Karen Kedmey
Dec 29, 2014 1:15AM

There is a crush of high-heeled shoes in vitrines at the Brooklyn Museum right now, and lots of visitors in sensible footwear navigating these displays. They compose the museum's exhibition, Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe, which I visited for some easy viewing pleasure and came away from with a deliciously absurd video piece stuck in my head.

Untitled, and commissioned by the museum especially for the exhibition, the video is by Steven Klein. It features three vignettes, each one a self-contained and only partially told narrative, and each centered upon a distinct pair of high-heeled shoes and the thing they come into contact with--always fiercely. In one vignette, the frame is filled with a woman's disembodied legs and feet, shod in sharply pointed, lipstick-red stilettos. These appear on the hood of a crimson colored car, on which she seems to be throwing a tantrum of sorts, as she runs her heels incessantly up and down, scratching the living hell out of it. With its lush colors, cinematic lighting, and humorous scenario, this scene could almost be mistaken for eye-candy. But it's too dark and unsettling for that designation. It has undercurrents of violence and deviance, and leaves open a question with potentially disturbing answers: what is going on outside of the frame to cause this woman to behave in this way?

This brings to mind another video, Mechanical Shoes (2009), by mixed-media artist Julia Elsas, which was not included in Killer Heels, but could/should have been. It also centers upon a woman's disembodied feet, shod, in this case, in more sensible heels, off-white in color and appropriate for work. These appear on a thick, 70s-era carpet. Toes together, slowly, deliberately, the left foot traces small circles against the side of the right foot, causing a subtly excruciating squeaking sound. The squeaking highlights the motion of the foot, a coquettish come-on turned stilted and mechanical. Here is flirtation up close and uncomfortable, broken down into its parts, seen in slower motion. And a normally subtle gesture is isolated and amplified to the point of displeasure, from which it is hard to turn away.

Karen Kedmey