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Before her Residency with John Lobb in Northampton, artist Anastasia Douka could not have imagined the wealth of artisan skills that lie behind the shoes made by this English footwear brand. The resulting artworks are a testimony to her immersion among the craftsmen and women who deploy exceptional know-how on a daily basis.
Mentored by Richard Fishman, Anastasia Douka is the first artist to work in residence at John Lobb in Northampton, the British manufacturer that has been part of the Hermès group since 1976. Building on her initial fascination with the factory’s raw materials, and the artisans’ choice of fine leathers, Douka turned her attention to the machines. Witnessing their close-contact manoeuvres with the artisans, she couldn’t help picturing them as living things. She encased two of the machines – the eponymous Channel Closer and Channel Opener – in papier maché, creating a life-sized imprint, like a shed skin.
Next, the Greek-born artist – a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago – returned to the raw materials, and the people handling them: 105 workers talked about their personal taste in footwear, as a prelude to the making of 105 pairs of leather shoes, personalised according to each artisan’s preferences.
The resulting tour de force would have been impossible without the artisans’ active support and participation in the project, and Douka’s own, hands-on appropriation of a number of skills – ‘new knowledge’ which she plans to develop in future works. Photographs and interviews with each artisan form the basis of a video celebrating the ‘work force’ at the site. The result is a multiform, group portrait of the factory, and a collective tribute to this artisan community.