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~ Francine Conley ~

"Shoes" (2003)

Link to Production Photographs
VHS videos and DVDs available upon request

Artist's Statement

"Shoes" is the final show in a trilogy, which has been preceded by "The Purse Project" (2000) and "Windows" (2002).  Where the last two shows asked questions about containment and seeing, "Shoes" presents a collage of monologues, based on personal stories and experiences, that asks about feet, protection, journey, and identity. 


In preparation for "Shoes," I asked interviewees of diverse cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds two questions:  "Do you have a shoe story?" and "What do shoes mean to you?"  The answers were often hilarious, sometimes tragic, but all very revealing of the symbolic role shoes play in our personal sense of who we are. I chose the most "performable" stories, and adapted them into a show that includes, among others, a vagabond hippie, a college frat-boy, a struggling single mother, a fast-food worker, a recovering addict, and a rural farmhand.


First I was drawn to shoes as objects of practicality, self-expression, sexuality, and safety.  For men and women, I've learned shoes mean different things. A short view into the history of womens shoes tells us very quickly how women's feet have been formed and deformed and treated as if ideas of sexuality for a desiring eye.  Still, I know women will stop an intense conversation with each other if a shoe store filled with dangerous looking shoes comes into view. Is it that we have inherited a shoe obsession through a reverse form of cultural osmosis?  Do we desire the very shoes that hurt us?  Why do we want to stand around in shoes that we imagine heighten our sex appeal?  Are these ironic shoes?


Conversely, I spoke to men who are also obsessed with shoes.  Some want trendy shoes so that they can "stand out."  Others want a shoe so comfortable they forget they're wearing them - a shoe that doesn't make them self-conscious.  And then there are men who wear old tennis shoes but spoke about wanting a woman in a heel so spiked she can barely walk.  What do these crossing desires say about what we want and how we see each other?


For me, shoes are many things.  They are symbols of status, class, style, sexuality, and necessity. A cheap, faux-leather shoe makes the foot sweat - an expensive, real leather shoe lets the foot breathe.  A shoe without a proper arch causes pain, and yet, we insist on four-inch heels.  Then again, heels worn by a man can trip up our concept of sexuality, and so on.


In "Shoes," I want to reflect on the idiom, "Put yourself in my shoes" - regardless of the cultural, geographic, and economic barriers that divide each character.  The stories I quilt together in "Shoes" represent separate identities that have commonalities: they define themselves by the shoes they wear, wore, or will wear.  Like a well-worn pair of old leather shoes, these characters have scars that ask us about where we have been or where we come from.

(c) Stephen Conley, 1965

Performance History
  • Marquee Room, Madison Civic Center, Madison, WI, April 2003 (premiere) - the premiere of Shoes was funded in part by a grant from the Madison Civic Center Foundation.
  • Frinj of the Frinj Festival, Center for Independent Artists (CIA), Minneapolis, MN, August 2003
  • Festival of One-Woman Shows, CIA, Minneapolis, MN, February 2004
  • Gender Week, Gender Institute at University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, October 2006
Artistic Staff
Costumes/Props:  Francine Conley
Lighting/Slides/Publicity:  Jodi Samuels
Photographer/Videographer:  Christian Flaugh