Môr Plastig: Flip Flops and Shoes 

Essay by: Lindsay Hughes
ICIA Exhibition Catalogue, 2013

For Mike Perry’s exhibition Môr Plastig – Flip Flops and Shoes at ICIA, he has extended his collection and recordings of plastic detritus to include footwear, exclusively flip flops and shoes. The exhibition consists of a continuous line of 24 life-sized, highly detailed, colour photographs of shoes circling three walls of the gallery space.

At a glance, the shape and size could be familiar, the texture and colour offer a displaced sense of beauty. There is a personal, environmental and aesthetic quality to these objects, which raises more questions than answers. The human stories and the impending environmental impacts soon become more prominent in our thoughts.

On closer inspection, there appears to be something else to absorb, in these highly detailed and forensically photographed objects. The degrading effect of the sea has created extraordinary forms and surfaces. Are we allowed to enjoy nature’s continuous eroding process and the painterly effects caused by the interaction of sun, sea and sand? The repetitive presentation also provides a rhythm of colour and form and allows relationships to develop between the individual specimens. Compare the delicate almost hand painted veins and striations of Flip Flop 13 with the pitted orange fossil like remains of Flip Flop 3 or the bright ‘Kleinest’ purple of Flip Flop 11 with the leather-like map surface of Flip Flop 12.

To achieve these images Perry has used a very high-resolution digital camera. He shoots in neutral daylight avoiding strong shadows and dramatic lighting. His intention is to show the objects as they are, thus achieving an objectivity to the process, allowing the viewer to bring their own interpretations and thoughts to the viewing experience. This is clearly very different to much environmental photography, which uses strong emotionally charged images to document the effects of climate degradation. Clearly, this approach leads to a paradox in that the shoes have become both aesthetically appealing objects and yet dangerous pollutants at the same time.

Whilst the sheer number of shoes is a reminder of the ubiquity of plastic on our beaches, it is also a barometer of the infinite choice now offered by our global consumerist world. Sandals come in every size, shape and colour. No two shoes are the same and they now frequent every beach on the planet from West Wales to Eastern China. These products don’t need global logistic companies to transport them from market to market, the worlds ocean currents do it for them. Perry has found Russian sandals on his Pembrokeshire beach and British Flip Flops on the beaches of East Africa.

For as long as we can remember, artists have been interested in collecting and sifting through the trash society leaves behind. Perry is motivated by giving these remains a status and attention they wouldn’t normally assume. He wants people to share ‘a strange knowledge’ and spend a little time looking at things that they would normally walk past and ignore as rubbish. This collection of extruded polymers offers something more than an array of colour, form and extraordinary surface details or a worrying warning of looming environmental disaster. It is perhaps, most of all, a powerful reminder of the power of nature. Not as a creator of sublime epic landscapes or breathtaking natural disasters, but as a moulder and sculptor of all things, however large or small, living or synthetic. Looking at this body of work one must surely conclude that nature is the ultimate designer.

Lindsay Hughes, Creative producer, Visual Arts, Institute of Contemporary Interdisciplinary Arts (ICIA), University of Bath.

Flip Flop 13
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