Empathic Audition (2017) revisits the historical letter written by Lee Woo Geun, a South Korean student soldier during the Korean War. The letter was written a day before he was killed by the North Korean troops. The letter, which was meant to be sent to his mother, was discovered on his corpse. Two actors read the letter as if they were the student soldier during the war. While the actors imagined the severe situation of the war, an EEG machine scanned their brainwaves, revealing how empathy works when feeling the pain of the other. When the actors felt pain, their brainwaves were highly activated.
In the video, the actors read the letter, and each sentence is followed by a short sequence of pictures of the Korean War being projected on smoke. I chose smoke due to their very nature of ephemerality in relation to the concept of memory. A memory is an event of the past, but the memory stays around one’s mind even though it is not out there anymore. Sometimes big social memories like wars stay in people’s minds from generation to another generation, and they affect human behaviors. Since two Koreas are still divided, the trauma of the war still exists.
The video allows the viewer to see how the actors feel the pain of the solider. And the viewer is also able to feel the pain through the actors’ faces and voices. Like our social memories flow from one generation to another generation, the feeling of the student solider in the past is delivered to the present due to our capability of mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons are neurons that are thought to allow us to empathize with the behavior, emotion, intention, and feelings of others. The neurons are activated both when we recognize behavior and emotion in others, and while we are actually performing the same behavior and emotion. Like a mirror, our brain intuitively reflects others' feelings and intentions. In other words, an observer has the capability to feel what other people feel. The discovery of these neurons has given scientific weight to the concept of human intuition and shows that the human brain is fundamentally geared towards social interaction. Humans are programmed to conflate the other with the self. Two or more brains can become a single interconnected process.
Since mirror neurons operate in a network of connections throughout several parts of the brain, different inputs of senses also affect to other senses. For example, a sound of an event can trigger visual and bodily responses in our brain. When we hear a sound of a woman screaming, we can visualize the situation, and our muscles react as a response. The audio information is translated into other types of information. This networked system of mirror neurons also includes language. According to recent scientific discoveries, the left ventral promoter cortex is responsible for both mirror neurons and language. What is more, the mirror neurons that are responsible for our motor system are also tightly connected to language. This means one can feel empathy toward the other through reading, and that our physiological responses might also be triggered through linguistic modes of communication.