Hit & Miss (Pleasure & Pain)

I was so looking forward to the exhibition on shoes at the V & A.


Titled ‘Pleasure and Pain’, information found on the institution’s website promised a walk through time, through the perspective of almost 200 pairs of shoes.

The shoe angle intrigued.  But the actual exhibition didn’t quite move me.  Yes, there were some sensational shoes- shoes worn by Queen Victoria, early man, Renaissance folk, from far-flung corners of the earth.  And yes there was even Cinderella’s glass slippers. But somehow the presentation of these shoes, encased behind glass cabinets with dull backdrops, did little to heighten interest.  The written explanations were repetitive.  The idea that a shoe can change your life (Cinderella), and that throughout history, no matter our culture, shoes announced power, status, prestige, and embodied seductive powers, became monotonous in the dull, dim light.  An attempt at erecting a flight of stairs leading to a separate gallery showing videos, and more information on the construction of shoes made me ponder the importance of staging and drama.


No photography was permitted.  I took the above picture at the make-shift gift shop outside the exhibition.  What would I do, if given the opportunity to stage such a presentation?  How would I make an inanimate object, the shoe, come alive for the viewer?


I learnt that mules originated in the bedroom, that a pair of shoes on a naked body, makes “nudity more audacious”, and that it was Louis XIV (Sun King , Ballet, Versailles) who had the idea of shoes with red soles and heels, reinforcing his mythical stature.

Come to think of it, Louis XIV must have been the original fashionista, or the original multi-hyphenated artist.  Everything about his court, and rule, from the very moment he woke up was ritualised and staged.

Imagine having a conversation with him!


By chance I stumbled upon the wonderful world of Richard Learoyd.

3366 (googled, Agnes with Eyes Closed, photography by Richard Learoyd)


tumblr_mta7nzr3fS1rpri2zo6_1280 (googled, Horse Head, photography by Richard Learoyd)


His images are disconcerting, framing intimacy and a quietness that brims.  They seem to also have a painterly quality to them; the treatment of light bringing to my mind, gothic narratives, or the Old Dutch Masters.  I learnt he practises, camera obscure (dark chamber), the most “antiquarian of photographic processes”, whereby light falling on the subject, becomes focused onto the photographic paper, without the use of a negative.  (Note:  I am simply regurgitating what I remember of the information I read- I don’t quite understand the process, and neither am I quoting verbatim.)

En route out, I stopped to admire these two figures.


It’s a wonderful beginning point for movement invention, a duet to unfold or conclude in.


I stepped forward to read its accompanying information.


The title silenced me.


The V & A is personally not a favourite.  But it is like a grand old dame, a treasure trove of knowledge.  On a cold winter’s afternoon, it really is necessary to feed, my brain.


(This note is unfortunately encouraged by one very rude reader.)  

  •  No photography was permitted in both exhibitions I attended.  Richard Learoyd’s images were found on google search, and were taken by him.  They are used in this post to help highlight the experience I had.  Please do not plagerise any of the content here as they belong to me.  Please speak with me first, if you really need any of the above.  If you can’t respect me, please at least respect the artist shared.  Do not attempt passing his photographs off as yours, nor my writing as yours.  Please have the good sense and good manners to credit accordingly.
  • Richard Learoyd:  Dark Mirror (free admission), Oct 24 2015- Feb 14 2016
  • Pleasure and Pain, June 13 2015- Jan 31 2016





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