Bioplastic shoes and the beginning of a PhD

I have previously explored bioplastic as a material within my work and because of the biodegradability of it as a material it became an interesting material for the exploration of unidentified human remains. Gelatine is a biopolymer that is typically a waste product from the food industry. When mixed with glycerine it produces a fairly robust clear, sheet material. Gelatine is bodily, it is made from pig collagen sourced from skin, bone and connective tissue. Gelatine as a product also directly references forensics because pigs are used in the UK to train cadaver dogs because they are the closest animal proxy to the human body.

Gelatine Bioplastic is transparent, ephemeral and malleable, and easily made in a home kitchen. Because of its transparency it has a ghostly appearance, a physical embodiment of what is missing, barely there. Bioplastic is biodegradable, slowly breaking down just as our bodies would and becoming part of the immediate surroundings, and like us it is made predominantly of water that slowly evaporates as it dries. Evaporation is also ghostly; moisture is held in the air as it evaporates but remains unseen. These references to the unseen also directly evidence the unseen in society – the lonely, the homeless or outsiders as many unidentified people inevitably are.

With some experimentation I have developed a way of making clothes and shoes from gelatine bioplastic. Clothing and shoes represent the people who once owned them. We choose what to wear each day, to both fit in or stand out, these are conscious decisions that define us and determine how we are perceived to others. These items are also used to help with the identification of an individual. As previously mentioned, belongings and items of clothing are listed within the entries on the missing persons database. Clothes are often kept after the death of a loved one, ‘as a point of material contact with the body of a once living person. They thus provide a means by which memories of that living body can be generated.’ (Hallam and Hockey, 2001) Clothes and shoes are vessels or containers, a reliquary that remind us who they belonged to and ‘is so ‘potent’ because it exists as material that is both familiar and other: it is a materialized extension of the embodied person and the material mark of their death.’ (Hallam and Hockey, 2001)                                                      

Shoes particularly explore transience or movement from one place to another, from one city to another, from life to afterlife, from existence to no longer existing. The saying ‘If the shoe fits’ refers to something being the truth about someone and of course Cinderella was identified because of a shoe!

Hallam, E. and Hockey, J. L. (2001) Death, memory, and material culture. Death, memory & material culture Oxford: Berg.