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Digitale Cultuur

Tina Farifteh about her Fellowship research and experience

As one of the Fellows of the NFF Fellowships programme, Iranian-Dutch artist Tina Farifteh is working on a research proposal. In her latest film, Kitten or Refugee?, which premiered at the Netherlands Film Festival in 2023, she poses the pressing question of why we pick up one refugee in our own car while letting another drown at the borders of Europe. Her research proposal, Empathic Rage, written for the Fellowships programme, builds upon this question and explores how empathy and anger can be employed to save the world.

Could you take us through your creative process?
I am interested in how we, as humans, are put together, how we structure the world and how those systems determine the way we interact with each other. But especially what happens to the people that end up outside the dominant systems. I often start with a question, a fascination or even a disruption. With Kitten or Refugee?, I explore how empathy works and how images trigger or flatten our empathic capacity. Who ranks highest on the empathy ladder and why? To discover this, I speak with scientists and experts by experience, but also conduct experiments with test subjects.

Trailer Kitten or Refugee?

Why is imagery so important to you?
Images and words are the building blocks of our thinking. They shape how we see ourselves, the world, and others. But images and words are often not neutral. They are influenced and manipulated by existing power structures and stakeholders, as well as by our own habits and blind spots. These images have a significant impact on our behaviour. When we talk in water metaphors ('asylum tsunami', 'we are being flooded', 'a new wave') about people fleeing, we frame them as a natural disaster. This consciously and unconsciously makes us afraid of these people, and that fear leads us to act with less empathy. As a visual artist, I find it important to reflect on this, to dissect and question these images, and to expose the mechanisms behind dehumanisation. But it is also important to devise new and alternative images and words that allow us to hack the system.

You recently created the installation ik en jij. Could you tell us more about it?

Last November, I was invited to showcase my work at Unfair, in the Gashouder in Amsterdam. Originally, I wanted to exhibit different work, but it felt so strange to be there and not address the atrocities in Israel and Palestine. It felt both odd and vulnerable to create something about such a loaded subject in such a short time. But when urgency outweighs doubt, apparently you just do it. In ik en jij, I explore a crucial question that arises in conflict situations: is there a way to continue hearing each other amidst suffering, dehumanisation, oppression, grief, and heated emotions? I collaborated with Arran Lyon, a member of the ARK collective and also a fellow in this programme, to hack a telephone booth where people are given the space to talk about their feelings, to whisper, cry, shout, pray, or be silent. These conversations are recorded and played back on headphones in random order so that others can listen to them. The question I posed to visitors was:

How are you?
And what do the horrors there do to you?

This setup creates a detached and delayed but also incredibly personal conversation that allows you to share your feelings with each other, but without the ability to react directly to one another. You cannot interrupt or engage in discussion with each other. Just those few changes in format alone transformed the conversation itself.

Ikenjij V3

What do the reactions do to you? Do they differ a lot?
The question asked in the phone booth is very simple yet at the same time very difficult. It is a question we often do not dare to ask ourselves. The reactions are moving and leave a big impression on both me and the audience.
You hear the voices of unknown individuals in a very intimate way. You hear them think, breathe, pause, become emotional, doubt, search for words. All the things you do not hear on social media and talk show panels.
Additionally, it is crucial that you are alone in a small and quiet space. That you hear your own voice. Without the competition of other voices. You automatically start to reflect more. Slowing down the conversation creates more space for humanity and empathy. Especially because you hear that many people, regardless of their background or differences in opinion, have the same emotions and fears.

What do you hope to gain from the Fellowship programme?
The Fellowship is a continuous process of discovery. It is exciting to work on an open-ended research project and a challenge to maintain a balance between different approaches. You want a certain focus and limitation in order to go into depth, but at the same time, you want to remain open to new discoveries and directions. Between the creative and the analytical. Between your own plan and the political and societal developments. Especially with the themes I work on, it is crucial to remain sensitive to what is happening in society, so also to our collective emotions.

With my research proposal, Empathic Rage, I want to explore how the combination of anger and empathy works, how it can be triggered, and whether they can lead to constructive change together. In politics, especially right-wing and far-right politicians are very skilled at using our emotions to scare us, sow hatred, and pit population groups against each other. The business world exploits our emotions, fears, and desires to make money. Why shouldn't we use such powerful mechanisms that exist within all of us, for positive change? Can we hack our emotions to save the world?

Liggende versie compilatie onderzoeksbeelden

What does it mean to be in this program alongside other Fellows?
It is incredibly valuable and special to be able to share and discuss my research and process with other people that I like and who I find inspiring. We come from different backgrounds and have different personalities, which allows us to learn a lot from each other. What we all have in common is that we are creative and extremely curious. We are open to sharing and learning. It has been a great experience already to collaborate with Arran Lyon, who I met through the Fellowship programme. It feels like gaining a sort of family, whom you do not really know well but still feel connected to. In addition to the other fellows, we can learn a lot from external experts and mentors from various disciplines. I am very curious to see how our research will continue to develop and what will come out of it. The one thing we know for sure is that the development will continue after the program ends, and we will continue to follow each other's journeys.

About the Fellows
The Fellowships programme, established in 2023, is intended for creators who are engaged in a research project within the field of Digital Culture. This programme aims to encourage creators and/or collectives to explore new technologies, themes, and tools and to initiate collaborations. From 2023 to 2025, three fellows annually develop their research proposals, which they then present during the Netherlands Film Festival (NFF).

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