SHOE-FIELD: Our Fate is on Our Feet


When did you buy your shoes?
Where did you buy your shoes?
Why did you buy your shoes?
What do you use your shoes for?
How happy are you with your shoes?

"The conception, execution and function of the art of any cultural system can be considered to be a subsystem, equally integral to the growth of that culture."
— DorothyWashburn

Here is my reflection on the difference in cultural attitudes about shoes between the American culture and the Iraqi culture. In this entry, I have juxtaposed images from my earlier work, with recent images culled from the headlines in the wake of Muntadhar al-Zeidi's shoe-attack on U.S. President Bush. It is my intention to allow the compared images, and the formal and conceptual connections between them, to speak for themselves.

During my collaboration (1977-79) with archeologist Dorothy Washburn on the study of Native American pottery designs circa 1000 CE, I came upon an image of a ceramic foot effigy. It was wearing a sandal style of Mexican origin, unique in its southwestern burial.

This foot find triggered the artwork, SHOE FIELD, ongoing for 16 years and still going strong. I produced five interactive installations and four artist's books about people and their shoes and about people and other peoples' shoes. The first interactive installation took place in 1982 at Berkeley Computer Systems.

Hanging on display in the storefront window were continuous computer forms of Dr. Washburn's research data about Native American pottery designs. I had graphically transcribed their research codes and had also transferred images of ancient Native American sandals directly onto the computer forms.

Hanging nearby in the store window was a computer analysis of 44 pairs of my shoes, with hand drawn illustrations. This artwork appeared on similar continuous computer forms as the above-discussed sandal images. The 44 pairs of shoes themselves were displayed on shoe racks.

The participants each received a number according to the order of their entry into the computer store.

The participants then put their best foot forward ready to engage in an unusual art event. Taking turns, each participant sat on a camel-like chair and selected either a velvet pillow, a cobbler's shoe form, or a plywood board upon which to pose their shoed foot for a Polaroid snapshot. Then each person went to the computer to answer the shoe questions.

I compiled into book format the participants' photos and their verbal statements (reasons why they were wearing those shoes that evening).

By quantifying the foot position, the chosen footrest and the shoe answers, I calculated the person's shoe “charge” value. This "charge" represented the degree of difference between that individual's “shoe-psyche” and the average “shoe-psyche” of the whole group.

I used each participant's "charge number" and the number corresponding to their entry into the computer store, to execute the Electric Field Theory program that generated the Shoe-Field Plot.

Shoe participant #44 was calculated as having charge "–1". The minus number is indicated on the diagram by the empty center of his non-interactive shoe-psyche plot. Shoe wearer
#44 had not answered any shoe questions. This negative response was counter-balanced by other popular characteristics, i.e. closed-laced shoes and extension of both feet on the plywood board.


In another incarnation of my shoe works (1988), Shoe-Field, was programmed to be viewed on a personal computer. Participants selected a shoe they would like to interact with from the previously documented shoes.

[The text above says, "YOUR SHOE PSYCHE READING IS: Denotes ambivalence between uncritical companionship and disdain for lack of understanding. Keep a watchful control on emotional relationships."]

I documented the personal computer program into an interactive electronic book format. I titled it "YOUR FATE IS ON YOUR FEET". The participants answered questions on the computer about their own shoes and then selected a pair of shoes with which they would like to interact. The printer scrolled out a plot of the interaction that changed the configuration and a personalized "shoe-psyche" reading.

1. "With 16 severances: Bush and the shoes 2." The pun is that the Arabic word for severances shares a root with a synonym for shoes. (Adam)


roger malina said...


i cant help but tell you an anecdote about shoes or boots

i was giving a talk in bangalore on space art=the work of artists involved in space exploration of the moon and other planets

i showed the famous photo of armstrongs footprints on the moon

i said something about them cultural impact of these footprints =the first human steps on the moon

and someone in the back of the auditorium said

"but I dont see foot prints, I see boot prints"

i am still thinking about it and the cultural prism that makes me see foot prints when my colleague saw boot prints


Anonymous said...

Is there anymore information you can give on this subject. It answers a lot of my questions but there is still more info I need. I will drop you an email if I can find it. Never mind I will just use the contact form. Hopefully you can help me further.

- Robson