When your actual soul is tired


When my grandfather died, several years ago, I remember helping my grandma clear and empty his draws and cupboards. She washed, ironed and folded all of his clothes to donate to a local charity shop, only keeping a few items of sentimental value. Intriguingly she categorically refused to give away any of his shoes. We lined them all up, his everyday shoes, his best going out shoes, his dancing shoes, his gardening shoes, and finally his house slippers. Some were quite old and worn, some were quite new. In a bizarre ritual she made me take them to the end of the garden and burn them in an incinerator. We made a little pyre, a roughly crafted structure from newspaper and scrap wood and topped it off with the shoes. The wood took quickly and engulfed the shoes with ease, within minutes the fire was reaching a high temperature and the shoes were hissing, smoking and making multi-coloured flames. This moment and the symbolic act I remember very clearly; the personal significance of his shoes and grandmas' need to cremate them was a curious memory.

I've reflected on shoes as signifiers in the past, the way they communicate to the world about identity, personal histories, gender, race and class etc. As objects they imbue all sorts of meaning and say a lot about the choices we have made and the image we are constructing. They are more than a simple fashion item or a functional object, 'A shoe is not simply a design, but it's a part of your body language, the way you walk. The way you're going to move is quite dictated by your shoes' (Christian Louboutin). They also act as a physical record, collating in the material body where we have been, the journey and distance we have travelled, the conditions of the road, with the sole as our point of contact with the path; a kind of document of these moments. Walking in someone else shoes, a literal and metaphorical difficult task, is often seen as a way to develop empathy with another, to gain insight and understanding from their perspective. When we challenge ourselves to walk in the shoes of someone whose pain or plights might be so different than ours it can be the most difficult and often incomprehensible thing to do.

As an artist with dyslexia I'm constantly amused at how my neurodiversity can lead to different understandings and alternative insights. It can affect how I hear, or mishear, and read things. On a page text often jumps around, leading to some words being rendered invisible and therefore not registering in the reading. This linguistical trickery often throws me and amuses me, but can give opportunities for being creative and mischievous with language and meaning. So, my recent body of work I have taken the terms ‘sole’ and ‘soul’, and the obvious interplay and clear fun to be had with words. I’m interested in the humour of multiple meanings for some words i.e. homophones, (no not a gay mans’ mobile) words which have the same pronunication, but different spellings and meanings, including homonyms (have the same spelling and pronunciation, but have different meanings) and homographs (words that are spelled the same, but have different pronunications and meanings). I've been collecting different soles (thanks to Barry the cobbler at Pullingers Brighton) and I'm looking forward to where they will take me.

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Andy Ash