We remove our shoes, perhaps, when we stand on sacred ground. It is a sign of respect, of humbling oneself before a higher power. We submit. Unto You. Oh Lord. They are gently pulled off for us as we are eased into a hospital bed. Won’t need them in here. We’ll finger off our shoes to walk more easily on the softer sand of a beach in summer. It would be unpleasant otherwise. The sand would get in. We take off our shoes when we come in from the outside. Why don’t you put your feet up?
I have been collecting images of bare feet in airport security lines for an ongoing photo installation project. En masse, the images imply a sort of fetishism and humour, but also point to subtle, but strategic impositions on human dignity in public spaces. Isolated, they are faceless portraits of people held in between; reflections on the postures of waiting.
I am a white American girl sitting in an airport wheelchair waiting my turn to go through security at JFK in New York. I can’t stand up without fainting, but I still have to go through the motions. I take off my shoes, the man whose job it is to push me places them in the bin on my behalf. Then he takes off his shoes and puts them into a separate bin. We are in place.
I scan down the narrow passage and see the lines of shoeless feet in waiting. A middle-aged Jewish woman in a skirt and tights stands partially on tiptoes, rocking to the left to see how long the wait is. A teenage blonde girl with dirty white socks points her toes inwards. A couple of people still behind stanchions stand expectantly, shoes already removed in order to expedite the process. I am surprised to see how many people aren’t even wearing socks. Didn’t they know they’d be exposed like this?
They ask me to get up so they can scan and pat down my chair for drugs. I have to walk through the x-ray machine unassisted. The wheelchair attendant meets me on the other side, and we wordlessly put our shoes back on. We all know what we are supposed to do.
Later, I see a man pontificating nonsense on the subway. His legs are splayed out in an upside-down Y, claiming both an entire bench as well as half of the width of the car. His feet are bare. I notice that the foot stiffly kinked towards me has only four toes. They are all smashed in towards the primary mass of his foot so that they no longer appeared to have joints. Nails are visible: yellow, crystalized grit agitating from each rounded stub. You have to earn feet like that, I think. They’ve been outside.
Lizzy De Vita is an artist, writer and educator who lives and works in Brooklyn. De Vita’s work occupies a constellation of mediums, including performance, text, sound, drawing, installation, video and sculpture.