We like to say old friend David Shrigley, because when he showed in our backyard of YBCA in SF last year, we did a fantastic interview with the British artist. Last month, Shrigley was in Berlin to open Big Shoes at BQ. The artist is well known to the wider public for his cartoons, books and films and recently has been nominated for this year’s Turner Prize. In his fifth exhibition at BQ, he mainly presents sculptural objects, next to a new series of works on paper.
David Shrigley’s works of art wittily depict absurd situations of everyday life or put the focus of interest in trivial objects so that these appear weird and strangely meaningful but also become comic because of the attention that is paid to them. In his current exhibition the artist turns his attention to the shoe, a both ordinary and over-determined object that fills the gallery in numerous forms and dimensions. Though only a neglected implement of every-day use, the shoe has always been subject to refinery and defunctionalisation since the beginning of civilization; and it has become a thing highly charged with symbolic impact. The shoe not only is the individual’s plinth but it also has metonymic meaning which easily can be retraced through the history of painting when portrayed persons of high social rank present their shoes as an attribute of their class.
Similarly, genre or realistic painting often show worn sabots or badly mended leather shoes in order to illustrate the strenuous and deprived life of their peasant or working class owners. The most famous shoes that are the subject of a painting are Vincent van Gogh’s Pair of shoes (1886), identified by Martin Heidegger in his famous tract Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes/The Origin Of The Work Of Art (1935) as the shoes of a female peasant and determined by him as the in rem materialisation of her life – a thesis that was brilliantly deconstructed in La vérité en peinture/The Truth In Painting (1978) by Jacques Derrida who unmasks Heidegger’s interpretation as his projection (indeed, a left pair of shoes claims for appropriation) and identifies the shoes as an allegory of painting itself. Given the fact that shoes have always been tied symbolically to the rank of their owners through the course of history, for example by the regimented height of the heel or length of the toe-cap benefitting a person’s rank, it comes as no surprise that even today the shoe is considered as a desirable objects (if the cliché is to be believed). Furthermore, the shoe functions as disguise of the long time tabooed naked foot, a classical sexual fetish the symbolic substitutionary meaning of which was transferred to the shoe and made the shoe become a fetish itself. His function as a fetish is still valid today, as regards both the psychoanalytical and the figurative meaning as a status symbol or as an object of a similarly irrational collector’s passion. With his exhibition, by means of the every-day and at the same time symbolically over-determined object of the shoe, David Shrigley unveils the individual, biased motivation of any attribution of meaning and wittily opens a winking perspective on the passion of art collecting which quite often resembles a never-ending desire and finally coincides with shoe fetishism – at least as far as this exhibition is concerned.
images via CAD