Wearing borrowed shoes, artist Robert Ladislas Derr walked the streets of Dublin, recording the journey with an eccentric video harness strapped to his shoulders. Along the way he recited and recorded memories of Dublin residents associated with the shoes and paths he was retracing. The resultant split-screen video and sound recording is projected on the floor at the Centre for Creative Practices through the 2nd of March.
Derr’s feet perform a sort of fixed-sliding on the gallery floor, striding forward across paving stones, asphalt and concrete; never leaving the confines of the rectangular split-screen video projection. One half of the video frame looks down toward the artist’s knees, shins, the front of the shoes, and the ground moving beneath. The other half shows the back of his legs and heels as he walks along. Sounds of traffic, insects, and wind intermix with the memories of the shoes’ owners being read aloud by the artist.
Robert Ladislas Derr: Walking in my shoes, split screen floor projection, 2012. Photo courtesy the artist.
“I came to Ireland for the first time wearing this pair of shoes,” is one recollection. Another, read by Derr as he walks in bright silver sandals speaks to the ephemeral promise held in each pair of shoes: “I bought the shoes in [my homeland]… I thought that they were cheap, provocative, and would show off against my plain black outfit. I’ve never worn them, and don’t think that it will ever happen.” With each successive stride, the dual video images rock and sway. The cameras that record the video are attached to his body, and with each unconscious shift of his weight, the images tilt and glide.
For the viewer, the arrhythmic motion is initially disorienting, akin to vertigo. It is a viewing experience that mirrors the existential crisis initiated by stepping into the shoes of the Other. Denied the illusory and comfortable sense of control that the steadiness of the traditional video shot provides, the viewer is invited to accept the destabilization, and walk along with the shoes that stride—in place—across the gallery floor.
The video produces a feeling at once familiar—as recognizable and pre-conscious as the act of walking itself—and yet strange and entirely outside of the viewer’s control. When the recollection of each memory comes to an end, the artist stops and the images rock and pause, fading out before the next memory begins.
If the viewer persists, it becomes possible to adopt the stride as one’s own, and to momentarily get a sense of walking alongside the artist, borne simultaneously by his voice and the voice of the shoe owner as each memory unfolds. The viewer becomes an active agent in the process of engaging with and re-creating each memory.
The combination of voice, memory and image draws the viewer out from a singular, contained, and camera-obscura-like perspective into a space between the self and the Other. This ocular de-centering references the existential crisis of postmodern vision – this subjective de-centering is not forced upon the artist or the viewer, but taken as a necessary and welcome component of walking in a world made rich through contemplation of the memories and experiences of others.
William Nieberding holds a Ph.D in Art Education from The Ohio State University and teaches photography in the department of integrated Media and Technology at Columbus State Community College.