Fashion fans, walk this way

29th November 2002 at 00:00
Pauline Hann gets a kick out of a touring exhibition that's resting up in Dundee

Shoe A touring exhibition by the City Gallery, Leicester The World at Your Feet McManus Galleries, Dundee until January 5; tel 01382 432084 www.dundeecity.gov.ukshoewww.dundeecity.gov.ukmcmanus

Slipper, sandal, winkle-picker, brogue, pump, mule, trainer, jackboot, wellington, clog, loafer: what a rich vocabulary we have to describe footwear.

The shoe has always been a powerful symbol conveying status, occupation, religion, fantasy, fetish, a potent expression of culture and society and a device of myth and legend. Just consider Cinderella's glass slippers, Dorothy's ruby slippers, the Giant's seven league boots and Elvis's blue suede shoes.

The Shoe exhibition at the McManus Galleries in Dundee delves into some of these aspects, in particular exploring the shoe in our urban consumer culture, as in Darren Lago's Iron Nike composite sculpture, a pair of shoes, half domestic iron, half trainer.

The mythology of the femme fatale and issues of gender are examined in Pat Derrick's Playing the Field, a pair of stilettos soled with football studs. More poignantly, despite the obtrusive black frame, shoes as souvenirs of the past are referred to in Jenny Stolzenberg's ceramic installation Forgive And Do Not Forget, which is informed by the Holocaust.

This exhibition, compiled by the City Gallery of Leicester, as was the previous Handbag exhibition, is one of a trilogy that will be concluded with hats and gloves.

I confess to being captivated by Handbag, which was a feast of colour, form, materials and ideas, full of humour and whimsy. By contrast, Shoe is more like a lunch, with interesting and thought provoking guests.

As a practising textile artist, I still have some difficulty with work that is badly made, as in the knitted Shoes by Rachel Cattle, described as a "low-tech 3D object". She doesn't appear to have learned to knit on four needles!

Likewise, Kimberley Gundle's paintings were ineffective. Skill; trap or tool? The debate rages on.

Although some of the exhibits did not meet my expectations, Sara Richards's tiny gossamer Feather Shoes and Susan Cutts's ephemeral paper installation Stiletto are very striking and the show as a whole is worth a visit.

Alongside is the McManus Galleries' own fascinating display of shoes from all over the world, The World at Your Feet, drawn from Dundee City's collection.

In this the shoe is further exemplified as a functional item, crafted to cope with geography or climate, as illustrated by those made of wood, textiles or vegetable fibres. Conversely, the shoe is also shown as an expression of status, beauty and sexual attractiveness, as in the excruciating but exquisitely embroidered silk slippers made for the bound "golden lotus foot" of the Chinese Han culture.

Most impressive, however, is the related education programme devised by Anna Robertson and Christine Millar of the galleries' arts development team. They have spent many months undertaking preparatory work with the community based groups Quality Contact, which works with P7 children, the Ergo Project, which helps 15 to 18-year-olds and Kids Unlimited, which supports those affected by disability in the family.

The culmination is the Shoe Factory and its innovative education projects with various groups of local children. They have been involved in making shoes of different shapes, colours and materials, displaying enthusiasm and commitment and, significantly, staff report improvements in the language, communication skills and confidence of the children. The work is open to the public in the galleries' activity room during the final weekend of the exhibition.

Pauline Hann is continuing professional development course manager at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, a faculty of the University of Dundee

ACTIVITIES IN STEP

A range of arts based activities related to the Shoe exhibition are planned at the McManus Galleries:

* November 30House Shoes, 1-3 pm, pound;1Create a house shoe that is as much fun on the inside as on the outside.

* Sundays, until December 22Little Feet, 1-3 pm, pound;1Activities for families with young children; some may be messy. A different theme each Sunday.

* December 7Winter Walkers, 1-3 pm, pound;1Skis, snowshoes or bring your own wellies to customise.

Dancing Feet, 2pm, freeThis performance is the culmination of a series of workshops inspired by the Shoe exhibition. Professional dancers will be joined by non-professionals and children in a piece which takes "the pair" as its starting point.

* December 14Reading, drop in anytime from 11am to 12.30pm, freeLocal writers will be presenting new work inspired by Shoe and The World At Your Feet.

Glass Slippers, 1-3 pm, pound;1Sample the delights of the pantomime season by discovering a wonderful world of fairy-tale shoes.

* December 21Stocking Fillers, 1-3 pm, pound;1Christmas socks for that special night of the year.

Loadsawimminsingin, 2pm, freeCome and listen to lots of women singing carols and shoe songs.

For details, tel 01382 432084

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