vanessa german knows how to translate experiences. In her latest project with the Skinner Museum—Mount Holyoke’s early 20th-century cabinet of curiosities—she explores what decolonization means by interacting with the institution’s 7,000 precious historical objects. german finds past, present, and future in everything from Native American baskets to Samurai swords to pieces of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
By touching these great American valuables, the artist explores ideas of rarity and protection amongst the context of this country’s sordid history with distorting people, objects, and the inherent value of every living thing.
On an episode of The Green Dreamer, Gavin Van Horn from the Center for Humans and Nature talks about flipping our perspective from being head over heels to heels over head, instead privileging touch. “That involves us not just venturing out into the world in a way that we are just grasping what we need but being open. Think of our own porosity…Our skin is just a membrane…it keeps us bound together enough so we can think of ourselves as individuals, but it’s also a constant exchange of information between ourselves and the world around us,” Van Horn says.
german’s solo exhibition, THE RAREST BLACK WOMAN ON PLANET EARTH, began as a quest to own the story of the Skinner Museum by doing what no one else on Earth can do to these precious items: touch them. She found that she was not only grasping for something but that she was moved and found connection through the tactile interactions. While reaching for objects society deems valuable and in a reality where fat, Black, queer women are not, she was not granted value but instead recognized it already within herself.
german translates that revelation into a mixed-media installation and healing site so deeply rooted in place that it captures the concurrence of time. The installation, “MUSEUM OF EMANCIPATORY OBJECTS,” is made up of artifacts and words collected from the Mount Holyoke community related to questions of emancipation.
There is also a sense of freedom and groundedness across the show. In “THE FATHER SHOES,” one shoe has nails that evoke the feeling of digging into the earth, while the other sole features shimmery thread. In the pair, there is “one for leaving and one for coming back,” the artist says. Similarly, “WALK IN BEAUTY” is a sculptural rendition of knee-high boots made of rose quartz. This evokes the physicality of our surroundings (a path, movement, stone) and the emotionality of what such concepts represent in our everyday lives (the journey, the heart). No one story, element, or gift is valued above another. All are woven throughout time.
THE RAREST BLACK WOMAN ON PLANET EARTH is on view at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum through May 28, 2023. german recently was awarded the prestigious Heinz Award, and you can find more of her work on Instagram.
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Artist Cecilia Levy (previously) carves individual words and phrases from vintage books that she then refashions into Mary Janes, fringed boots, and classic tea sets. As thin as a single sheet of paper, her fragile, pasted sculptures weave blocks of texts into new patterns and contexts that add intrigue and depth to their everyday forms. The sourced material “carries several narratives at the same time, both in the content itself and by the passing of time, for instance where light and age have turned the edges of the paper brittle and brown. My works are also about this. They reflect my inner stories and memories,” she tells Colossal.
Levy models many of her pieces after items found around her home or by casting objects in a silicone mold, though it’s not only the shape that guides the work but often the prose itself. Words like “poësie,” for example, nestle into the center of a teacup piece by the same name, while other sculptures like “Lena” or “Rosa” could be likened to narrative mazes that require navigating an array of words and phrases strung together in non-linear manners.
Based in Sigtuna, Sweden, Levy has two pieces available in her shop and several shows slated for this spring: her works will be on view at Homo Faber in Venice and two venues in Malmö, the Form/Design Center and at Southern Sweden Design Days. She’s currently working on a series involving paper maché clay that she’ll exhibit next year at Konsthantverkarna in Stockholm. You can see more of Levy’s process and works on Instagram.
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Peek into Nicole McLaughlin’s closet—or scroll through her Instagram—and you’ll find (literally) toasty winter hats, plush, pocketed work boots, and sandals that double as snacks. The New York-based designer is known for her playful edible apparel and brand-based conversions that turn household objects, logos, and individual servings of food into amusing and functional goods. Her latest creations include toothpaste tube slip-ons, LEGO shorts, and a vest designed with scent in mind. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
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At the Forefront of Sustainable Fashion, Peterson Stoop Reconstructs Tattered Sneakers into New Patchwork Designs
Coinciding with the rise of repurposed fabrics and visible mending, the Amsterdam-based design studio Peterson Stoop is combating waste in one vector of the fashion industry. The company, which was founded by Jelske Peterson and Jarah Stoop in 2013, salvages worn shoes otherwise destined for landfills—it’s estimated that a single pair of trainers can take 1,000 years to break down—and repurposes them into mules, high-tops, and loafers. Combined with cork, leather, and other natural materials for support, the new shoes highlight the original logos and tattered fabrics through a patchwork of thick seams.
Stoop tells Colossal that the studio sources sneakers from sorting centers, secondhand shops, and retailers with overstock, although it gravitates toward brands like Nike, Adidas, and Converse because of their cultural relevance. “We deconstruct the shoes and rebuild them piece by piece. By re-designing them with traditional techniques, we create an interesting tension between two different worlds,” she says. “At the same time, we are creating a product that is repairable time and again.”
Now offering more than a dozen genderless styles, Peterson Stoop plans to expand its product line with a focus on the materials at hand. Gathering 20 pairs of blue Nike Blazers, for example, inspired a unique collection that maintains the integrity of the initial design with a new, repairable sole. “To see the same shoes worn differently with scuffs, marks, and different tints faded by the sun we documented it for ourselves. By framing so-called identical shoes in one shot, you realize how different, unique, and beautiful they all actually are,” Stoop says.
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Artist Willie Cole juxtaposes readymade footwear and African tradition in his series of sculptural masks. The figurative assemblages stack women’s heels into clusters that are expressive and distinctly unique, an effect Cole derives from the shoes’ material, color, and pattern rather than a preconceived plan or sketch. Depicting exaggerated toothy grins, pointed brows, and outstretched tongues, the sculptures span more than a decade of the artist’s career and influence a new collaboration with Comme des Garçons that’s comprised of headpieces made with black pumps.
Each piece is layered with cultural and societal markers, including those that comment on mass consumerism, fashion trends, and notions of femininity. This context is situated in time and place, which Cole describes as “a subtle catalyst for perception. I have discovered that high heels purchased in New York are very different than high heels purchased in Georgia,” he says. Cole explains:
I guess you could call the high heel both an anxious object and a readymade aid. ‘Anxious’ because as a symbol, it is fully loaded with history and a story all its own even as just a shoe. ‘Readymade aid’ because that history adds so much to your interpretation and/or reaction to these pieces. As for fashion, these pieces speak about the abundance of discarded high heels in the world as well as the various styles and trends.
The New Jersey-based artist is involved in a variety of projects at the moment, including a commission for Kansas City International Airport that’s an homage to Charlie Parker and a series of sculptures made with 75 acoustic Yamaha guitars that’ll raise money for music education. His work is currently on view at Alexander and Bonin in New York City and Beta Pictoris Gallery in Birmingham. This summer, he’s participating in a show at Hauser and Wirth and is involved in an installation celebrating a former Black neighborhood that’s opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this fall. See more from his expansive body of work that largely explores Black identities on his site and Instagram.
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In Heisenberg Objects, Fabian Oefner (previously) translates quantum mechanic’s uncertainty principle into a sculptural series of segmented objects. The Connecticut-based artist uses resin to solidify the everyday items, which include sneakers, a Leica M6, a tape recorder, a Seiko clock, and flight recorder, before slicing them into countless individual pieces. He then aggregates those fragmented parts into dissected sculptures that resemble the original object through a distorted view of the inner and outer mechanisms.
Drawing its name from German physicist Werner Heisenberg, the series is rooted in the basics of the uncertainty principle, which states that no two particles can be measured accurately at exactly the same time. “You can either determine one parameter and ignore the other or vice versa, but you can never know everything at once,” the artist writes about Heisenberg’s idea. The two opposing views—i.e. the inner and outer layers of the common items—converge in Oefner’s sculptures and visualize the principle through skewed perceptions. “As an observer, you are never able to observe the object as a whole and its inner workings simultaneously. The more accurately we see one view, the less clearly we see the other,” he says.
Check out Oefner’s Instagram for more views of the re-interpreted objects, along with videos documenting the slicing process.
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