Ottiya Empathy Issue Contributors: Arlene Tucker

As you know, the theme of the third Ottiya Magazine is empathy. What does empathy mean to you?

Empathy, for me, is about understanding, listening, and teleporting yourself into another context using all of the information you have gathered from previous experiences to recognize another person’s perspective. When I am using empathy as a tool, I feel, do, put together pieces- it’s a tool to process what another person might be thinking or going through.

Did you remember learning about empathy when you were growing up? If so, can you share an example?

I’m not sure we really used this word growing up as we do now, so empathy was learnt in an active way, through exposure. As I was always attached to mom’s hip, I used to travel with her to her various volunteer jobs and places of work. One day, when we were still living in Taiwan, we took a trip to the mountains to volunteer making chinese knots with the residents in an old people’s home. I soon realized that the handicraft was merely a catalyst for bringing us together and that everything else was what was important. I remember my mom explaining to me why it’s good to sit next to the participants, to put my hand on their shoulders, to create situations where they can create and see their art forms take shape. Contact, warmth, togetherness, openness, acceptance, worth were what was important here. I think it definitely helps that my mom is naturally verbose and dialogical with her actions and thoughts. Even though I was probably only about 5 or 6 years old, that experience had a huge impact on me and maybe that’s why knots- symbolically and as an art form, is such a prevalent object in my art practice.

You note that you wrote letters as a child. Was there anyone special you communicated with through the mail in your childhood? Any memories of a particularly special package or piece of mail?

I mostly wrote to my brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles who were all living in different parts of the world. Oh my, I remember one year Uncle Mike really overdid it by mailing a giant can of popcorn, which also came along with a very sweet letter. The tin was decorated in mallards, his favorite animal, swimming on a lake. I quickly gobbled up the popcorn and used the can to store all the letters I received (that was 1989, I believe).

How do you think someone can grow empathy through making and sharing art?

Art makes it possible to express feelings and thoughts in a way that is open enough for interpretation and clear enough to articulate ideas. It’s also a tool for communication that speaks every language. Those elements make the magical potion, the basis for listening and sharing through active participation- we are all in this together, figuring things out as we go.

You grew up all around the globe. How did that inspire your project?

Discovering all the different walks of life, ways of communicating, languages, daily rhythms, sounds has been not only an inspiration to make art, but to create a platform to share our lives with others. The unknown is constantly coming to awareness and that excitement in itself, I feel, calls for a space open to the community to reveal and play with the processes of investigation or stumbling into yet to be had revelations. Building a space for people to open dialogue about these discoveries and listen to other approaches and perspectives has been one of the main motivations for Dear You AND to enjoy various levels of making art. I learn so much from other people’s artwork and to have the chance to talk with them about it has been extremely gratifying.

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