What do political uncertainty, activism and sandals have in common? You can find out at Bury Art Museum‘s winter exhibitions: the latest iteration of MO(NU)MENTARIES and the brand new project TOWARDS MEMORIAL.
Despite being separate displays, the two are intertwined and led by Yuen Fong Ling – artist, researcher, and lecturer based in Sheffield. Ling’s oeuvre is characterised as socially engaged practice, and focuses on themes like intersectional identities, historical omission and non-permanent forms of public memorial. All of these elements can be seen at Bury Art Museum this season.
TOWARDS MEMORIAL began in Sheffield City Archives and centres on a pair of sandals worn by poet and activist Edward Carpenter. Born in the mid-19th century, Carpenter was an influential figure in cultural and social reform, living in an openly homosexual relationship, believing in vegetarianism, Eastern mysticism and sexual freedom. He designed and created a pair of sandals, the prototype of which Yuen Fong Ling came across in the City Archives. Initially producing postcards with imagery related to Carpenter, Ling and his boyfriend put them inside their shoes which they wore until the postcards took on the shape of their feet, and resembled the insoles of old, comfortable trainers. Feeling a personal connection to Carpenter, Ling was then inspired to revive the sandal design, and in doing so, to commemorate Carpenter while creating a new kind of memorial – one that can be worn, moved and used.
The archival material was re-interpreted and the sandals made using contemporary materials with the help of ethical, Sheffield-based shoemakers Noble & Wylie. Each pair of sandals is handmade and stamped on the inner sole with Self 1892, as well as 1844 and 1929 to commemorate Carpenter’s year of birth and death. The finished shoes were then gifted to The Friends of Edward Carpenter, a group of activist enthusiasts of the poet and now, for every 10 pairs of sandals made, a pair will be gifted to a deserving activist. As a result, Towards Memorial displays a three-part film, which documented the making, giving and wearing of the sandals.
MO(NU)MENTARIES is Bury Museum’s permanent collection display, with Ling’s new commission postcard pack re-framing the works in in the collection. The result is an exploration of selected artworks with a focus on the themes of feet, footwear, protest and public memorial.