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The Access Culture
Armando Torres is an expert custom shoemaker who thinks flip-flops are the best shoes ever invented. In his latest exhibit at Gallery 25, "Hamlet Lung: The Proletariat Collection," Torres examines the unprecedented access the masses have to art and culture, and how the Art World views us. Through collage, digital photography, and shoemaking, Torres asks questions about what is considered art, and why.
I chatted with him about the upcoming exhibit via MySpace.
When did you start making shoes?
I moved to New York City in 1995 to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. They have the only program in the country where footwear design is combined with actual hands on construction (unlike Parsons, which focuses only on design). I wanted to be a shoemaker, not necessarily a shoe designer
How old were you when you decided you wanted to make shoes professionally?
I was 29, that's when I moved to New York
I woke up one morning in '95, and had this epiphany...it really just popped into my head as I looked around the floor of my room and saw like, 30 pairs of shoes..."I want to be a shoe maker!" and that was it...I felt like a weight had been lifted and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Who or what is Hamlet Lung?
HAMLET LUNG is an alter-ego/pseudonym...it's a play on a minimalist Austrian designer named "Helmut Lang". I design/create work under this name as a way to work out ideas about art, design, advertising, consumerism that don't quite fall under the umbrella of shoe making or straight digital photography. Having a name, or rather, a "Brand," allows me to do things that play with the idea of a large corporate designer creating desire for commodities that don't really exist, to sort of expose the emptiness of conspicuous consumption.
In your artist statement you say "It is much more difficult to determine which commodities are works of art." Shoes are certainly a commodity- how do you personally or professionally distinguish those that are works of art from those that are not?
I think all shoes are art, really...but for the sake of this interview I believe that shoes are utilitarian items, even proletarian. One way in which they can become art is by negating the use for which they were intended. For example, the gold pumps on the website, the very thing that makes them so attractive and desirable, (the red sequins, which are attached with 1/2" pins) is the very thing that makes them detrimental. This is also an obvious reference to the high heel itself. Looks pretty, but severely damages the foot, and puts women in a vulnerable position. Rebecca Horn is a German installation artist who uses shoes in a lot of her work. I am greatly inspired by, and from her I have learned that I can do other things with shoes besides custom-fit them to people's feet.
What other shoemakers are doing work you would consider art?
Rem Koolhaas. He's actually an architect, but he has started a shoe company called "United Nude" which makes shoes in a very limited, exclusive way. They actually only have a few designs which is highly unusual for a shoe company...but what they make is very innovative, and based on iconic 20th century furniture, like the Barcelona Chair.
You ask, "does the Proletariat have enough time to create art in the twenty-first century?" What about you? You mentioned starting a new job and hanging two art shows- you're a busy guy. Do you have enough time to make art?
I am actually referencing the work of two philosophers, Karl Marx and Boris Groys. Marx postulated that the proletariat, when rising to power, is so occupied with "the struggle" that there isn't time to create an art/culture that is representative of the proletariat, and not influenced, or rather, as Marx put, politically corrupt. What I am trying to get at here is that we live in a very different century than the one in which Marx was writing, and the Proletariat now has inexpensive computers, not to mention the internet, at their complete disposal. We have access to information, and hence, culture that was impossible during his time. I believe today we have the abilities to record our own lives in ways that are sophisticated, and far reaching. We live in a unique time, and we should take advantage of these options to express ourselves, because it won't last forever.
The exhibit at Gallery 25 is of your digital photography. How long have you been interested in photography?
My wonderfully supportive parents bought me my first camera in the 10th grade. I was very serious about it and asked for a 35mm. I went to the Academy of Art in San Francisco when I was 19, but later because of problems arising from the earthquake in '89, I moved back to Fresno and got my degree in Art with an emphasis in photography from Fresno State.
What is your process for the digital prints? Your photos have vibrant colors and high contrast. What adjustments do you make to your photos?
I accidentally happened upon a very unique way by which I create my images, and would rather keep it to myself, if you don't mind. Most of my photographic work is based on actual drawings that are then photographed digitally and then I only slightly enhance the color in iPhoto on my Apple computer. Nothing special about that. I am not THAT into computer programs that can manipulate a photo to hell and back. I have never appreciated the technical, or rather scientific side of photography. I like using drawing as a means to an end in the service of photography.
How does photography compare to shoemaking?
It doesn't really...except for me, it's another way to express myself. I actually got back into photography because of shoe making, though. Once I started making shoes for clients, I no longer had "samples" to show people so I had to photograph them. Hhmmm, didn't really answer the question...well, not to offend photographers out there, but shoe making is a hell of lot more difficult...I apprenticed for 6 years, and it was at least 2 years before I was even able to make something that resembled a shoe that someone would care to wear in public. It's definitely the most difficult thing I have ever learned.
Are all the shoes in the photos your work?
Yes, all the shoes in the photos, including the Japanese style "Geta," were all made completely by hand - by me. Oh, except the high heeled boots, those had an incredibly intricate design (of my own doing) which was just impossible for me to figure out how to construct the pattern, so those boots were actually more of a collaboration between me, and my master shoe maker. He made the patterns, and the first sample, to see how it would fit together.
What does the shoe of the busy proletariat look like?
Flip-Flops. The greatest shoe EVER invented. I only stopped wearing them because it's raining now. Otherwise, I am always in flip-flops.
Describe your favorite pair of shoes.
I have these amazing flip-flops from TEVA which have a cross strap on top. It keeps the foot from sliding about.
And a final question: why are hot shoes always so uncomfortable?
Because designers such as Manolo Blahnik are designing for the ego, and not the sole.
Hamlet Lung: The Proletariat Collection runs through January 29th at Gallery 25. ArtHop reception on January 5th.
Visit Armando Torres online at http://www.myspace.com/hamletlung