How Abidi’s ‘The Distance from Here’ Strips the Glamour of Travel

  • by The Cartellino Team

All it takes are two rusted tables, a typewriter, a chair, and signs that read “LEGAL DOCUMENTATION CENTER (REGD.).” and “NOTARY PUBLIC” to designate an outpost on a tarmac. This is how Bani Abidi’s film, The Distance from Here (2009), opens: in bureaucratic doldrums, as a typist, a Notary, and a few guards ready themselves for the day’s protocol.

The visa applicants arrive shortly after, assembling in file according to long strips of yellow tape on the asphalt. Save for their faces, we know nothing about their identity. All that, is tucked neatly behind their elbows, in clear folders and documents ready for a last-minute skim; the applicants for a frisking as they await the embassy shuttle. Hung on a board are an assortment of elastic ties for essential 2 x 2’s. We get the impression that the people who don these ready ties aren’t the first, nor will they be the last; all this, it seems, has happened before.

The rest of the 12-minute film is just as unremitting. Abidi is in no hurry: the most animated movements are those of flies buzzing around the applicants’ vacant faces. A finger fidget is cause for excitement in this film. It’s grueling to keep attention, and it’s an experience that many who have gone through the visa application process are far too familiar with: before being permitted entry to another border, you are struck numb.

Once, uncertainty was a feeling presumed to belong to the less fortunate. Lingering and delay are all in the playbook. In utmost precision, Abidi draws a slow focus on the subtleties of bureaucratic control; how, in this intermediate space, the clacking of a typewriter, disengaged murmurs, and listless eyes are the informal antecedents of a migrant identity in need of getting out.

In dry and humorous takes of the absurd, Abidi commits to political commentary through her films. The four that comprise Filament, an online viewing program at Experimenter Gallery continues until August 20, 2020. The screening schedules:

An Unforeseen Situation (2015) | 6 min 42 sec | 10 July - 20 July

The Distance From Here (2009) | 12 min | 20 July - 30 July

‘Funland' – Karachi Series II (2014) | 15 min | 30 July - 10 August

Death at a 30 Degree Angle (2012) | 15 min | 10 August - 20 August

Bani Abidi. Death at a 30 Degree Angle (video still). 15 minutes. 2012.
Bani Abidi. An Unforeseen Situation (video still). 6 minutes, 42 seconds. 2015.
Bani Abidi. 'Funland' - Karachi Series II (video still). 15 minutes. 2014.

Anchor photo: Bani Abidi. The Distance from Here (video still). 12 minutes. 2009.

All images courtesy Experimenter Gallery.