Laura Gonzalez


7 May 2006

On Manolos

I can’t remember what were my expectations on the Sunday I chose to see Manolo Blahnik’s exhibition at the Design Museum in London. What I do remember, however is being very surprised by it. The shoes, displayed like unique art pieces in theatrical settings, had about them all the strangeness of Surrealist artworks. In the first room, a white wall was made out of the shoe boxes displaying the Manolo Blahnik logo.

Exhibition images courtesy of D&AD

Separated from the viewers by a museum-type rail, abandoned in the corner, dear shoes were casually left there by some kind of eccentric marquise, rich enough to own innumerable pairs. The shoes were often displayed at a rate of one per room and surrounded by matching attrezzo: velvet curtains, chairs, all colour-coordinated. In other rooms, there were references to the cultural value of the creations, showing models wearing them in catwalks and parties or that famous episode of Sex and the City where Carrie pleads her mugger not to steal her “Manolos” (“‚ÄúYou can take my Fendi baguette, my ring, and my watch. But Please don‚Äôt take my Manolo Blahniks!‚Äù). In yet more rooms, there were references to Blahnik’s technical ability through displaying the core of his very tall stilettos and using diagrammes to explicate how the weight of the female body may distribute itself in the arches, bridges, vaults, buttresses and tracery of his small scale architecture. The ethnographic contribution of his work was also displayed by means of cases like the ones found in Natural History museums, thematically and visually grouping the shoes.

Exhibition images courtesy of D&AD

There was an air of hysteria about the gallery, followed by bored men surprised at the constant little cries being uttered in what normally is a quiet gallery space… My own desire to wear them, to try them on and feel I was someone else was exacerbated by the distance at which the museum had decided to keep these precious shoes. Just imagine the logistics of letting vast amounts of women touch them, try them and the costs of the insurance policy of such irresponsible behaviour. It is probably for the best they were displayed this way but, for that very same reason, it was a deeply unsatisfying show. I looked and drew and nothing could satiate what I thought wearing them (not even owning them) would give me.

Exhibition images courtesy of D&AD

The substantial side of the exhibition also contributed to that feeling of un-fulfillment. The collection was certainly representative: there was a shoe for every occasion: casual, elegant, playful, daring, comfortable, uncomfortable, silly, summery, wintery, red, white, purple… Every possibility and every need were covered. When buying shoes, I often doubt between at least two pairs. Normally not being able to afford both, the choice is always a difficult one. I always want to own more shoes than I have and the chain is interminable. Owning all the shoes displayed at the Design Museum (O what a dream!), would instantly resolve the conflicts I was faced with in shoe outlets.

Exhibition images courtesy of D&AD

The shoes displayed were female shoes but I don’t think there’s a masculine equivalent when it comes to footwear. Why might that be? I suspect that, even though the exhibition and the act of buying shoes happen in the Symbolic register, the act of wearing special shoes is intimately related to the Imaginary register. Wearing “Manolos” may give us an illusion of wholeness with something we would like to be. Of course, like in the Oedipal case, that which we-would-like-to-be, we are not, we never were: it is an illusion.

Exhibition images courtesy of D&AD

Posted in Blog, Seductive things, Shoes

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About Me

I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.

I am currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric. In 2013, together with Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner Frances Davies, I co-edited the book ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, to which I contributed a work authored with Eleanor Bowen. My book ‘Make Me Yours: How Art Seduces’ was published by Cambridge Scholars in 2016. In this text, investigates psychoanalytic approaches to making and understanding objects of seduction, including an examination of parallels between artistic and analytic practices, a study of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes as objects of desire, a disturbing encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s last work, and the creation of a psychoanalytically inspired Discourse of the Artefact, a framework enabling the circulation of questions and answers through a relational approach to artworks.