It takes a lot for me to feel as though I never want to see another pair of shoes in my life. But that’s pretty close to how I felt when our team finally wrapped up a month-long county shoe drive for the needy. Holy Imelda, did we have a lot of shoes all needing sorting, bundling, packing, transporting, and shipping. Huge sigh of relief as the UPS truck rumbled away with our donations.
And then, catching up on my reading last night, I saw this image in the Wall St. Journal which stopped me in my tracks. Another form of shoe donation is giving life to this stunning symbol of people no longer with us. I can’t help but marvel at the power of art.
These shoes raise a somber question: When a person dies, what happens to their possessions?
These are the shoes of roughly 300 people who have passed away. Their families donated the shoes to Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota for an installation opening at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. at the end of August. I am struck by the variety of shoes, each indicative of their former owner’s personality, job, or taste.
Within each shoe is a handwritten note from each donor confiding a personal memory.
The artist’s signature technique is the use of string, red or black. She will spend several days linking the shoes and thread into this striking design. Visitors will be able to watch Ms. Shiota at work adding a performance element to the exhibit.
“String can sag, connect, or loosen,” she says. “It has so many human qualities; it has tension.”
The shoes will be strung together using 4 miles of red yarn which will then be threaded up, web-like, to a single overhead hook. The artist wants to emphasize the “emotional heft” of the objects.
Emotional heft. Yes, we do endow the objects that our loved ones leave behind with a certain power, laden as they are with memory and loss.
Shiota plans to do another installation along this theme for the Venice Biennale in 2015 using fifty thousand left-behind keys.
I am one to cling to some of the objects that are left behind; others, I know, don’t endow things with so much symbolism and are able to remember their loved ones in less tangible ways. Who knows, some of those shoes donated to our charity drive might have come to us just that way.
How about you? Would you donate something to an installation like this? Are you a keeper of objects or not?
Thanks for reading,