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pflight of the paper ballons

a suite of 13 books produced at codex event 4 in 2006
Cocos Islands, Naru, Manus Island, Christmas Island, Perth, Darwin, Baxter, Port Augusta, Port Headland, Curtin, Woomera, Maribyrnong & Villawood.

codex event 4 artists; Sarah Bowen, Darren Bryant, Liz Deckers, Rebekaj Evans, Louise Irving, Joanna Kambourian & Tim Mosely

details; 2006, single section case bound balloon books, hand made paper balloons, pulp printing, silk screen, cardboard, 13 unique artists books.

These paper fire balloons books are a metaphor for the deflated hopes of refugees held in Australian detention camps and a visual text objecting to the continued abusive treatment of “illegal” refugees.

Codex Event 4 was based on the idea that paper fire balloons, or for that matter balloons in general, could freely cross boundaries that humans were prevented from crossing. This starting point led to a final outcome of three installations of the work, on a beach, in a gallery and in book form.

The seven participants were involved are all associated with Southern Cross University. They brought a broad range of experience to the event with backgrounds in postgraduate studies, publishing, technical excellence and international experience. The group spent a good three days discussing and debating issues around the initial ideas for the event and collaboratively selected a course towards the final outcome.

Ever since the “Tampa” incident in Australian political history the Australian federal Government has made an example to the rest of the world of how it will treat illegal immigrants that enter Australian territories. The “tampa crisis”, the “children overboard affair”, the SIEVX incident and the inhumane treatment specifically of children in Australian detention camps has clearly deterred many refugees from trying to enter Australia. As the prime minister John Howard defiantly stated to the world during an election campaign at the time, we will decide who can enter Australia. Ironically it was John Howards very own European ancestors who settled in Australia in 1788 without the consent of those who then 'owned' the land.

The cold hearted decision-making that has left severely mentally disturbed children within barbed wire detention centres in spite of highly respected medical advice clearly exemplifies the current federal governments intent. That is to deter other refugees from attempting the life threatening boat journey to Australia. It also demonstrates the inequity of citizenship within mass global migration, unless you are a legal citizen of Australia the federal Government is not bound to treat you as well as it is bound to treat its own citizens. Citizenship of a nation holds more significance than being a human being.

Within this context, and as the paper balloons we made looked less and less like flying, the participants of CODEX EVENT 4 set out to find a response to the treatment of ‘illegal” refugees. The balloons soon became a metaphor for flight across boundaries as well as the deflated hopes of refugees who haven’t been able to complete their flight.

Primarily the work took form through two processes, constructing and then installing the works. To construct the balloons the participants first made A1 sized sheets of paper from recycled paper and cardboard and used these to construct the balloons. The paper pulp was beaten for translucency and thin sheet formation and over 60 sheets of paper were made. Pulp printing was utilized to generate imagery and marks into the paper as it was made, and silk screening was used to apply further imagery to the paper. Text, found photographs, altered photos and images were all utilised in the work. Once the paper sheets were completed they were sorted into groups and cut up into segments (gores). From these segments sets of six were chosen that would then be glued together to form a paper balloon approximately 100cm in diameter. 13 balloons were constructed to reflect the 13 identifiable detention centres used by the Federal Australian Government in 2006 to “deal” with the illegal refugees.

With the balloons constructed the participants discussed ways of resolving the final installation and form of the artwork(s). Initially an installation on a beach, reflecting the coastline which refugees generally try to reach, was decided, the nature of which would take place as the installation was constructed. Secondly a gallery space was seen as significant, specifically a space that could be utilised as a means of containing or preventing the flight of a/the balloons. Thirdly the balloons would then be turned into book forms that took the shape of boats reflecting the mode of transport for many refugees. The books then can travel readily and present effectively for exhibitions.

Negotiation how to get 14 or more people together at one spot at one time from disparate locations is no easy feat and after some phone calls and chance meetings we were able to bring the balloons and 12 people together at a beach. Without prior intent four of the participants were children directly related to the struggling new nation of East Timor. The most poignant images from this “installation” are of these children playing with the paper balloons. Reflecting the indominable human spirit, that despite the trauma that tear families apart, these children represent a new generation that can enjoy the benefits of the struggles their parents have endured to start a new life. The images are haunting, children playing with the balloons, unaware of the icons of the inhumane treatment to others of their age.

Following the beach installation the balloons were transformed in to boats/books and exhibited at Tweed River Regional Art Gallery. The books continue to attract international attention as the growing list of collection and exhibition venues exemplify.

Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, Harvard University, Boston, USA, two books
Bibliotheca Liborum Apud Artificem, Sydney, Australia, one book
State Library of Queensland, Australian Library of Art, Brisbane, Australia, three books
Southern Cross University Library Artists Books Collection, one book
private collections, two books

Bodman., S, “Codex Event 6”, Printmaking Today, Spring 2009

New Treasures, Talbot Family Treasures Wall, State Library of Queensland, 2010
LIFE’S JOURNEY: Artists Books from Queensland Collections, Redland Art Gallery, Qld, 2012
The Silent Scream, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University, Melbourne, Vic, 2011
On Top of the World, Australian Book Artists, Glen Echo Park, Washington DC, 2008
pflight of the paper balloons, Tweed River Regional Art Gallery, NSW, 2008.

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