Biennale Arte 2019
Paul Handley is a New Zealand born multi-disciplinary artist who lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. He explores and interrogates ‘big picture’ social issues that cross borders and even
continents; but in doing this, he always is searching for a perspective that speaks to the viewer on a personal, individual level. In an age of mass data and geo-political population movements,
Handley finds a way for us to consider the fragility of the individual within the mass of humanity. Déplacement (Smuggling Pod )
is a part of a larger art project that focuses on the refugee arrivals on the island of Lesbos in 2016. Handley journeyed to the island in the midst of a chaotic international
effort to deal with the tens of thousands of people that were fleeing the Syrian War. He created a series of photographs that exposed and documented the vast pile of life-jackets that were
dumped on the island. It was reported that the pile covered 10 acres, its vast scale told of the mass human movement that was happening in Europe at the time. Here, Handley has reduced the
overwhelming scale and asks the viewer to examine the form of each jacket individually – the arm holes, the neck and the waist ties – so that the viewer cannot but help but imagine the body of
of the child that this jacket was designed to fit. It humanizes the narrative of mass migration, it asks us to care about each and every individual story. The absence of the body also causes our worst
fears to flicker momentarily in our minds - these empty spaces could be the children that have not survived the dangerous journey. They have become an absence, a negative space ?
The Smuggling Pod also speaks of the economic systems that create these desperate circumstances and these terrible personal narratives. The word ‘smuggling’ frames the plight of refugees
into a legal discourse that can strip people of their humanity. Associated with smuggling, their plight becomes associated with lawlessness, distrust, and things undisclosed. But even more than this
it is clearly evident that these life jackets are made from a cheap plastic, they are poor quality and most likely unsafe. This speaks to the poverty of those that wear these vests and the inferred
low value that is put on the life that is meant to be saved. The viewer can imagine a desperate parent paying for anything that might make them feel more secure on a frightening journey, and
and a seller, calmly looking to exploit this situation.
Handley’s work asks us to reflect on the plight of millions of people around the globe, but he offers an alternative to simple despair. There is an inner strength that is associated with the circle he
has created, there are bonds that bind each life-jacket together and there are bonds that connect the viewer to this group. For the artist the circle reminds him of the great chandeliers that hang in
the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a building that speaks to the very highest of human achievements. The circle is associated with sharing, warmth and protection, and the work helps bring empathy
and a sense of connection in a world often seems fractured and uncaring.
Text by Richard Ennis, Personal Structures Arte Biennale 2017
Proposed Installation - Intervene 2018-2019, 500 Children’s life Jackets suspended from 300 cm Chandelier, 800 cm x 300 diameter
Tableau Table, 2018-2019 Graphic on 10 plywood panels, each 120 cm x 240 cm x 90 cm. Over all 600 cm x 480 cm
The Tableau Table consists of a large scale drawing of the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordon where approximately 80,000 Syrian refugees have called home since 2011.
The work is made up of 10 panels each 120 cm x 240 cm with Metal legs. Over all the Tableau Table measures 600 cm x 480 cm x 80 cm.