Belhassen Handous, Joanna Pianka, Tomash Schoiswohl
...off your shoes
The Geneva Convention defines who a refugee is and who is granted asylum. But asylum procedures in Europe take years, forcing people to unconventional solutions and survival methods. Classism and racism are categorising refugees, leaving many of them in unviable conditions. Lacking language skills, the wrong colour of the skin and cultural differences mark the starting point of an endless labyrinth of bureaucratic and civic obstacles. Trauma, debt, precarious or illegal employment conditions, shady rental contracts and the lack of direct contact to relatives cause not only instability itself, but result in overstraining, serious health issues, tendencies to substance abuse, violence and many other problems. Even one unpaid bill can lead into a chain of events with the consequence social and societal exclusion. The first generation of refugees is lost without the appropriate support. Even, if these people learn the national language very fast and do their best: They are always behind, they run after an unreachable life. Finally arrived in a safe country everything starts over. Everyday life is an unmanageable energy draining struggle, based on the unsolved inequality, legal framework and social attitude. Refugees welcome! But what happens then? People, who were forced to escape, must take off their shoes not in a gesture of respect, but involuntarily in many humiliating situations. On a dangerous journey from their origin country to a so called safe one, but also during inspections by authorities or in a moment, where everything is not your own anymore. A person, who is not wearing shoes in a crowded European capital is the most visible sign of a life out of control. Loosing or abandoning them seems to be is an event with a painful or unexpected background. But what are the stories behind them? Following the path of lost shoes in the city, I started to photograph them and connect to stories from people with a refugee background who I knew or encountered personally. Stories about loosing not only the own footgear, but personal relations, jobs, money and opportunities. Running, stumbling or just shoes that are too big or falling apart. Sometimes it is a little moment that leaves us without something we are taking for granted. The initial point of the installation was the act of taking off shoes – in many ways and meanings. In the exhibition the visitors are asked to take their own off – as a sign of a deeper connection to the ground and the exhibits. The installation is also a shelf for these shoes. They line up between the artworks in shelfs of identical size. I will never know the real story behind these shoes but giving each one of them an orchestrated stage is shifting the perspective of the observer. The photographs reappear as cut out screen prints on acrylic glass hanging from the ceiling of a black box, projected on a blank sheet of paper, which is forming a screen. The shoes are coming back together in pairs, one is sharp and visible in the projection, the other one is blurred, disappearing. The shapes are hanging on thin lines. Each movement in the room causes a little shake and the scene starts to come alive. The people who lost these shoes can never stand still, they are always on the move, they can never rest. Running from one place to another, wearing donated shoes in the wrong size, being always late for an appointment after a full day of responsibilities or working two jobs while losing the most precious relationships to other people. Some of them break down and lose control in their life. Moments of oblivion, shame and being not enough formed the text for a lecture performance that is showing some of the stories behind the scene in emotional and intense monologues and dialogues.
Corrispondenze: Archive Publication (1/24)
Corrispondenze is participation-based artistic and editorial project, born in Turin in 2021 from the collaboration between Paola Boscaini and Cristina Materassi.
Content - by Philomena+
A discussion about the EU migration pact with Tunisia was the starting point of the exchange between the artists Belhassen Handous, Joanna Pianka, and Tomash Schoiswohl. In July 2023 Tunisia has signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which the EU has agreed, among other arrangements, to give Tunisia financial and technical support to deter Europe-bound migration. A measure that fits in with the EU’s current asylum and migration policy, where borders are being pushed forward. This creates catastrophic conditions for refugees, but also for people on the ground.Nevertheless, people are making their way to Europe. However, the routes are becoming increasingly dangerous. The number of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea is horrendously high. „I could cross the shitty Western Sea as a sport shoe“ (Lyrics by the band Die Goldenen Zitronen) The exhibition project OFF YOUR SHOES links the topics of migration and loss to the history of labour and protest in Tunisia and Austria – with shoes being a common theme. OFF YOUR SHOES applies when refugees board a boat, but also in the exhibition space – which serves Belhassen Handous as an extended living space during his residency. Only then visitors can immerse themselves in the collectively created exhibition, listen to audio stories, wander through border landscapes, listen to the seawater and stumble over shoes, again and again. For the exhibition, Belhassen Handous works with analogue photos, carves paths of migrants from Sub-Saharan countries into film material, and intervenes and experiments with images he found on the internet to create a poetic landscape. In a video work, he combines testimonies of refugees and images of the Mediterranean Sea with the rhythm of its waves. Joanna Pianka shows a new series of photographs that are integrated into the exhibition architecture as light installations. The continuous motif: shoes found in public space. The spectators are confronted with following questions: In what kind of situation do the wearers leave their own shoes behind? And what stories do the shoes tell us? Tomash Schoiswohl compiles audio stories that, on the one hand, address aspects of current EU migration policy, and on the other hand, retrace historical events such as the uprising of the journeymen cobblers in the early 18th century, the construction of the „Linienwall“ in the suburbs of Vienna or the execution of “Jacob Bock” from Angola in the form of fictional dialogues. In doing so, he shows the inevitable connection between politics and protest. In addition, Tomash Schoiswohl creates collages from cut-out newspaper articles, newspaper pictures and quotations which move into the public space, marked with the words OFF YOUR SHOES..
17.11.2023 at Philomena+