by Laura Hutson
Last night's opening at TSU for Justin Randolph Thompson's Rag Poppin' started early — around 3 p.m. — but the space was still packed when I got there more than an hour later. A campus security guard told me she'd already given about 20 people directions to the gallery — proof not only of the event's popularity, but of its appeal to people who may have been visiting the TSU galleries for the first time.
You could hear the gallery from down the hall — a mix of chatter and jazz that made it feel like a late-night gathering. The event was both a performance and an installation that incorporated jazz, sneaker culture and the shoe-shining trade. I had spoken to the artist about the performance earlier this week, so when I approached the man sitting by himself on a pedestal to introduce myself, I was assuming it was the artist. It wasn't — I had missed the performance, and the man sitting on the pedestal was almost all that remained. The artist, who kept busy talking with gallery-goers (at one point giving one of his quilted bows to a young child who was enamored with them), had asked the man to sit in the chair while he went through the motions of shining the man's shoes, but covered them in gold leaf instead. The remnants of the performance — scraps of gold leaf paper, flecks of gold on the platform, and the volunteer's newly lavish high-tops — remained on display.
The installation also consisted of quilted shoes strung up from the ceiling — a tribute, Thompson told me, to the urban ritual of stringing sneakers up on telephone wires. It reminded me of the way that punk rockers took the safety pin out of its utilitarian context, and turned it into something that was all their own. Through his treatment of sneakers as fine, almost old-fashioned objects, Thompson turns both sneaker culture and quilting on its head.
Thompson was born in New York, but has been splitting his time between the U.S. and Italy since 2001. He's on his way back to Italy, where he'll continue teaching and focusing on two upcoming solo exhibits. The installation will be on view at TSU through the end of February. See more photos from the opening after the jump.