Charlotte Prodger: Cut up culture

Artist Charlotte Prodger takes us to the edge ahead of her show at Intermedia Gallery later this month

Feature by Andrew Cattanach | 04 Apr 2012

Most of you will know what it feels like to be passionate about trainers. You’ll remember the sought-after brands of your youth and recall the shame of falling out of sync with contemporary trends. The humiliation of owning a pair of humble, almost utilitarian, Hi-Tec Squash when all you want, and what everyone else seems to already have, is a pair of crisp, white Nike Air Max.

For some, the adoration of sports footwear extends beyond the playground years, and since the 1980s, subcultures have evolved with an almost deistic regard for branded trainers. One only has to consider the heists on various outlets of the franchise Foot Locker during the UK riots of last year to comprehend the importance of sportswear for those on the fringes of our society.

Artist Charlotte Prodger has been exploring one such subculture, watching videos on YouTube of men cutting up pairs of trainers. “What they do is they buy brand new trainers, particular models that they fetishise – particular models that are classics – and cut them up,” Prodger explains. “Cut them into pieces, but very, very methodically, along the contours with a very sharp knife.”

The videos are not overtly sexual and only the comments posted below hint at their libidinal undertones: 'Show all the sweaty insoles together please!'; 'I really like your socks in this video… wish I could see more of them'; 'my weakness for adidas sambas... mmm, i wanna take them off your hot feet!'

Prodger will be showing one of these videos taken from YouTube in her exhibition at Intermedia Gallery later this month. She aims to draw comparisons between the footage of the slow, meticulous destruction of trainers with the 1960s artists' movement known as Structural Film, whose proponents revolted against narrative and representation in film, largely abandoning storyline and plot.

“I think I’m interested in these videos – the cutting up of the trainers – because they share the constraints of structural films,” she says. “Long single takes – and the whole time you don’t see faces in them, mainly hands and bodies. Their identities are never revealed.”

This won’t be the first time Prodger has combined a high-art sensibility with the mores of a gay subculture. Back in 2010 she exhibited I was Confused About the Dancefloor Code – a 16mm film installation that tells the story of a friend’s first hand experience of the gay nightclub Berghain in Berlin.

“They went in and there were all these big bears and pounding techno,” Prodger tells of her friend’s experience. “It was a sunny day and there were blinds on the window and all the people were dancing facing the window rather than the DJ. Periodically, someone would climb up, tease open one of the slats and a shaft of sunlight would pierce the space and people would go mental when it happened, like some kind of pagan frenzy – arms in the air.”

The resulting artwork is ostensibly a text piece that tells the Berghain story one letter at a time, each letter lasting only one single frame. This makes the film near impossible to read and the viewer is forced to turn her back on the projection to decipher the words on the film strip as it passes through the projector.

“One of the things I feel like I’m working through in my art is my love-hate relationship with structural film,” Prodger explains. “I’m trying to recontextualise those forms by infusing them with queer subjectivity – or juxtaposing them with queer subjectivity.”

By using the particular modes of Structural Film, Prodger lets us explore the fringes of society with none of the sensationalism we have come to expect from such forays into the unknown. A rare insight into subcultures we would perhaps otherwise never encounter, Prodger’s work is a subtle, but no less empowering, celebration of the margins of society.

Intermedia, 20 Apr-7 May, free. Part of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art