Ket Katarina Popović media arts portfolio
Posted on October 18, 2018 by ketworks_cp8esr on Blog

Kintsugi … but what happens before gold?

Pain happens.

How difficult it is to talk about pain? The words are no good for it. They are simple, flat, vulgar. Are they all we have to express/communicate pain?


‘Each patient discovers his own’, he stated, ‘and the nature of pain varies, like a singer’s voice, according to the acoustics of the hall.’ Alphonse Daudet

Pain is unique. It’s almost like your face. But what makes the pain so interesting is the focus it brings and the non-physical implications that come along.

Could a robot feel pain?

A very unique set of physical and emotional sensations?

‘Pains cut into our net of habits, and even the slightest pain causes a transformation.’ Barbara Macek

Pain opens bodies and connects them

From the time perspective and relation perspective, the pain is a show-stopper and the one that changes the entire path of wherever we were going. It was well described in the article part III.III:

The affective quality of pain induces openness, and along with this openness goes an increased susceptibility for energies that are usually concealed in our daily routine, remaining hidden in day-to-day life.

Expressing pain is given a new approach and almost an interesting attempt of classification in the third part of the article ‘Between Agony and Ecstasy-Investigations Into The Meaning of Pain’. Aside from it being observed within a cultural perspective, it is stressed out in the clear light that pain spoken is abstract-it needs a vehicle (art?) to be put into a better connection with the actual experience between the ‘spectator’ and ‘the one who is in pain’.

Pain as an agent

The work of cultural scientist Sara Ahmed, whose work focuses on emotions as cultural practices. Ahmed’s central notion is that emotions do things — they generate and create meaning in the world. Emotions as ‘material rhetoric’ have affective power and can, for example, align bodies with other bodies ‘by the way they move us’.[8] Pain is moving: it lures us towards world-making activities, attuning our bodies with other bodies, putting us in relation to others, and locating us in social space.

As in the process of Kintsugi, the pain, when it happens, brakes open the previous structure ‘allowing the light in’:

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen, The Anthem

I find this to be the best way ‘to describe’ (or closes to be being able to describe) and experience empathy in action. You do not really know what someone has been through unless you can experience it somehow on a level higher than just a conversation(video, interaction, photography, literature, poetry, installation…).

Once distracted from the ‘boring reality’ or a string of ordinary events, someone experiencing pain is on the doors to somewhat ecstatic experiences.

Pain Categories: The Research Of The Intangibles

Animal pain. Phantom pain. Pain as knowledge. Existential pain. And 6 more. Almost like an adventure into the research of pain.

Barbara Macek: Image tableau, Pain as a Spatial Phenomenon

The author undertook an interesting voyage into classifying pain and presenting it with an image mix, one collage per each of 10 categories. At first, the essay seemed a bit too poetic, but once the order and the method emerged, when you look back at it, it could be an idea for a novel approach to the research of the intangibles or ‘the things hard to quantify’. She has also included her own experiences of pain when creating these categories.

Over the course of this project, rich, multidimensional, and multimedia pain descriptions are attempted and organised into new categories. The sources for these new categories are to be found in literature (fiction and non-fiction), poetry, and personal experience.
Barbara Macek

When the research itself is poetic

The method of getting the results interestingly compliments the actual subject. Pain does cause the world to ‘fall apart’ and to seem ‘surreal’- therefore, the author used Dada and Surrealist’s techniques to organize the results of her research.

Upon visiting two hospitals in Vienna, and trying out two different approaches to pain, Barbara has developed her own research method that is both ‘objective and subjective’ meaning it does not leave the empathy out of the equation. She calls this method the “self-reflective observation in the mode of seeing/feeling”.

The pain has no place in the ‘modern fairy tale’

Or the one we are being sold constantly:

Dr Monika Gratzer told me that she thinks that we live in a ‘society of anesthesia’: We all want to be young, healthy, fit, strong; pain has no place in this picture. Barbara Macek

Pain tends to isolate people, therefore the effect of ‘talking about it’ and ‘sharing it’ no matter how distant from the actual feeling of pain this might be, from a therapy point of view is a very important practice.

The results from her first session of talks:

Pain is existential. It is an experience; it is always part of story. Pain is closely connected to our human condition; it is the feature of life that tells us we are vulnerable; we are fragile; we are mortal.

Pain is a force; it is something one cannot ignore; it is always a call to stop, to reflect, to question oneself; it makes us question life and the world.

Pain makes us humble, inducing sympathy and compassion for all living creatures. Pain shows us our limitations, but also our capability to go beyond our limits, to outgrow ourselves.

But pain can also be crushing, deeply distressing, putting us in a state of hopeless despair. Then the Others are in demand, then it is time for caring.

The second part of her research consisted of being in the trauma departments of two Viennese hospitals and undertaking ‘naturalistic, non-participant’ observations using a common pain expression questionnaire as the starting point for the observation. And finally, Barbara applied a third form of observation that she calls ‘self-reflective observation in the mode of seeing/feeling’ which includes her own, emphatic part (e.g.- she ‘lived into pain and felt into it’).

The results

An assemblage of pain made after using Dada and Free associations method in getting the results

The results of the research of the meaning of pain are published as written work, as the assemblages, as shown above, image tableaus of pain categories, poem lines, interviews…


What I have found rather interesting is that both the research method and the outcomes of the research of the meaning of pain are deeply connected with the process of experiencing pain.

Pain is overwhelming, illogical, it can put a person into the ‘falling apart state’, it is an emotional, physical and mental limitation and a determinant. Looking at the Assemblage results, they seem like a reportage from the fever-struck person trying really hard to describe how he/she feels while having flashes of different kinds of pain. The subject, the method of the research and the results are deeply connected as in a way being from the same ‘medium of pain’.

The pain aside from being a very personal experience is also a social experience and an existential experience and I have found it valuable to have some poetical (a bit ‘chaotic’ if you will) light shed into the research of the intangibles.

Given the enormous rise into the research and inventions of the tangibles, the physicals, and ‘all things quantifiable’ and our societal celebrations of it (take the AI’s and machine learning spotlight into consideration) the article opens a different perspective into the possibilities of understanding the complexity of emotional and physical experiences of humans vs. what a machine can reproduce.

Also, one cannot but notice, the ever-celebrated intelligence becomes numbed, influenced, changed or crushed under the influence of pain, and that is an important part of our human experience. Just like love and joy are.

So, let us stop and think for a moment about the dichotomy we are kind of instructed to live into: the separation of mind and body (Cartesian approach) and the constant celebration of the rational.

Which are the implications that come up when something simple and powerful such as pain comes into the picture? What is a truly human experience without it being evaluated through only the quantifiable things (rational, what we can test and put into numbers)?

One of the examples can be that the episodes of pain in our lives were oftentimes the periods of the biggest (spiritual or physical) growth.

How do we then approach the questions of machine emotions, machine (or AI) ethics and the possibility of the ‘better human’ or the way I like to call it- ‘the meta-human’: the one that embraces (or maybe even incorporates machines) but opens a new, more expanded version of ‘the human’ in the educational, skill-mixing, ethical and emo-physical meaning of the term?

This is a reflective blog created upon reading the article by Barbara Macek

Read about Kintsugi here

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