About Empathy Supper

This article is a translated version of an article by Umi Maisaroh. If you wish to read this article in its original Bahasa Indonesia (recommended), click here.

The Origin of Empathy Supper

The fusion of a relatively new discipline: Human Centered Design, with what is most closely related to everyday life: food, forms the embryo of one of the main formats of Soydivision’s show: Empathy Supper. Human Centered Design, which is understood as a design practice based on empathy or humans, inspired Ariel W. Orah and his college friends to develop it further in the form of art. The collective then tried various formats, until somethign that was known with the name Empathy Supper was born. At that time the form was rather generic: just eating together, then watch a movie and closed with a discussion. After going through a series of artistic changes, Empathy Supper has become more confident in extracting contextual themes to convey a sense of empathy for its participants by collaborating with food and art as the basis of its artistic form. The collective had a hiatus until it was no longer active. But apparently the idea for a show with the Empathy Supper format is still stored. Until about 1.5 years later, Ariel had another opportunity to perform a show. That’s when the idea of Empathy Supper resurfaced. This time the show was held by the Soydivision collective and was part of a monthly event called Soy & Synth: a combination of a banquet and a synthesis music performances.

Kinetic & audio installation “Insular” at Empathy Supper Centrifuge (2019), photo by Megalianti.

Some of the most important aspects that should not be missed in every show are the feelings and emotions of the participants. As stated in its name, Empathy Supper aims to invite participants to contemplate with empathy. This is not easy to achieve. Complex artistic techniquesare prone to divert the participants’ attention to other things, instead of feeling empathy. This is the challenge for soydivision to continue to develop the Empathy Supper format into a continuous creative process.

Indonesian dishes had always been the main inspiration for Empathy Supper. An artist will be the main cook at each banquet. The participants will be guided by a moderator who leads the event for 2 to 3 hours. The eating activity itself is always arranged in several stages. Each stage promises an artistic experience and a unique personal sensation for each participant. Therefore moving from one stage to another will bring participants in an unconventional, unforeseeable, unrepeatable sensation. Every dish has its own story, and every story has its own meaning. Empathy Supper tries to present this meaning to its participants by exploring a feeling that binds us all as humans: empathy. Therefore, Empathy Supper is ideal if it is carried out by participants communally, but also not too large in numbers. To make it a more intimate and personal event, each banquet serves between 20 to 30 participants.

The Transformation

The engagement with various artists across many disciplines is an integral part of the artistic metamorphosis of this show. Empathy Supper tries to embrace various art disciplines: from writers, painters, musicians, lighting designers, videographers, and many others. Such collaborations are also the inspiration to present the theme “focus artist”, namely artists who have collaborated as the main focus in a performance. This collaboration builds awareness that collaboration with other parties is important for Empathy Supper.

The collaboration with various cross-disciplinary artists also brings a significant influence for Empathy Supper in exploring its themes, determining concepts, and also in terms of artistic techniques. One example is when Empathy Supper collaborated with Indonesian writer Febi Indirani as the focus artist. Empathy Supper then elaborates on the theme of religion with a critical and contextual approach. This is in response to the author’s book with title: “Relax, it is Religion.” When working with designers, Empathy Supper displays various forms of installation. Such as when Empathy Supper collaborated with a lighting designer, Nindya Nareswari. In that show installations made out of caramelised sugar were served with a stunning sensory lights. Empathy Supper became a conceptual and experimental show.

Continuous Process

Since its inception, the element of food has been embedded in various forms of Soydivision shows. It seems that this element will continue to be explored in the next performances or creative processes. Food is the most ancient human need. Since the simplest clutivation technology was discovered, until they were able to change the lifestyle of hunting and gathering to settle in an area, mankid had succeeded to build civilization rapidly. In other words, the fulfillment of food is the basis of the development of civilization. Now food is witness to history.

Food had became part of a sacred ritual. Food encourages humans to master one another. Food is identity. Food is self-worth. Food is attitude. I understand Empathy Supper as an attempt to deconstruct the badges. Namely how food becomes an activity that can stimulate social awareness through one of the most intense psychological emotions: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to be emotionally attuned to understand other people’s situations. Empathy connects us to others through emotional resonance: putting us in the other person’s shoes. For example, we will not take other people’s belonging, because we know how it feels to lose something. On the other hand, we are also faced with the paradoxical essence, that human feelings or emotional states are complex experiences. We can never really feel what other people’s situations are like. All we can do is to try to imagine it. Instead, Empathy Supper and other creative processes should be seen as a continuous process with potentials that will never be exhausted.

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Not an artist, nor a musician, Azhari orbits around the amazing people in Berlin. Translating his admiration towards them into words.