The shoe fits for ‘wearable sculptures’ artist

Arianne Pollet-Brannen exhibiting at the MSVU Art Gallery until December

Arianne Pollet-Brannen turns shoes into outfits and creates a form of art that she calls “wearable sculptures”. She recycles shoes and turns what many might consider garbage into aesthetically pleasing works of art.

Pollet-Brannen graduated from NSCAD in 2009 and won the Governor General’s Silver Medal for academic excellence.  Her works have appeared in group exhibitions throughout Nova Scotia and in ‘wearable art’ fashion shows. The most recent ‘wearable art’ show took place in 2011 and Pollet-Brannen had her performers tell a story through the costumes that was based on the play Ordo Virtutum by Hildegard of Bingen. She had her performers depict the roles of these characters: the devil, the soul, the first virtue, the second virtue and the third virtue.

Here are some photos from that show:

She has also designed costumes for opera, film and theatrical productions including Vonda de Ville. She was born and raised in Belgium but Halifax has been her home for more than 20 years and she now has her own studio in the north end. All her works have now come together and are being presented at her exhibit entitled ‘FLESH’ at the Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery.

It all began with an anatomy drawing class that she took during her years of study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University and ever since then Pollet-Brannen has dedicated four years to this innovative art.

Susan Wolf, Pollet-Brannen’s friend and the program coordinator at MSVU Art Gallery, has known the artist since their classes at NSCAD and has seen Pollet-Brannen’s art change over the years.

“Seeing both the quantity and quality of craftsmanship in her work now and how it’s developed is pretty mind-boggling,” said Wolf.

“In anatomy class, my professor had us study feet. So I was looking at stories about foot binding. I’d see x-rays of these women’s feet. It was so disturbing. It was fuel for thought and because of these feet I found it natural to look at shoes and so from one thing came another. I began taking them apart and turning them into another garment,” said Pollet-Brannen.

Dresses, skirts, blouses and hats made of all kinds of shoes of every material imaginable covered mannequins (or as artists call them: forms) that stood or lounged on the floor in various poses giving the illusion that they were interacting with each other at a fancy party.

“We wanted to create an almost uncomfortable space where people have to weave between the works, touch them and bump into them and really interact with the art. They are made of used shoes and people wear them at art shows—so it isn’t precious and people can touch them,” said Pollet-Brannen.

Alex Livingston, a professor in painting at NSCAD, was taking his fourth-year studio group on a tour of Pollet-Brannen’s exhibit.

“I enjoyed coming here with my students and looking at the works and this is a great opportunity for people to encounter looking at fashion in different manners and thinking of sculpture as fashion,” said Livingston.

Pieces of leather, chicken wire, swede, cotton fabric, rubber and other materials were sewn together creating myriad of colours and textures. The time, dedication and love that was painstakingly put into every stitch can be seen and felt in every inch of each piece.

“I really try to use every part of the shoe — even the nails, the threads, the soles and the shoelaces. And then I take it apart by the seams and weave different shoes together to create a balancing act of attributes that are stark, cold and heavy contrasted against a lighter and more cheerful feel,” said the artist.

The artist works on several “wearable sculptures” at a time and switches from one to the next. It often takes at least a month for a piece to come to completion and sometimes she continues to add things afterwards so the pieces continue to transform over time.

When asked about how she starts the process, Pollet-Brannen said, “I used to sketch but I find it puts myself in a corner and doesn’t allow me to go wild about it and be inspired so I don’t usually sketch it out first. I begin with my dress form and start putting the materials together and seeing what fits and what shoe pieces look good together.”

Pollet-Brannen receives most of the shoes from friends and family who are willing to part with them or from others in the community who donate their used shoes because they’d rather see them recycled into art then put in the trash. Pollet-Brannen encourages anyone who would like to be a part of her art and donate their shoes to email her. 

“It makes me so happy when people come in and say ‘oh I wonder where my shoes are!’ and then they are so excited to find them within one of the pieces,” said Pollet-Brannen.

Pollet-Brannen says that in terms of immediate influence, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam is her biggest inspiration. MacAdam was Pollet-Brannen’s professor at NSCAD for a course entitled Fiber, Fabric, Fashion and she is a well-known local artist whose work can be viewed on her website.

“She would have us do exercises and help us to think past fabric and think past traditional ways of dressing. One of the exercises we had to think of 15 different ways of using a three meter piece of fabric as clothing—and we weren’t allowed to sew. She would say ‘Don’t even get precious about it, just do it, take a photo and move on to the next’,” said Pollet-Brannen.

The exhibit runs from Nov. 2 until Dec. 15 at MSVU Art Gallery. Pollet-Brannen is also offering two free workshops that will take place at the gallery. On Nov. 16 she will be demonstrating the art of leather rose making and on Nov. 23 she will be teaching costume collage. Both workshops are limited to 10 participants each and those who wish to sign up can do so by emailing Susan Wolf (the program coordinator).





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