REPORT

Meteorite Shoes by Studio Swine

London

16 January 2015

In November 2014 the European Space Agency successfully landed a robotic spacecraft on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, more than 500 million km from Earth. It was this event that inspired Studio Swine’s Meteorite Shoes.

A pair of high heeled shoes designed in the form of rocks fallen from space, design practice Studio Swine’s Meteorite Shoes are milled from aluminium foam. The material consists of 90 per cent air (formed by injecting gassing agents into the metal while it is in a molten state), meaning it is extremely lightweight. The shoes aim to convey a similar sense of weightlessness, akin to that of a meteorite floating in space.

Studio Swine (Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers) was formed in 2011 by Royal College of Art graduates Alexander Groves and Azusa Murakami. The studio is itinerant, having exhibited in and worked from countries across Europe, the Americas and Asia. “We really love exploration and adventure so constantly our references are polar explorers and things like that. The landing is, in a way, the polar exploration of our age,” says Groves explaining how the landing of the Philae probe on Comet 67P motivated the project.

The Meteorite Shoes were developed for Microsoft, in promotion of the brand’s Pro 3 tablet computer. Although the brief was left open, Microsoft commissioned the project as a technologic exercise; the only constraint was that Studio Swine had to use a Pro 3 tablet to develop the project and thereby demonstrating its capabilities. As a result, the project saw Studio Swine experiment with various technologies – using 3D scanning to replicate the shape of existing meteorites and CNC milling to shape the aluminium foam – combining these with more traditional shoe-making methods.

Working with Microsoft signalled a change in Studio Swine’s usual working practice. Groves and Murakami’s practice has, to date, been driven by working with found materials (discarded Coke cans; Pacific garbage; human hair) and the vernacular design of the countries they visit. By contrast, Microsoft is a high-technology, multinational corporation. “That was one of the most appealing things,” says Groves. “It was, in a way, a really odd couple. We enjoy doing lots of different things and being awkward to pigeonhole so it was something that we wouldn’t have expected. That’s what makes it fun.”

Research for the shoes began in the vaults of the Natural History Museum in London, an institution which holds around 2,000 meteorites. Working closely with various geologists to create the shoes, Studio Swine based their final design on a meteorite found by the Natural History Museum in the Arctic.

“Essentially what is so interesting about their shape is that it is being made through what they call ‘ablation’, which is the process that happens when they enter our atmosphere,” says Groves. “The way the metal melts, it forms pores that give it this amazing shape. They are very special for that reason and that’s one of the reasons they can identify them as non-terrestrial. No rock on earth is really formed in the same way.”

Replicating such an aesthetic led Studio Swine to work with aluminium foam, a material the studio has previously used in Metallic Geology, a collection of cabinets created for Shanghai’s Pearl Lam Gallery. The material is typic used for acoustic insulation in the construction and automotive industries.

“For me, aluminium foam is a great example of merging heavy industry and a natural process,” says Groves. “What I love about it is when you look at it, all the bubbles are totally irregular. It's essentially how pumice is made. Pumice is made in a volcano and when the rock is in its molten state it has gassing agents go through it and then it fixes in that shape. That is what happens with aluminium foam. When it is in a molten metal shape gassing agents are sent through it and it makes a foam.

“For us, it is an indication of where industry can go. Basically mimicking nature to make a very surprising and beautiful material. You can’t control how it foams so you suddenly get holes in a block where it has made one big bubble. It’s beautiful. It is the weirdness of having a metal with those properties – it can float because it is so light. There is something a bit unearthly about this sloping metal which appeals to us with the notion of it coming from out of space.”

The contradictory nature of aluminium foam seems to pervade the entire Meteorite Shoes project. They’re shoes made from a floating metal; objects designed between traditional cordwaining and digital manufacture; a project by a vernacular, objets-trouvés driven studio, working in collaboration with one of the world’s largest corporations.

“That's what I love about our work, we really explore our curiosities,” says Groves. “I now know where the weight of a woman’s foot goes when she’s wearing heels but also about what happens when rocks comes into our atmosphere.”