Surface black / blue / green by Ira Konyukhova
Ira Konyukhova´s two-channel video work portrays three young women: One left Iran after the political riots of the Green Revolution, one will travel to outer space and one is staying put. The film intertwines the narratives of the Iranian woman as she reflects on her time in her country, the spacewoman-to-be as she arranges for her travel and the third woman. The stories of the three protagonists are brought into an indirect dialogue, circling around the theme of travel.
One scene shows the Iranian protagonist slowly standing up, her gaze is questioning and enforcing. She unveils a black dress before bending forward. She becomes absorbed by the materiality of her voluminous dark hair, stressing it with her hands, again and again. Meanwhile the other screen displays pulsating green circles, which recalls another scene, where the same woman associates Iran with the color green – a green comprised of the flags, clothes and accessories that marked her as part of the political resistance. The political dimension is mediated through symbolic and personal channels: What does showing and touching her hair mean to this woman, when in Iran it is a woman´s duty to keep it hidden?
While the Iranian is filmed mostly in front of an artificial green or black plane, sometimes meandered across with multicolored rays, you meet the other two protagonists in different situations. They exist among urban surroundings, but are filmed mostly in monotone, dimmed interiors that evoke a depressive homogeneity. This homogeneity is strengthened by the sonic palate of the whole film, which is dominated by the vocal track of a female narrator, who often lends her expressionless and floating voice to characters in the film. The spacewoman´s mien is straight-faced, oscillating between calm, tired and bored expressions. There is an absence of passion in everything she does, even telling her friend that she will go on the most exiting journey ever.
The space-travel appears as an opportunity to escape from the dimness. When the spacewoman is asked about the security of her travel, she announces her vehicle as safe: it has triple glass protection, an automatic door-lock and a modern navigation system. This ironic comportment to the risk-calculation of space-travel invites the viewer to contemplate what it is like to defend oneself before the truly unknown.
Yet it is not solely a lust for the thrill of adventure, that brings the spacewoman to leave. Her goal is much more radical. It is a willful exposure to a death-trap. At first glance it seems paradoxical that she endangers herself to satisfy an urgent need for change. Confronted with war and death in media daily, it seems insensitive and thankless to risk one´s life for the risk´s sake.
But in this way Surface black/blue/green leads one to consider if it may not be the risk itself that needs to be protected. Could it be that mortal danger is necessary to access the sovereignty of life?
The spacewoman’s saga resonates with the Iranian’s flight from her country. In both narrative strands, there is a journey that departs from the abandoning of home for the sake of something unknown. The goal may be indefinite, but in its indefiniteness, it is the better opportunity than staying put. It is the leaving that is important. The act of going away is the first step toward a way.
Yet there is another factor of uncertainty, as both women rely on technology for their escapes. What happens if their get-away vehicles become unreliable? What if they break?
Distance can be overcome by physical movement, but also through screens. And just as a screen may swallow you in, it spits you out when it turns black, no longer displaying anything but itself as a naked piece of technology. A preoccupation of the film is this illusion of distancelessness with which technology tantalizes us and the failure of this illusion when technology refuses its function. Such as when the friend of the spacewoman gets to know the technical device as a medium that divides as much as it connects. About skyping with her brother, who lives in Canada, she says: On a display, he seems to me rather than a try version of himself. I never know whether I am looking into his eyes or into some blurred pixels.
The film here incorporates a discursive layer that is a reflection on its own characteristics. Furthermore, scenographic details of the installation translate movie-immanent strategies into an experience of room: The neutrality of the white cube, where the installation is built in, is analog in its function to the neutrality of the voice-over. As the white cube mystifies the provenance of the objects presented inside of it, the film´s voice-over flattens and equalizes the movie´s dialogue. It represses the protagonist´s own voices and thereby makes it difficult to relate to any of their statements as ones coming from a person. The spacewoman´s friend reminds the viewer of the need to determine a speaker´s context in order to separate his or her signal from the noise: The sources of information are more difficult to track and the same agency may provide conflicting interpretations of the events. At times, the voice-over also refuses to speak for the characters. When the Iranian woman is filmed before a green screen, evoking an interview-like setting, you see her talking, but cannot hear the sound of her voice and the voice-over does not come to her aid. It is a literal illustration of her memories of the Green Revolution protesters, who are shouting, their voices have been stolen.
The installation comprises two screens, positioned in a construction of two upside-down office chairs. By removing the office chairs from their usual context and slightly changing their appearance, Ira explores the futuristic potential of real life settings. These low-budget camp solutions also appear in the film, where, with the help of droning music and dazzling light effects, she calls to mind the possibility of an imaginative perceptive layer, lying at the bottom or above the usual one. When a water slide could be a time machine and a car wash a launching pad for a journey into space, why should these poetic transformations not be given as much credence as our “objective reality”? The film´s mixture of a high-tech finish and impromptu style is an ironic side blow to the technocratic belly, which insatiably hungers for the new and improved.
The screens are arranged in an angle that makes it impossible to see both at once. Just as the film´s collage-like montage of different scenes, it interrupts the viewer´s gaze. The viewer may not be charmed away by a consistent narrative. Again and again the refractory setting casts one back into real life.
Why does Surface black/blue/green blur the lines between the three characters, confuse the fictional with the real and fragment time by garbling the signs of past, present and future? Why does this work embraces the viewer one moment only to let you go the next?
Yet somehow through the work’s elusiveness, the viewer might permeate it: Eventually these experiences, of escaping from home, of being estranged from a technically reproduced other or of feeling the urgent need for a radical change, converge in the viewer´s person, constantly moving between two screens, mediating between jump cuts, filling in the work’s ellipses and thereby being not to far removed from the feelings of the Iranian woman, the staying woman and the spacewoman.
Jandra Böttger, 2017