Thursday, November 6, 2008


Mary contacted me curious to see what it would be like to lend me a pair of her shoes, and write about the experience. I dropped by her office in early November to pick them up. She was in a meeting, but the shoes were waiting for me in a clear green plastic bag with an attached sticky note with my name. Mary was kind enough to step out and chat with me a bit about her shoes before I went on my way.

I was excited to learn that the shoes Mary chose to lend me at one time belonged to her sister. The exciting part about that is that her sister happens to live in St. Louis, Missouri, where I have a lot of family. Mary herself is also an American citizen, and I had intended on wearing her shoes on November 4th, the date of the U.S. election, for which I had an interesting party/art project planned.

Mary's sister, Judy, purchased these shoes because she thought they'd be good shoes to work in. She works for Anheiser-Bush, and is on her feet all day. Judy found the shoes too tight, and so she gave them to Mary, thinking that Mary or one of Mary's daughters would be able to use them. Mary told me that her kids think that the shoes are ugly, but that she likes them: they are comfortable, they are black and therefore go with most anything, and they are overall pretty practical shoes. Mary explained how she considers the shoes to be Judy's, but that Judy considers them to belong to Mary. After reading the posting on Berndt's shoes, Mary was curious to lend me shoes whos ownership was somewhat ambiguous.

Mary/Judy's shoes are sneaker-type Asics shoes. They seem to be black suede with white plastic detailing and white laces. When I put the shoes on I noticed how elasticy they were (the tounge is elasticized along the sides where it attaches to the rest of the shoe). They were a little big, but my feet didn't slide in them. At first I couldn't help but notice how low the arch of the shoe felt. I was actually worried that the shoes might be uncomfortable for this reason, but I soon adjusted to it. I also somehow was shocked each time I looked down to see the shoes on my feet. I had dressed in red, white and blue for the occasion of the election, as well as a performace that was planned for a class that afternoon, and had I been wearing my own shoes, my red sneakers would have been on my feet. I kept unconsciously expecting to see them there.

(I was just thinking now about how I half-expected people to ask me whose shoes I was wearing that day, but nobody did. This project has become more occasional of late, and I guess people no longer expect me to see me wearing shoes that aren't my own. Some small part of me was disappointed that no one asked me. It was interesting.)

I had a full day. The morning was spent preparing for the election night event. Weeks earlier my grandmother had mailed me a jell-o mold of the continental United States (minus Alaska). I knew that I needed to do some sort of project with it, but it took me awhile to realize what that was. With the upcoming election, it seemed to make sense to incorporate a jello-o USA or two into election day, and it occurred to me to do the following: I made one red (strawberry and raspberry) jell-o version of the USA, and one blue (mixed berry) version of the USA. The red jell-o represented the Republicans, and the blue, the Democrats. I planned a party to watch the election coverage, and when the Republicans won a state, we ate the blue version of that state, and vice versa when the Democrats won a state. This left behind a record of the election results in the form of a jell-o map of the USA.

I'd spent the past few days in and out of the grocery store buying blue and red jell-o. In the morning I decided that it was an oversite and a mistake to not somehow represent Hawaii and Alaska, so I made one more trip to No Frills. I made Hawaii and Alaska x 2 (definitely not to scale), and proceeded to check on the Republicans (the red jell-o map), which weren't doing so well the day before. It turned out that they were doing even less well, and so I biked back to No Frills for three more packages of red jell-o. I made a smaller (shallower) version of the Republicans and hoped that it would set in time.

I went to the studio to work on a drawing of the jell-o map that we could colour in throughout the evening to help record the election results and our consumption of jell-o USAs. Then I loaded up my bicycle with mugs for another art project, and hauled it all over to the art building. Once there I realized that the performance we'd planned for that afternoon would have to take another form: right across from the space that we'd planned on having "High Tea" the annual halocaust memorial reading was taking place. It wouldn't have been appropriate to for our project to be anywhere nearby. So we made some last minute changes and had High Tea on Johnston Green (a field on the North side of campus).

I collaborated on High Tea with my fellow classmates Karen Hawes and Allison Zuk. It was originally a performance documented in the form of a video for installation. Karen and I had tea in various high places: in a tree, an elevator, on a hill, at the top of jumps on mini-trampolines, on a rooftop, at the top row of stadium bleachers, and on scaffolding at a construction site (I should note that we dressed appropriately for each occasion, and consumed tea that somehow seemed to fit the situation). We thought it would be nice to include the class in another incarnation of the project. We gathered as many ladders we could find, and enjoyed tea and cookies together while sitting on ladders in the middle of a field. (Did I mention that the weather happened to be spectacular? It was sunny and warm, and we didn't even need jackets! A photographer from the local paper was taking pictures of students wearing shorts and sunbathing on Johnston Green, and came a snapped some photos of the High Tea.) We went back to class, had a guest speaker--Dean Baldwin--who made us pina coladas that we drank out of coconuts. We showed our video, and critiqued it and another project.

After class I had an hour and a half before an art history lecture. I decorated the classroom with streamers and got ready for the election night party. I had dinner and went to class. And after that, the party.

I have to say that I was so relieved by the election results that I wasn't sure what to do with myself. I have to admit that I've lost faith in the electoral process, and didn't fully trust that Obama would win, despite overwhelming odds in his favour. The significance, symbollic and otherwise, of his victory is so great that at the end of the evening I felt quite lost. I think that a number of people here are able to approach the whole situation lightheartedly or even with a certain amount of dismissiveness. There are some things, however, that I am just not willing to take lightly. After cleaning up I had a short cry, just because what I wanted so badly, yet hadn't let myself believe was possible, seemed to have happened after all.

Some of us made plans to go out to the Albion afterwards, but when I arrived on my bike, it turned out to be closed. After some difficulty deciding what to do next, we dispersed. I walked partway home with Margaret, who spent part of her childhood in the states. She was also relieved by the events of the evening, and struck by the implications of such a turn of events. It was more than helpful to talk to her.

As I was watching the election coverage, I couldn't help but think about Judy, and wonder what she was doing that night. Mary and her family, like mine, are Democrat supporters, in a state that is traditionally Republican. I wonder if she felt a similar anxiety, and if it was followed by bewilderment or relief or joy, or some combination of the above. Did she cry? Did Mary? I wonder how many people in the world shed tears in front of televisions, or next to radios that evening, and if the tears could somehow be collected, how much volume that would take up, and where we would keep them.

Mary/Judy's shoes are comfortable and versitile. My day in them was quite full, and involved a whole range of activities, experiences and emotions. It seemed so brilliantly appropriate that I should wear on that day the shoes of someone that not only spends most of the day busy and on her feet, but lives in the United States. In St. Louis, no less--not far from so many of my own loved ones and memories. In the hustle and bustle, like always, it seems, I eventually forgot the unusual-ness of Mary/Judy's shoes on my feet. But they were there, throughout the stream of a day that included oddly terrific weather and the (in my opinion) terrifically terrific occasion of the election of Barack Obama.