The installation ‘Angles of Incidence’ deals with some of the experiences of immigrants moving to Finland. The work is comprised of three video screens which show images of three different stages in the immigration process – border crossing interrogation rooms, immigration reception centres, and the Finnish Department of Immigration offices where decisions concerning an immigrant’s future and residential status are made.

In physics, the angle of incidence is the angle at which a ray of light (for example) hits the surface of an object. If the object is constructed of a suitable material – for example glass, or water – some of the light is reflected, while the rest is refracted. This refracted light is absorbed by the object, its direction is altered due to the change in velocity caused by the transition from air to a denser material.

The laws that apply to the incidence, reflection and refraction of light also apply to other media – from seismic waves to the path of a pool ball. Could they also, then, apply to the passage of people? How might this concept influence our understanding of immigration or the experience of the refugee?

We might say that in travelling from one place to another, a person ‘hits’ or encounters the surface of another country. That country might be said to consist of a different density than the migrant’s country of origin – it might not be in a state of war, it might be more or less populated, or it might be more ‘free’. When immigrants encounter this new surface and remain in a new country, could we not say that a part of them remains the same – is reflected – and another part is absorbed or refracted. The direction of their life has been suddenly changed when they enter the new country; they must pass through a new medium, a different system, a new society. They will absorb aspects of this new society – its social rituals, its lifestyle etc. – while at the same time the society will absorb them – their history, their experience, their knowledge.

This would appear at first glance to be a two-way process, but in reality it is nearly always skewed more in favour of the host society. The host expects its new guests to adapt to its ways, and all the history and experience of the guests is left to reflect away. 

The immigrants and refugees who leave their homes, friends and families to live in other countries do not generally do so without good reason. They leave because their homes, their families, their workplaces and their schools have been targeted and attacked by one force or another. They have often experienced things which people in the West can hardly imagine. Their journeys have been long and arduous. When they arrive they are relieved to be able to live a normal life – to go to school and study, to work and earn a living; to live without fear of bombs, rocket attacks and war.

The journeys they take are filled with uncertainty. For many years they exist between one place and another, waiting for the chance to move on, for documents to be approved, to earn enough money to pay bribes or smugglers, for bureaucrats to make decisions. A sense of powerlessness permeates every aspect of their experience; they are told when and where to go, they wait not knowing what will happen next while life-changing decisions are made by unseen officials behind closed doors.

The spaces photographed for Angles of Incidence appear to be quite mundane. They are ordinary offices, rooms and buildings. And yet each of the spaces are full of power – they form a part of the intricate processes which immigrants and refugees must pass through in order to enter and be legally accepted in their new society. However, each of these apparently ordinary spaces is charged with meaning, because it is in such mundane places that power resides.

Each screen is accompanied by extracts from audio interviews conducted with immigrants and refugees. The stories they tell detail their experiences while leaving their homes, travelling, and waiting to permission to stay in their destination: Finland. Their experiences provide a strong contrast with the stark images of empty administrative spaces.

The three screens are arranged in such a way that the audience must ‘pass through’ the space of the installation, travelling themselves from one stage to the next. Additionally, each screen is angled in such a way that the path the audience follows through the installation mirrors the angles of incidence and reflection. It is hoped that upon leaving the installation, something of the experience of travelling from one point of origin to another destination will have been absorbed by the viewer.

Angles of Incidence is the third part of Rainio & Roberts’ video trilogy ‘If You Could See Me Now’, the first part of which was ‘Rajamailla (Borderlands), the second part ‘Eight Rooms’

Angles of incidence
2006
three-screen synchronised
dvd installation
14:00

directed, edited & photographed by
minna rainio & mark roberts

soundtrack
mark roberts

sound editing
vesa tuisku

funded by
arts council of finland
avek / milla moilanen