Leather suede fabric or even plastic we toter, stride, run and even dance in them, they are an everyday part of our lives in, out, and about. We may often look at them on someone else and make a judgment call. They walk our story with us, treading in every part of our lives. Yet, they have their own story. As people walk through their lives accompanied by footwear, the complex relationship between it and its wearer talks of companionship or partnership, even. The exhibition ‘Shoes: Inside Out’, gravitates around the idea of describing that intricate, and sometimes lumpy, connection. Read more on Shoes Inside Out: The Convoluted Love Story Of Footwear And People.
The tapestry of footwear’s history started around 50,000 years ago, facing a tide of intricate changes. In the dawn of civilisation, shoes were born out of necessity, protecting feet from harsh terrain. The narrative, nevertheless, switched when footwear started to succinct snapshot into a person’s aesthetic rather than only be useful.
But what has barely changed is the relevance shoes hold. As footwear describes its wearer, a lot can be learned or even, assumed. However, behind the weight of people’s assumptions on shoes, lies stories as diverse as the individuals who wear them. A scuffed pair may disguise a journey of triumph, while a pristine set may mask hidden battles.
Shoes talk to us through the baffled sound of steps in the grass or through the defined sound of soles on tarmac, serving as the mirror of the soul of society.
In a way, then, what’s on people’s feet whisperers or even shouts their very personality. By being omnipresent in a person’s life, their shoes have witnessed most of someone’s emotions and challenges.
The history of footwear is, then, just as convoluted as mankind. The transformation footwear has had through the years mirrors the transformation society had at the same time. Underlining the fine line between style and conformity, this exhibition tells the intense and unstable story of generations evolving through what’s on their feet.
The exhibition features around 70 pairs of shoes, with the majority crafted in the 19th and 20th centuries. The display of the footwear, reveals the conditions and aspiration of a reality that no longer belongs to us. It tells stories people wouldn’t be able to hear otherwise. The shoes reveal secrets that make the viewer feel deeply connected to a past that tip-toed all the way to our present reality.
The curators also X-rayed a small selection of the shoes to be displayed alongside the corresponding objects. That’s to uncover the most organic state of the shoe itself. Allowing the viewer to learn about the process that hides behind each pair. Describing the intriguing and yet hidden juxtaposition of the hard, sharp, and tough process from which the elegant, soft-frippery aesthetic of shoes blossom.
An example embracing this intense duality are ‘Lotus shoes’, exhibited accompanied by a brief description of their purpose. The dainty and poky aesthetic of the shoe mirrors the traits women, in the 10th century, were demanded to have. Small and petite was considered the ideal of feminity so constraints were put around women, and having tiny feet was one of them. Women had to physically alter their bodies for public perception; be small, unseen. Now we see this as a political statement, one that in its day highlighted women’s oppression.
Or even, Suede shoes, in the 20s, people believed if a man wore suede shoes he was gay, not true again, the aesthetic of the shoe represents for others, a stereotype.
The elegant and curated aesthetic of each shown pair , then, also disagrees with footwear’s history as described by the show. The curators managed to highlight an intricate space where cruelty and grace intertwine. The consequence is an uneasy and yet attractive atmosphere each viewer can sense.
From ballet shoes to army boots, the viewer gets to experience the variety of identities that lurk behind each pair. As shoes are a powerful signifier of the wearer, without judgment, the exhibition digs deep into the inconsistent and fascinating story of human evolution.
The space catapults the viewer to the uncomfortable truth that conformity still plays a crucial role in our society. Revealing surprising facts about the evolution of various styles, the show fearlessly pushes the boundaries of footwear standards. It’s a symbol of rebellion against stereotypes, as each shoe is a true ode to identity. Hence, the general sense of uneasiness inundating the room serves as a power statement concealing repression.
The show is divided into seven themed sections: Work, Play, Protect, Identify, Empower, Transform and Aspire. For visitors to discover surprising new dialogues, sparked by bringing cultures and centuries together.
This way, the spectator gets to feel the emotional weight of the mixture of narratives, merging together in a slot where both time and space are still.
In this ephemeral journey through the exhibition, the show itself becomes a profound exploration of the human condition. It becoming a symbol of the endless tales that have walked around us. Showing how shoes can be much more than footwear whenever we perceive them as “someone’s shoes”.
The exhibition will be hosted at The Gallery at The Arc in Winchester. Available from the 24th of November 2023 to the 6th of March 2024.
To book the tickets, follow the link here.
If you enjoyed reading Shoes Inside Out: The Convoluted Love Story Of Footwear And People, why not read Love for art at Frieze London: Creatives Ignite Their Artistic Fire.
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