Consisting of medium scale sculptures in clay, Didi Roja’s new solo show visually addresses her fascination for footwear. The young artist’s perspective lies on the contemporary functions of shoes that envisage multiple aesthetic and symbolic functions. Rojas has created a body of work that renders an interpretation of modern footwear highlighting the beauty and utility of these quotidian products. Showcasing a labour intensive art practice, the artist presents her ceramic outcome that replicates the works in a detail oriented and fun way. Roja’s handmade sculptures rework their original shape and form creating alternative visions that confront the viewer with a new interestingly sloopy format.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
In the emerging artist’s material lexicon, clay is the main creative material to develop her ideas. In her new solo exhibition ‘You’re Doing Amazing Sweetite’ at LAUNCH F18 gallery, Rojas’ works showcase her ongoing investigation of footwear structures and formats and their symbolic potential by reproducing clay shoes within a colourfully conceptual architecture. The artist also seems to approach these works with a sense of fun that never dismisses deeper and more thorough investigations about the consumerist culture. Enjoyment remains but further interpretations or thoughts definitely arise.
The experience we have wearing shoes is not only highlighted by the prism of the design but also emotion. Usually, the physical aspect of utility either is considered less important or exceeds the importance of feeling beautiful. Commodities and objects, that we are much attached to, tend to have a remarkable influence on our taste and identity. Creating handmade ceramic shoes, such as sneakers, heels, platforms or boots, the artist’ exhibition presents a frisky orchestration of big brand references. From Nike or Addidas sneakers to luxury brands like Balenciaga, Gucci or Vetements, the chosen ceramic features are distinguished and very familiar to the viewer. Apparently her interest is not specifically lying on the success of these renowned brands but mainly on the design, hype or the cultural impact that these shoes in the market.
Wanting to challenge the viewer from not being a passive observer, the shoes’ uncommon or even weird and bulky structure invoke aesthetics that spark questions regarding the creative method used to reflect uncanny objects as natural; is this a real shoe or is it just an alluring trend that people quickly have to adapt. Playing with the symbolic identities of the objects, Rojas manages to suggest such queries that elevate the show and give her shoes the status of extraordinary art pieces.
Didi Rojas was born in 1993 in Cali, Colombia. The artist now lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She graduated with a BFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Previous group exhibitions include “In Search of Us,” MoMA PopRally, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (2017); “Nothing In Isolation,” Pablo’s Birthday, New York, NY (2018); “Melted City 4,” Yui Gallery, New York, NY (2018); and “Clay Today,” The Hole, New York, NY (2018).
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
My sculptures are ceramic. I usually work from photographs and begin by sculpting the pieces in ceramic clay. Depending on the size and detail, they take me about 3-5 hours to sculpt. After the silhouettes are made and detailed, the pieces need to dry for a few days. Once dry, I glaze (or paint) the sculptures. This can take from a few hours to days depending on the amount of detail. After glazing, the pieces go into the kiln for a full 24 hours. In the kiln, the sculptures reach temperatures of over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes them 12 hours to reach the high temperature and another 12 to fully cool. After the kiln has cooled, I can finally unload the pieces and finish them if there is more detailing required.
How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?
Big Shoe Energy.
What can you tell us about your new works that are on view at Launch F18 gallery?
There are over 40 ceramic shoes sculptures in You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie at Launch F18. Most of the pieces were made this year. I chose to show them together on one large pedestal in the middle of the gallery because I want the audience to have a chance to walk around the works and to discover more pieces as they move around the room. My work focuses on shoes and the everyday object. With these pieces I question the function of an object we are all familiar with and how they become important to us on a personal and cultural level even if the function is removed. I like to think of the pieces as capturing a moment in our current time.
Are all ceramic sculptures in this show equally meaningfully to you or is there any particular one that you feel more attached to?
I want to say they’re all equally meaningful. It’s hard to choose from the group, I feel like I’d hurt the other’s feelings.
Can you name any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?
I love the artist duo Fischli and Weiss. I love the playfulness in their work. One of my favorite works of all time is probably their greenware sculptures, Suddenly This Overview.
Creating a new painting can be a solitary process. If this applies to you, when you concentrate on a new artwork does it affect your social life at all?
I love being alone in my studio working on a new piece but I also love my dog, family, and friends so it’s important to try to find balance. I wish days were longer.
How do you know when an artwork is finished?
For me, the process usually dictates this. I consider a work finished after it comes out of the kiln but there are times when I will fire a piece more than once or add more detailing with enamel.
What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space like, and how does it affect your process?
I love my current studio. Having a space where I can have the needed alone time on my work but also be within a building where other people are working on their creative endeavours is really nice. My personal studio space is divided into two parts. There’s an office area and then my work table and rack. When I was working on the pieces for You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie, the rack was pretty full and right after the pieces got taken for the show, I immediately wanted to try to fill it back up. It’s also nice that the kilns are in the same building as my studio. For some time I was working out of my apartment and a space that didn’t have a kiln. It was hard transporting the work to get fired, especially when it’s so fragile. The studio I’m in now has allowed me to be super productive.
Which exhibition did you visit last?
VijaCelmins at the Met Breuer.
What do you hope audiences will take from your work?
I want the audience to spend some time with the work. I want them to not just see the pieces as representations of shoes but to notice the detailing work and question the process.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
I’m definitely a morning person.
Is the glass half empty or half full?
The glass is right where it needs to be.
Which are your plans for the near future?
Right now I’m working on a few video, photo and print projects that feature the pieces in You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie. I’m just really excited to keep making and showing my work. I’ve started on a new series still exploring ceramic shoes of course.
©All images courtesy of the artist and LAUNCH F18