Sixty-four squared ceramic tiles, each just over half a meter, are positioned side by side in a grid that forms a huge chessboard. chess: shoes is an installation created by Darren Bader, an American artist based in New York, first shown as part of his exhibition, such are promises, in a London gallery. Associations and references proposed by the artist through his sculptures and installations are complex and stratified, his works act as a means to explore surprise or absurd potential connections created between disparate and wide-ranging objects.

chess: shoes is one of the five variations of chess, a series of interactive games that take place within any indoor or outdoor space large enough to accommodate the installation, literally an enlarged walkable chessboard. In the series, plants, footwear, and speakers are just some of the objects that take on the role of classic pieces, king, queen, knight, bishop… letting the spectator play an unconventional and outside the rules chess game.

chess: shoes, one of the iterations in the series, offers unexpected characterizations of the classic pieces: pawns are represented by sporty and youthful Vans moccasins; instead of rooks there are sturdy Timberland boots; knights take the form of the most common and comfortable sneakers, the Asics; for bishops was chosen an elegant lace-up shoe with a triangular tip, which recalls the helmet of the figure itself; in the end, king and queen are respectively represented by a geta, a traditional Japanese sandal, and an elegant and feminine high-heeled sandal. All ‘chess shoes’ indeed, whether it’s the shape or the motif printed on the shoe’s canvas… Shoes can be moved with one’s hands, like an object that loses its function, precisely that of footwear, and becomes an instrument, a symbol, an allegory.

Interactive art has a central role in Bader’s practice: the spectators of the exhibition are not simple observers but are invited to participate by playing. In this offbeat chess game, the stake is not only victory, but also the progressive discovery of the complex web of connections created during the game. Each piece has a cultural baggage that distinguishes it from the others but, at the same time, they are all related to each other creating a new narrative, and the only way to read it is to dig deep and not stay on the surface.


Darren Bader, chess: shoes, dimensions variable
Installation view, Darren Bader, such are promises, Sadie Coles HQ, London, 2016
Credit: © Darren Bader, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.