Images of discarded footwear found in India, Cuba and London line the walls of the Fazenda Café Gallery in Spitalfields throughout November 2015.
A refreshing antidote to this summer’s splurge of exhibitions in larger institutions relating to the fashion and manufacturing aspects of shoes, Down at Heel – photographic series by John Cowpertwait takes a different approach by looking at footwear at the opposite end of its life cycle.
At an event in Covent Garden in July 2015 staged under the heading ‘Roundtable Conversations: Discussions about Art and Life’, panelists and audience members examined one group of photographs in the Down at Heel series – Down at Heel (Karnataka) – in detail.
The debate showed the breadth of different reactions these evocative images can elicit – for example, some observed a dark shadow of personal and urban decline, decay, destruction and death in the work. In contrast, a number of audience members responded to the work with joy, being reminded of the sense of liberty experienced by taking off your shoes and running free. Others felt it raised questions about the disposal and recycling of everyday items, while also noting the way the forsaken footwear took on anthropomorphic qualities. One panelist highlighted the inclination within the work towards listing, categorising and cataloguing. See how you react.
Down at Heel (Karnataka), 2009-10 is being displayed with two additional recent works in the same series – Down at Heel (Cuban Heels), 2012 and Down at Heel (City Heels), 2015.
Down at Heel (Karnataka), is shown in two versions. Hung in a suitably bedraggled, “rough” fashion, befitting the subject matter, the arrangement of the individual images hints at the hillside paths where the discarded footwear was found. Down at Heel (Karnataka) comprises images taken over the weeks straddling 2009 and 2010. The bulk of the footwear was found along the tracks and trails of Hampi, a rugged, enigmatically beautiful boulder-strewn site of ancient ruins in Karnataka state, southern India. Images towards the end of the group were taken over one afternoon during an ascent of Chamundi Hills on the outskirts of Mysore, where pilgrims visit the hilltop temple.
Sandals (or chappals as they are known in India) dominate the Karnataka group contrasting with Down at Heel (Cuban Heels) which includes mangled heavy duty boots worn by the guajiros who till the fields of Valle de Vinales in Pinar del Rio province, a hilly agricultural area in the west of Cuba. The footwear was found along the paths that weave between the oxen-furrowed fields of rich red soil in which grow tobacco, coffee and sugarcane.
Down at Heel (City Heels Cobbled) comprises heels found in the urban streets of the City of London financial district, remnants of the expensive footwear worn by City workers which, rather than being discarded, warrant repair by the replacement of heels and soles.
These found images were encountered by chance while wandering, unpredictable intersections with the journeys taken by the previous owners of the footwear. The items were photographed exactly as found, without rearrangement or relocation.
Down at Heel – photographic series by John Cowpertwait is at Fazenda Café Gallery, 13 Leyden Street, Spitalfields, London E1 7LE throughout November. Open 8.30am-5.30pm, Mon-Sat.
The Fazenda Cafe is near Petticoat Lane market. Liverpool Street, Aldate East and Aldgate tube stations are all around 5 mins walk away. London overground station Shoreditch High Street and Rail station Fenchurch Street are also close by.
Down at Heel was curated and installed by Nikki Gibbs & John Cowpertwait for Psi Art Projects, a collective that facilitates the realisation of arts-related projects, working with artists to bring their work to a wider audience through an online presence, exhibitions, publishing and other means.