This footwear based artwork was created as a commission for Shoes Have Names, an exhibition curated by conceptual fashion designer Jo Cope and Shelter, a housing and homelessness charity in the UK, as part of London Craft Week 2020. The show featured a collection of handmade artworks inspired by the personal experiences of real people facing homelessness. Ten international artists, shoemakers and designers were paired up with a person that Shelter has helped through its frontline services. My case partner was Lola.
Footwear inspired sculpture
The absence of a home, a home full of absence, no space for traces! I was at a particular moment in my life when I received the message from Jo. I just took on a retail job in a shoe store, well known for its handmade English shoes. I needed peace of mind and something stable that would allow me to think clearly about my practice and make some good decisions for the future. It was not an easy moment. A full-time non-creative job, paired with moving to a new flat that was falling apart, while being unable to leave it due to the contract we signed. To top it up, on Christmas Eve, we were robbed and whipped from many memories we had stored on our computers. It was such a coincidence that at the same time, I got the invitation to join the project Shoes Have Names and create a pair of shoes dealing with the idea of homelessness. What a coincidence! I was thrilled.
Working within a shoe shop and having an affinity for waste - I started to collect empty shoe boxes that people left behind when making a purchase. The destroyed boxes, when piled up, bear a resemblance to the structure of the shoe heel. Shoe boxes came with - two sponges, three pieces of paper, and two stuffed pieces of paper that resemble the form of the shoe when removed. That was my starting point. Observing the waste and drawing associations with the structure of the shoe, the processes of the making and the idea of the shoe in general - what does it represent? I was connecting my train of thought with homelessness and my case study: Lola. She had faced homelessness and moved from one temporary housing to another after a severe injury to her knee, which eventually enabled her to work. She was living in lots of temporary settlements, shoeboxes, that she didn’t own as a tenant, nor as an owner. No rights to build a home there. Everything is temporary and on the go, belongings are held in bags and boxes. No space for traces.
As part of my training as a salesperson, I had to visit the shoe factory in Northampton where I observed all the stages of the becoming of a shoe. However, I was more drawn to the waste than to their product. All the waste they had, had mainly to do with the negative of the shoe. In the bins, I found a lovely trace of the absence and a pair of faulty heels. I felt in love with these records. There was something really poetic and really present in this absence. I got sucked into the idea of the absence of the shoe, the absence of the imprint, the absence of ownership.
The shoolessness is frequently associated with poverty. At the same time, a shoe can be a symbol of ownership. In the past, the gesture of stepping on land was used to finalise an ownership deal over land. “To claim property, one might place shoes upon it or walk its perimeter.” Or, an achievement as imaginary “ownership” - for example, the imprint of the first man on the moon which will forever stay imprinted in our minds.
While observing, reading and translating these ideas into materiality, the shoe piece started to emerge and after a while, it turned into a device. “The Ownership claimer”. A tool that fabricates shoe traces and claims ownership over a space. With a gentle manoeuvre of the wooden “crutch”, we can lay the heel on a surface that we want to claim, leaving a mark, an imprint. The heel of the Claimer is made out of the cutoffs of the pilled shoeboxes. The material vocabulary is connected to homelessness (cardboard, the fragility of the paper, the dust and the water, twigs) and to shoemaking (brass used in the factory to finish off the cardboard patterns of the shoe parts in order to make them durable and metal used for clicking - pattern cutting which was informing the form itself as well). The shoebox and the whole purchase debris, become a stand for the Claimer in order to present the imprinting powers to the audience.
With my piece, I wanted to arm Lola with good wishes and a device that will bring homeness to any place she wishes! No more temporary settlements, no more semi-packed boxes and bags ready to go. It is time for belonging, it is time to go home.