviting them to question their own responses to images that express pain for pain’s sake.


Sector C: Art Practice & Technology

Advisers: Jamie Diamond (FNAR) | Christine Poggi (ARTH) | Orkan Telhan (FNAR)