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Internationally renowned design bible Wallpaper* is collaborating with fitness experts Reebok to curate the works of five leading artists. Innovative fitness design including Reebok’s ZigTech running shoe intersects with the artists’ creative visions.
Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief Tony Chambers, who awarded the ZigTech shoe a coveted prize at its annual Design Awards declared, “Reebok’s Zig Tech running shoe is an iconic piece of modern design. We were interested to collaborate with Reebok on this project because of the brand’s vision and commitment to innovative fitness and training design and technologies.”
Spanish modernist architects A-Cero, iconoclastic French artist Ora Ito, UK film production house Partizan, Italian designer Fabio Novembre, and German founder of SolarLab Research & Design Christoph Behling were handpicked to fuse Reebok’s design DNA with their own creative visions. The creative process has been documented in Design Diaries by Dutch filmmaker Lize Korpershoek, and the final works will be displayed for the very first time at the Wallpaper* x Reebok pop-up exhibition at the Great Room in London on July 28.
Spanish architects A-Cero, known for their distinctive modernist residential and office designs, transformed Reebok’s Easytone shoe into a sculptural piece. Part artwork, part display stand, it shows off the shoe from all angles and points of views. The wooden sculpture is covered in matt rubber paint in order to mimic the sole of the trainer (the practice initially hoped to use a rubber-type material to create the entire sculpture, but found that the industrial process required wasn’t available) and comprises curvilinear layers that aim to reflect the comfort of the Easytone’s air cushions. The size and portability of the lightweight piece also aims to make it easily transported to different settings, from shop windows to galleries. ‘We tried to capture the flexibility of the shoe in something solid and take into account the shapes created by the impact of the shoe on the ground while running,’ explains Pablo Puertas Ocio, A-Cero’s international director. ‘The idea came very quickly – not because we’re all keen runners, but because shoes are inherently sculptural.’
Product designer Christoph Behling works in two very different fields: solar energy for his own SolarLab studio, and watch design for TAG Heuer. Inspired by Reebok’s ZigTech, he has sought to combine both in his idea for a futuristic running experience. Captured in computer animation, the experience is defined by a floating, 300m-long ‘solar’ running track on which we see a runner kitted out in conceptual products. Central to these is the use of the piezoelectric effect – a two-way system by which mechanical energy can be converted in electricity and vice versa – to create a suspension that would take the impact of a running shoe on the ground to create energy. This could then be used to power an intelligent suspension, dubbed the Reecharge PS, which would constantly adjusts the stiffness of the sole at 12 pressure points to suit the athlete’s running style or health needs. This could also be adjusted using a digital stopwatch-type device. ‘It is, admittedly, not an idea you could put into shoes for £60. While the technology exists, the micro-engines we’re suggesting do not,’ says Behling. ‘But the question is more about how the cells that use the piezoelectric effect could be produced on an industrial scale. Our solar and watch work means we like the idea that even small items should be more and more autonomous in their energy needs.’
While impressed by the science of the ZigTech sole, Italian designer Fabio Novembre was more taken by its form, using this as his starting point for the creation of his life-size black horse sculpture. Made of soft polyurethane sprayed, using a new technique, with hard polyurethane, it is light enough to be lifted by two people. The perfecting of equine forms has proven a pivotal moment in art history, but ‘movement and power has also long been connected to the horse – we still speak of horsepower even in relation to motorbikes and cars,’ Novembre says. ‘So the horse became a strong motif for me.’ The resulting artwork was, for the designer, also about the process and power of abstraction. Just as, he reckons, the designers of the ZigTech tried to abstract a sense of movement in the final form of the shoe’s sole (quite aside from any performance benefit it brings), so he has sought to do so with idea of the horse, through the use of a wave form. ‘Waves, of course, suggest the transmission of energy, through water, as sound and light,’ Novembre adds. ‘In fact, the literal translation of the Italian for a sea wave is “big horse”. That’s only just occurred to me.’
Alex Griffin and Richard Pearce of London design firm Partizan have taken the undulating form of the ZigTech sole and sought to give visual expression to the transfer of energy they see it as embodying. The duo’s concept is an installation comprising a series of strands stretched across the Adidas showcase area, each of which is attached to a number of small fans that can give the strand a physical pulse. In its passive state, the strands show a simple, gentle wave. A thermal camera captures the movement of any individual below the strands and enhances the ‘wind’ applied to them, with each strand responding individually if more than one person at the time moves through the installation. The strands are, in addition, lit from above, so wave formations are echoed in shadows on the floor. ‘The noise of the fans add a sense of reeds blowing in the wind, to create an ambience that is more natural than mechanical, which perhaps suggests the sensations experienced when running outdoors,’ explains Griffin. ‘And when we spend so much time in galleries looking at static objects, the interactivity can provoke a different reaction – some people will be right in there and want to take part, while others will want to stand back and watch. The installation aims to provide the unexpected and playful.’
For Ito Morabito of French design company Ora-Ïto, the most interesting feature of Reebok’s RealFlex shoe – and indeed, of any shoe – is its sole: ‘The sole is the most beautiful part of a trainer,’ he says. ‘It’s there that the sense of movement and the graphic power is found. It’s like a landscape.’ Morabito’s pop art-inspired bas-relief artwork is a ‘sculpture painting’ that echoes the 76 independent ‘sensors’ on the sole of the RealFlex. The piece is made of LG Hausys’ Hi-Macs, a stone-like bauxite-acrylic solid surface material akin to Corian, chosen for its ability to offer one unbroken, seamless sheet for the three-metre wide work, and with the strength to take its considerable weight. ‘My style is more classic now, but I still have my trainer collection – and I’d love to do the soles of all the iconic sneakers this way,’ says Morabito.