When the shoe becomes its action

“Walking isn’t always an aimless stroll, a solitary wander… Pilgrimage is one of these major cultural forms”

(Gros, A philosophy of Walking p107)

It could be said that there is nothing more fundamental to the shoe than the walk, the ‘sole’ purpose of covering the foot, dating back around 5500 years in leather form, originating to create a protective layer between the skin and unforgiving surfaces which aided foot locomotion and strength of bones in the foot anatomy. From a scientific standpoint the walk can be examined as a wondrous physical and cognitive collaboration, but do we ever stop to consider this phenomenon as it’s so hardwired into our brain?

Walking in Circles- Jo Cope 2017 - photography Nigel Essex.jpg

Walking in Circles – 2017 – Jo Cope – Photography Nigel Essex

The Language of Feet in the Walk of Life’was developed by conceptual fashion designer Jo Cope as part of a Masters project at London College of Fashion, where she combined the Digital Anthropology Lab and the traditional cordwainer facilities to investigate the foot and its actions assisted with research into science and psychology. Jo Cope is known for her futuristic approach to aesthetics. She always looks for a relationship between fashion and the body which goes beyond rational and practical to unlock a different, more abstract form of visual language. 

 The project was initiated to capture the essence of the shoe conceptually, whist using the shoe’s as a vessel to symbolise and embody life experiences. Starting by investigating how the shoe could become its action, Jo observed and documented body language and foot motions socially and personally. Key aspects of walking gait analysis and step width data were used to aid the understanding of the negative space created during the act of walking. The prototyping of the shoes used the latest foot scanning technology alongside traditional methods of plaster casting to create the pitch and angle of each action in the swing phase of the gait cycle. 

Jo Cope: “I found that in focusing upon, and embodying the walk,  the act itself becomes quite mesmerising, a sensation which had a hypnotic quality”

 The act of human locomotion could be taken for granted, but as a chosen activity rather than an essential one, the walk can hold a larger presence. “Rousseau claimed to be incapable of thinking properly ..creating or finding inspiration except when walking...it was paths that stimulated his imagination” (Gros, P65).Walking is a scientific means of exercising the brain which has been proven to increase creativity and is linked to the neuroscience of imagination. The act of walking allows the subconscious brain to become more active as the conscious brain relaxes. 

The walk in the work is a metaphor for life’s journey in which physical travelling is replace by the notion of self-discovery. The project talks about three experiences of the self; one of which is self-loss by ‘Walking in Circles’; the circle symbolises repetition and the inability to move forwards “..perhaps walking should be called movement, not travel, for one can walk in circles…” (Solnit, A History of Walking. P6)Here is a very vicious circle and how to get out of it?” (Lawrence, Delphi Works. Chapter 11: P1). The project considers action as both a physical act but also as a static object or state. 

Jo Cope: “Action in my work freezes motion; the walk has become an object but can be brought back to life through ‘walking the walk’ performance. Shoes in their stillness can represent both immobility and action, whether physical or emotional.” 

The article When the shoe becomes its action will also be part of HIGGS #3 -The Science Fashion Magazine >>

Janne BaetsenJo Cope