Nike & Rhizomatiks: Interview
Without doubt, one of the hightlights of Nike's current Feel London festival is the mesmerising kinetic installation Trace, created by Japanese collective Rhizomatiks. As well as experiencing the installation first-hand (it's a little addictive), Art & Sole got the chance to interview Seiichi Saito from Rhizomatics and find out a little more about the concept behind the work...
Can you tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from and what you do?
Founded in 2006, Rhizomatiks consists of an eclectic mix of creators, ranging from architects, media artists, musicians and programmers. I’m originally from Yokohama and my background is in architecture. I studied Architecture at University then again at Columbia University graduate school in New York. So I started out in that field but it’s not what I ended up doing.
What is your relationship with the sneaker industry, are you a sneaker wearer/collector?
Yeah I wear sneakers a lot and I’m a big fan of sneaker culture. I’m not a big collector but as Rhizomatiks we are always really interested in the technology behind something. Especially with Nike shoes, they have a strong relationship with technology so I’m interested in that kind of sneaker. I think all creative people are really big fans of Nike because of their creativity.
We loved the Nike Music Shoe project you created previously (and the face/building twist you put on it), how has this latest project progressed the work you’ve done with Nike so far?
We’ve actually been doing a lot of projects for Nike. The last project we did was for Nike Japan and for that we created the world’s largest turntables. We created two turntables and one mixer, but the size was almost five meters by six meters (for one of the turntables) so people could actually lay on them.
There is also an interactive element to the project you've created for ‘Feel London’. Can you explain a little behind the concept, and how the installation actually works?
Yeah, it’s a lot more interactive. What we do in our work is normally interactive. With Trace (the name of the installation) there are floor sensors (based around Nintendo Wii balance board technology) which track the body’s axis - monitoring the participant’s balance. We then drop ping-pong balls according how accurately the participant can control their balance, and we also shoot a photograph on a long exposure so that we can show the trace made by the balls - and the participant can then download the photo (see Art & Sole's effort bottom).
The brief was largely about feeling in terms of the creative aspect, so we started with the word ‘feeling’ and began thinking about how we could express the word using technology and the concept of an art installation. We had a lot of ideas. We would usually do something with LED or lasers, but this time we wanted to challenge ourselves with something more physical. We were really interested in how the human body acted, so we experimented with the Wii Fit game from Nintendo, but trying to keep things centered and controlled. However, it’s difficult to keep your body active and centered at the same time, so I became more interested in the unconscious state of our own bodies.
For this installation, participants actually step onto the balance board so we can see how good their balance is. We then ask the participant to draw a circle (on an interface in front of them) using only their balance. How well they balance then relates to how many ping-pong balls are dropped - so the balls are expressing and visualising the active movements of the body.
Trace is inspired by the new Nike Free Hyperfeel shoe – What was it about the shoes that gave you inspiration for the project?
I’ve been wearing the Nike Free Hyperfeel a lot. The shoe mimics the natural motion of the foot, so with the installation we've created it’s pretty hard to control if you’re wearing a standard sneaker, but with the Free Hyperfeel you can keep your body easily controlled - it allows the foot to get closer to the ground, giving you heightened feeling. We were amazed by the technology behind the Free Hyperfeel and also the weaving process and how that defines the sole and pattern of the shoe. With this in mind, we also tried to make a bridge between technology and the physicality of dropping the ping-pong balls. It’s something really analog in a way, but we tried to make the concept of Hyperfeel the same as our artwork Trace.
Finally, why do you think there is such a strong relationship between art and sneakers?
I think that’s a good question. I actually think the generic partnership is becoming weaker. Something that people can actually try on, something they can actually touch, that’s stronger in terms of a partnership. With the sneaker industry, interactive art has a lot of potential because you can feel it, but with graphics you can’t. Interactive art is going to help the sneaker industry to make people really feel things. I think, as an advertisement, that will work better than watching a film or seeing a graphic.
Thanks again to Rhizomatiks for taking the time to speak to us. The Trace installation can be seen now at the Nike Feel London festival, held at Nike's 1948 space in East London
Arches 477 – 478