‘They don’t care what you feel, they just make you feel unwanted, nor do they understand.’
Foreign voices. Heavy rain. Translucent shadows. Guests, 2009.
FACT Liverpool during the Biennial led me through a mixture of responses. Walking past Krzysztof Wodiczko’s darkened room of exhibiting works Homeless Vehicle and Poliscar bored me, with its documentary-style photography. Neither was I interested in the videography projected across the walls. However, the room we almost left the exhibition without noticing changed my perspective on film completely.
‘You look at the future and you see that there is none.’
Misunderstanding, misinterpreting, confusion. All things that frustrate me about video. Mostly you never understand what story is even being told, or what the spoken word means, or what message you are supposed to leave the darkened room with. But after thirty minutes spent trying to explain to myself in my own notes what the subtitles and foreign music was communicating, I finally understood. The misunderstanding and misinterpreting is completely part of it. It’s part of the process. After immersing myself in that room of darkened windows and foreign language and translucent silhouettes, I understand that the time-lapse of understanding and figuring out the message is wholly a piece of the art of film itself.
‘“Where do I go?” I asked. I don’t understand where I should live. You know how bad it is. Nobody to turn to. Nobody to talk to. I just don’t know.’
Young immigrants? Illegal? ‘My internal passport is no longer valid’ struggling to find work in other countries Train station? Gallery? Are they workers or visitors if it’s a train station might be coming in and out of the country via train I think the whole thing is about making people aware of the exclusion of immigrants in our home countries and trying to stop us from being desensitized to the fact that they are REAL people.
Looking back over my notes, I can see a development of thought process along the way as I sit and let the projections of animated shadows surround me. By the time I left I had a rough image of what I imagined Wodiczko’s message to be. I think through his use of video installation of the eight translucent windows across three walls in a dark room, it surrounds the audience with multiple stories all told in different languages with subtitles below. The audience becomes the minority, eavesdropping in the immigrants’ conversations as they work. The fact that the room is large with very tall and vibrant windows makes the audience feel small and a little unimportant – to me suggesting how people feel when they turn up in a foreign country, only to be generalized and de-humanized by the majority.
Upon researching this work after experiencing it, I’ve read that the translucent windows ‘blur [the figures], illustrating, metaphorically, their social invisibility and a complicated “guest” status.’ Wodiczko seems to repeatedly focus his works on immigration and the ostracizing of individuals or minority groups, like in the projection Sans Papiers. I think he approaches these subjects very sensitively, with Guests being installed in such a delicate way. With the length of time that it takes for the audience to see the message, it does not feel like they are being shouted at, instead easing them into the realization. As with other artists’ who deal with similar issues, like Banksy’s newest migration-related graffiti art, it is more straight to the point. A problem with this is that once the audience has understood the significance of the work, they are more likely to move onto the next piece in sight without really thinking about the weight of the topic. When I was sat experiencing Guests, I left the room feeling like my opinion had been really perforated, with a need to read more into Wodiczko’s work and focus. I believe this was predominantly to do with the length of time I spent immersed in the installation, submerging myself in the work and entirely concentrating on the composition.
‘So I have no papers, I have no job, and I don’t know who I am.’
Wodiczko is well known for his use of projection in art, with public projections in places such as The Whitney Museum of Art, New York 1989, A-Bomb Dome, Hiroshima 1999 and the Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland 2006. In 2005 one of his major exhibitions If You See Something… was held in New York at the Galerie Lelong, and is in fact very similar to Guests. His use of translucent windows parallels, however If You See Something… has squared windows instead of arched, and the projections in black and white instead of the Golden Hour-esque pale blue, pink, lilac and yellow of Guests. Similarly, the silhouettes behind the frosted windows ‘recounted and exchange various stories that each unfold as a compelling witness to the abuse of power’. Whereas in Guests the stories are quite muted; compelling in the way that they speak of exclusion and rejection, however not explicit in pain or abuse, If You See Something… tells of terrorist stories, families pleading for their lives, young men beaten by authorities and other sorts of cruelty. The exhibition was described as ‘intensely emotional’.
All in all, I left that room feeling a lot more in tune with the issues of immigration, rather than feeling that I had been commanded to feel a certain way or ‘do and feel the right things’. To me that constitutes a successful exhibition, especially when dealing with videography, something that did not interest me in the slightest before entering that room.
‘And this is why I feel comfortable, because I am afraid to go back to my own family…’
Guests, 2009 Encounter – Jessica Pye, 2016
 KRYZYSTOF WODICZKO Guests, Filmoteka Muzeum, http://artmuseum.pl/en/filmoteka/praca/wodiczko-krzysztof-goscie 2009