This is HARD TO GET, a weekly newsletter about awesome stuff that’s (almost) impossible to find online.
Last week we got a tip from one of our thousands of undercover H.T.G. field operatives -- she'd run up the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to check out their "Designs for Different Futures" exhibit, which included the above sculpture, from U.K. footwear chaos-agent Helen Kirkum.
Born in 1992 and trained at London's Royal College of the Arts, Kirkum has a fantastic eye and a fascinating practice: she deconstructs and reassembles found sneakers (and occasionally, as in the above right image, IKEA bags) into kaleidoscopic / post-apocalyptic visions. They remind us, among other things, of the bricolaged New Balance Test Run Project 3.0 sneakers, made from surplus scraps, that we wrote about a few weeks back.
What strikes us most profoundly about Kirkum's sneakers -- here in the early days of a fatal virus outbreak the full dimensions of which remain frighteningly unknown, and during which global industrial supply chains are already threatening to crack and crumble -- is how they inject the current fashion-industry marketing fetish for "sustainable upcycling" with not only whimsy but also a creeping sense of dread.
Kirkum's wearable collages are ingenious, yes, but there's something palpably violent, rough-edged and monstrous about them, too, in a way that seems to anticipate a "design future" that's anything but utopian.
Kirkum has worked on official releases with brands like Adidas, Reebok and Alexander Wang. Those collaborations are less interesting on the whole than the core of her practice, which is sculptural custom one-offs. Of her sourcing process, Kirkum told an interviewer that friends will send her interesting sneakers to slice apart, but "I also love the randomness of collecting shoes from recycling centers. You get so many unusual trainers, especially the lesser-known brands – the intricacy of the patterns always surprises me."
"As a kid, I always drew all over my Converse and wore mismatched pairs – I guess that was the start," Kirkum has explained. That spirit of sabotage has stayed with her: "A lot of the time I’m taking the pieces and treating them as shapes and as components, so then they’re kind of devoid of their original purpose.” -Kirkum's site is here -Her Instagram is here