Avant-garde international award winning footwear designer Benjamin John Hall is bringing back his newest work to London.
Laboratory 12 is an experimental seven-piece collection of highly functional footwear involving 3-D printed components and embedded technology combined with artisanal shoemaking. With the help of his collaborators, Nanda Khaorapapong, Richard Beckett and Martyn Carter, from the fields of wearable computing, material science and 3-D printing, the shoes are operated wirelessly from afar to perform tasks such as detecting radiation, recording sound, releasing a gas and even remote ignition. The technology is covert and skilfully embedded inside each of the shoe’s designs, resulting in a complex yet seamless marriage of hand-made shoemaking and advanced technologies.
How far should or would our government go to secure its best interests?
Laboratory 12 takes its name from the secret poison laboratory of the KGB and was inspired primarily by the high profile assassination of Alexander Livinenko, who in 2006 was poisoned with the radioactive material Polonium. This led to the question: How far should or would our government go to secure its best interests?
‘We did deeper analysis of covert operational techniques used by security services to manipulate and control certain individuals. Many of the shoes were inspired by or reference these techniques,’ shared with us Hall.
Each of the seven pairs of shoes highlights a specific notion or concept unearthed through extensive research into documented tactics used by various security agencies worldwide. For example, the Zersetzung platform sandals house a mechanism that can be activated by sending a text message to a defined phone number: the letter ‘x’ sets off an atomiser emanating a negative smell. The shoes’ function is intended to disconcert the wearer, who, unaware of the origin of smell, over time would become more self-conscious, prompting more restrained behaviour and a reduction in confidence.
Another pair, the Japanese Geiger getas and a matching make-up case, allows the wearer to detect radiation in their immediate environment. Controlled by a monitoring system within the platform of the shoe, the strap vibrates to alert the wearer of any radiation pulse it detects. Concurrently, the amount of radiation is continually updated on a wireless LED display embedded in the make-up case, allowing the wearer to discreetly check contamination levels and act accordingly.
Commenting on the technologies used to develop the collection, Hall shared ‘this is not the first time I've combined fashion and technology, although these shoes are be far the most complex I have worked on. They were entirely designed, developed and built from scratch with my collaborators from UCL and Queen Mary's. They're not speculative, they're 100% fully operational.’
By interrogating the possibilities of how far governments are prepared to go to maintain a balance of power through bending international laws and manipulating the media, the work draws attention to the precariousness of contemporary world politics.
Laboratory 12 is currently on display at YKK showroom in Shoreditch until 15th October 2016.