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The Smithsonian has been yarn-bombed, and is now home to nearly 400 old shoes

Chiharu Shiota shoe installation, Smithsonian
John Tsantes
By Jenni Avins
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

On Thursday night, more than 100 people used about six miles of red yarn to “yarn bomb” the Smithsonian, employing the knitted or crocheted form of street art to cover the Washington, D.C., museum’s castle garden and gates.

Hutomo Wicaksono
Bombers in action.

The “bombing” was Smithsonian-sanctioned to promote “Perspectives,” a new exhibition by Japanese contemporary artist Chiharu Shiota.

For one installation, entitled “Over the Continents,” the artist and her assistants arranged nearly 400 pairs of discarded shoes, connecting them with yarn similar to the strands that now wrap the museum’s gate’s.

“Shoes and the indices of their owners’ lives had been on my mind since the last couple of years,” Shiota tells Quartz. “I felt that returning to Japan after six years of living in Europe was like trying on a pair of shoes worn down a long time ago: you suddenly find that they no longer fit.”

Cory Grace
Shiota’s installation, “Over the Continents,” in progress.

Shiota has worked with old footwear before, collecting shoes from people and second-hand stores for exhibits in Poland, Berlin, and Osaka. This installation is different, however, because this time Shiota collected notes about the shoes’ significance from their Japanese owners. The Smithsonian translated many of the notes into English (with the help of the Washington Japanese Women’s Network) for visitors to read in an interactive kiosk and online exhibit.

John Tsantes

Handwritten on personal bits of paper, the notes are intimate and moving snapshots of everyday life. Many are melancholy; even happy memories seem colored with some shade of loss, or letting go. Others, such as one about a shoe left without a match when its mate got stolen by a badger, are lighthearted and poetic.

For more on the shoes and the notes about them, scroll down, see the online exhibition, or visit the installation itself, which opens on Aug. 30 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

John Tsantes
The note reads: June 17th, 2007. This is the year I met this shoe. When I made a trip with my buddy Koni-chan to Naoshima I was so happy and joyful that I was dancing in this shoe. A badger was so envious it stole our shoes and took them deep over the mountains. When I woke up in the morning and realized what had happened, both Koni-chan’s and my left shoes were gone. One day I wish to return to Naoshima to meet the badger wearing mismatched shoes.
John Tsantes
In the autumn/winter season I was about two years old. I had these shoes when I started to love walking. Back then I thought, these are not baby shoes anymore. They are very small but they are adult-like, with an adult face. The leather around the pinky toe has peeled away. These feet have grown large. The shoes have become small.
John Tsantes
The shoes worn by my dad who died three years ago. When he was alive, he could not do exercises because of the back pain. I am sure that he is now jumping around in shoes like this in Heaven.
John Tsantes
About three years ago I bought these shoes and wore them every day. A year ago a cute young girl said, “Those shoes are cool.” I was thinking of throwing them away, but that made me happy and so I wore them until they were worn out. A hole opened in the bottom of one of them, and on a rainy day they got soaked. I thank you; you worked hard. Now you are an artistic work. Do your job well!

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