Art project follows in footsteps of pioneer activist Edward Carpenter
Sandals make an unlikely art form but they are at the centre of a project by Yuen Fong Ling on view at Yorkshire Artspace as part of Platform 2019.
Towards Memorial involves the remaking of a pair of sandals designed and made by the 19th century poet and activist Edward Carpenter and passing them on to a group of contemporary activists. The artist, a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University, explains he has long been fascinated by the gay, vegetarian sandal-wearing socialist pioneer. “I was looking at the Edward Carpenter archive post my Phd when I was in a bit of a slump. I knew of Carpenter and his writings in the late Eighties when I was doing my own coming out.“When I came to Sheffield I realised there was this rich heritage and awareness of his reputation.” Carpenter arrived in Sheffield in the mid-1870s and in 1883 moved to Millthorpe, near Dronfield, to commune with nature.In the Carpenter archive there is a paper outline of a sandal marked Self 1892 suggesting it was a prototype of one the great man wore himself. Ling responded in a way people do to a piece of handwriting by someone from the past. He felt it gave him a physical connection.He began to insert some Carpenter related gay postcards inside his shoes and see if he could get a sense of the man as he walked around to re-think the notion of feet as a way of generating knowledge and seeing the world.Next he attempted to develop a prototype of the sandal using archive photographs as there was no physical pattern for the shoe. He then brought in Sheffield shoemaker Kenneth McClure of Noble & Wylie, formerly Guat Shoes based in Crookes, to make them up.The project gained momentum when he decided to give pairs to members of The Friends of Edward Carpenter.“Before I started the project I was aware of this group who had been working for two ort three years to try and raise funds to commission a permanent public memorial to Carpenter in Sheffield city centre,” he says. “My project was kind of the opposite of what they wanted to do. Rather than a bronze statue this was lighter and more ethereal.“But I was interested in what else they were trying to do politically, for such causes as LGBT+ rights and sexual health, Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, and Sheffield Trees. “Carpenter's biography and ideologies align with those of these activists who continue his legacy today. Standing in these sandals activates the stories, beliefs and struggles of the past, bringing them to life for each of us in the present day, and the project recognises their contribution.”The exhibition contains different elements. Towards Memorial is a film in three chapters documenting the making, gifting and wearing of the Carpenter sandals, made in collaboration with Sheffield film-making collective Picture Story Productions. SELF 1892 is a graphic brand and visual concept developed with designer Jon Cannon based on the remnants of the sandal’s prototype paper patterns, including product images by Mark Howe, shot around the city centre of Sheffield. My Days with Carpenter is the series of postcards worn by the artist and his boyfriend in their shoes over the past year.The Carpenter Sandal can be purchased from Nobel & Wylie, Sheffield, and for every ten pairs sold, one will be gifted to an activist. For more details visit: www.nobleandwylie.com It should be noted that the sandals are worn with socks. “What is seen as a fashion faux pas could take fashion forward,” muses the artist.