Caroline O'Donnell: Urchin

Caroline O'Donnell's <em>Urchin</em> on the Art's Quad
Caroline O'Donnell's Urchin on the Arts Quad. photo / John Lai
Caroline O'Donnell's <em>Urchin</em> on the Arts Quad
Caroline O'Donnell's Urchin on the Arts Quad. photo / John Lai
Caroline O'Donnell's <em>Urchin</em> on the Art's Quad
Caroline O'Donnell's Urchin on the Arts Quad. photo / John Lai
Caroline O'Donnell's Urchin on the Arts Quad. photo / John Lai Caroline O'Donnell's Urchin on the Arts Quad. photo / John Lai Caroline O'Donnell's Urchin on the Arts Quad. photo / John Lai

While empathy is typically understood as describing a relationship between two (animate) beings, in which one understands the world through the other's perspective, empathy between humans and inanimate objects was part of the initial understanding of the term: Hermann Lotze, for example, wrote that our ability to "feel ourselves into things" — including inanimate objects — is the basis of our understanding of and connectedness to the world. "No form is so unyielding," Lotze said, "that our imagination cannot project its life into it."

By rethinking our relationship with objects — that is, by disabling or postponing an affordance (function) based perception — we open up possibilities for empathizing with objects; where they come from, how they were made, how does our body interact with them, what are their useless properties, and so on.

Urchin rethinks the common plastic chair whose aggregation forms a space in which the chair itself loses its meaning as an object that affords sitting and becomes instead an architectural surface whose formal and material qualities are allowed to come to the fore: it is white, porous, spikey, etc. before it is a chair. While playful, the larger project explores our perception of and our relationship with objects in the world, as well as the possibilities of using alternative materials in architectural practice, particularly materials that are often considered to be waste. This interaction provokes a questioning in the subject, a question that returns to the issue of affordance: how might we use and misuse things in ways other than the way in which they were originally designed?

This exhibition is part of the 2016 Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) Biennial: Abject/Object Empathies.

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