Mariah Reading, Adidas Sunset, 2018, recycled shoe, acrylic paint, digital photograph
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
In any direction you choose.
Shoes are a necessity. We need them to go about our daily routine. Shoes enable us to explore the very landscapes we strive to preserve. Yet, they're one of the most problematic sources of consumer waste in the world.
Creating a single pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide. The 25 billion shoes manufactured around the world every year generate a huge greenhouse gas impact. At the end of a shoe’s life, it's discarded, and spends over 50 years decomposing in a landfill where it will contaminate the water and soil. The midsole of a running shoe, made of ethylene vinyl acetate, takes a whopping 1,000 years to decompose.
While an increasing number of shoe companies are steering their shoe production in a more sustainable direction, there's still a long way to go. Today there is an endless source of shoe waste available to artists to make art from.
“The one advantage of working with waste material is – it’s everywhere.” Meghan Price
Meghan Price is a Toronto-based multi-media artist drawn to the significance of process and materials. Meghan works with textiles, print and video, exploring time and what she refers to as human-earth interactions. In her latest series utilizing recycled athletic shoes, she sheds powerful insight into the relationship between waste, and humanity’s place in geological time through stunning low-relief landscape sculptures.
Meghan Price, New Balance 1, 2017, recycled shoes, 15 x 37 x 2 inches
Meghan’s New Balance series evokes layers of the Earth’s crust using an arts-informed inquiry into geology and the seismic impact of human consumption on our planet. “This work specifically references the Earth’s uppermost layers as they are embedded with environmental pollutants including textile materials and residues from their manufacturing,” describes Meghan.
Meghan Price, New Balance 2, 2017, recycled shoes, 14 x 3 x 2 inches
Landscape painter Mariah Reading was inspired to change her artistic process after reflecting on the waste produced by painting the very landscapes she loved. “As artists, we throw away a lot of waste,” notes Mariah, who is also an avid outdoorswoman. She works to minimize her carbon footprint, and turns her eye to the waste left by humans in nature. When hiking, she picks up trash and paints landscapes on it. Mariah then photographs the object aligned with the physical landscape to both obscure and highlighting the discarded object.
Single shoes are among the most commonly found waste objects that Mariah finds. “I really enjoy painting shoes because I contemplate who lived in those shoes, and the carbon footprint made by that person in their shoes,” shares Mariah. “The shoe had a life of its own before – and now again, after being discarded.”
Mariah Reading, Devils Boot, 2018, recycled steel-toed boot, acrylic paint, digital photograph
Meghan and Mariah give shoe waste a new life, inspiring the rest of us to walk in a more sustainable direction.
Meghan Price is represented by United Contemporary Gallery in Toronto.
Mariah Reading's work can be purchased directly through her website
Natasha Milijasevic is a Toronto and Miami-based consultant, writer and researcher. Her past research and publications span organizational psychology to patient safety to business strategy. She's the mother of two, and an occasionally exhibiting artist.