Empathy. It's just about the last thing you can expect to find in an advertisement. Unless it's the phony empathy of "I see you. I see you're hurting. You deserve to not hurt. I can help you (for the right price)." But openness to a conversation with a perceived enemy, risking the physical or emotional safety of staying in your own bubble, that's radical empathy. It's rare, and it's what Faith XLVII proposes this week in her Art in Ad Places installation.
Faith XLVII said, "The white flag is an internationally recognized protective sign of truce or ceasefire. It signifies to all that an approaching negotiator is unarmed, with a desire to communicate. This symbol urges the move towards reasoning and empathy in time of increased polarity and ignorance. I find the mass presence of advertising in our everyday lives stifling and support Art in Ad Places in its attempt to replace these spaces with art in order to have more meaningful interactions with each other."
Art, especially public art, allows us to build communities of understanding across society's traditional boundaries. But first, we have to be open to the experience. Watch a New Yorker walk through a crowded street. They can't be open to that experience. Just to walk at a reasonable pace often can require putting on headphones and trying to tune out everyone and everything around you. Part of what needs to be tuned out are the billboards advertising crap. Brands are always trying to find new ways to grab your attention, and in response we have to try harder to tune them out. It's an arms race over attention. Remove all the ads, give the city a few more empty spaces and a few more spaces to create community through art, and we could all relax (just a little bit) and build empathy as we move through the city. What a better city that would be.