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, questionable deals with autocrats are being made and development aid is being diverted. This creates catastrophic conditions for refugees, but also for people on the ground who are exposed to neo-colonial economic aspirations.
Nevertheless, people are making their way to Europe. However, the routes are becoming increasingly dangerous, the boats more unsafe. The number of deaths in the Mediterranean 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 displacement 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 can visitors 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, and intervenes and experiments with images he found on the internet to create 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 installations. The continuous motif: shoes found in public space. The spectators are confronted with the question, in what kind of situation do the wearers leave their own shoes outside? And what stories can 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“ 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.