Faraway, So Near...

Video artist Anna Konik juxtaposes images and messages of hope and despair at Void

Faraway, So Near... consists of two video installations. The first is 'Transparency', Polish artist Anna Konik’s original video work; the second is more recent, 'In the same city, under the same sky...', a piece begun in 2011. Both are unsettling, and both contain a real honesty and a genuine love of, and concern for people.

In 'Transparency' four screens show four different people telling his or her own story. There are two men and two women, all German. They speak in their own language, with subtitles running along the bottom of the screen.

Konik has filmed the subjects twice, and placed the results alongside each other, side by side. There is no split screen; each could be sitting with an identical twin, taking turns to speak, or sometimes speaking over each other. The people are old. They are weary. They are near the end. We learn their first names, and then we hear their stories.

The words and images build like a collage. The layers of experiences, actions, disappointments, little tragedies build, while simultaneously each word shows time and the years stripping away energy and hope and opportunity.

On each screen the two people tell the same story, with slightly different words and phrases, ordinary poetry, echoing and emphasising. The subjects sit by themselves and with themselves, by the other who may have taken a different route with a different destination, but who has travelled alongside to the same last stop.

There are no narrative devices, no structure except for beginning and inevitable end. There is no acting – the tears are real, the loneliness desperate; the pauses settle, sadly and naturally.

'Transparency' present records, but not a detached documentary. Konik treats her subjects with love and tenderness and care, and so does the viewer. These are intimate, everyday, special accounts of age and loneliness, of being the last one left.

The effect is tender, poignant, honest and plain. It feels like the people are vessels decanting stories of effort and restrained despair. They quietly hate the emptiness but are still trying to wring out the last drop of hope:

'You just live out your days.
There is something I forgot to tell;
I have now said everything.'

One presentation differs slightly. A man talks of his mental health problems, of his closeness to his mother, of his struggle to cope with his loss when she died. He hoards, and sits almost swallowed by plastic bags of relics that he has kept and rubbish he has collected.

He mentions the difficulty of coming in and out of his apartment, of breaking the blockade he’s created. Rather than alongside, his self-twin is shown below, burrowing like a mole beneath the surface through the bags that sustain and suffocate him.

'In the same city, under the same sky...', meanwhile, tells more stories of intimate, personal tragedies, but with a global-political dimension.

Here, Konik has taken the stories of immigrants and refugees from Somalia, Syria, Chechnya, Congo, and elsewhere. She has then translated them into the languages of the cities where they have washed up, and given their words to natives of those places to speak.

The experiences of the other are voiced in the words and accents of those who belong. The speakers sit in their own houses, on comfortable furniture, with items of relative luxury, their homes settled and made. One talks of torture and flight next to her grand piano, on which sits a vase of flowers.

The stories are of pain and suffering, of abandonment, loss, mistreatment, inhumanity. Here are the disunited, displaced nations laid bare.

The work has been cleverly curated. Rather than big screens, the room is full of small monitors, each with its own easy chair. They are like work stations – modern, fashionable, belonging to a smug, developed world, happy and concerned and resentful of those in need. You sit in ease and unease, comfortable and unsettled.

This is an exhibition that lingers. Relevant and full of empathy, devoid of judgement, charged with humanity and love, Faraway, So Near... is important and should be seen.

Faraway, So Near... runs in the Void Gallery, Derry~Londonderry until March 7.