Inspired Ingenuity & Alex Nash

Intercity recently commissioned sneaker customiser Alex Nash (aka NashMoney) to create a piece of artwork as part of the Inspired Ingenuity project.

As we’ve mentioned previously, the project revolves around a competition that Havana Club are running based on the theme of ‘Inspired Ingenuity’; a reference to the spirit of the people of Havana, who pride themselves on their ability to create what they need from what they have. The competition is taking place over the first six months of 2011, challenging artists, musicians and other creative talents to takes the everyday and turn it into something special. A winner will be picked each month, and the final winner will win a trip to Cuba.

To help promote the competition, Intercity commissioned three artists to create a piece of work that takes the everyday and turns it into something special – and as we see sneaker customisation as its own form of Inspired Ingenuity, Nash was an obvious choice as one of those artists.

We first met Nash back in 2006 when he was working on a ‘live’ custom sneaker project at the Nike Festival of Air in London. Experimenting with construction and deconstruction (rather than simply adding painted patterns or colourways), Nash prefers to think of his customs more as ‘handiwork hybrids’ – a reference to to the fact that he disassembles shoes for a better understanding of how they're made and, in some cases, how they can be bettered. His many custom projects have led to a Barcelona-based solo show in association with Trust Nobody, and a prestigious place in the 'Fashion v Sports' exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 2009, after his custom projects had strived to generate effects that look factory-made, Nash’s first official shoe collaborations became a reality with projects for both DC Shoes and Lacoste.

Always thinking of new ways to use his craft, the most dramatic example of Nash's hybrid handiwork has to be the creation of bike seat using a Nike Free Trail 5.0 shoe - a project that confirmed to us he was the right choice for the Inspired Ingenuity project. The brief we gave him, as with the competition itself, was to take the everyday and turn it into something special. His answer was to transform a pair of all-white Nike Air Force 1’s into a fully functional set of 'Sneaker Speakers'. Here we ask Nash all about his view of the project, and the lengthy process involved in the creation of the piece:

When we first approached you about the Inspired Ingenuity project, you instantly mentioned the sneaker speaker idea. Is it something you already had at the back of your mind?
Yes, I’d had this idea drawn in my journal for about three years now, one of loads of ideas that I've not got around to making. So when you guys got in touch with me to do Inspired Ingenuity, that was the first thing that came to mind.

Why did you choose the Nike Air Force 1 as your starting point - was it the outsole?
Yes, the outsole was one of the main reasons as it has such a flat sole to sink the speaker cone level against. The fact that the Air Force 1 is probably one of the worlds most recognisable and iconic sneakers was a plus. 

We know you've put a huge amount of work into the project, can you tell us a little about the process involved in making the speakers?
Initially when I thought about this project and its construction I didn't anticipate how much work would be involved. Here is a list of what had to be done:

1. Dismantle the amp and speakers
2. Meticulously take apart the control panel, switches, nodules and input sockets (checking at each stage to make sure things still worked - and solving any problems)
3. Mark on the sneakers where I was going to cut out the holes for the speaker cones, and then very carefully cut out using a scalpel
4. Gut the inside of the sole unit to fit the amp and mark the outside of the midsole to fit all the volume controls and LED (again making sure all was still working)
5. Mark and cut out the holes for the on/off switch and the audio input/output sockets
6. Design the wooden stands, cut them out, sand, clean, varnish and assemble them
7. Attach the sneakers and run the power cables through the stands
8. Fit the speakers and rig all the wires with a soldering iron and heat seal shrink rubber tubing (of which there were about 30 soldered joints)
9. Make bespoke phono cables, as standard cables are just black
10. Add a small plaque, depicting what does what on the sneaker control panel

This is a simplified list of what had to be done, and when each process is new to you (combined with the fact there is no room for error), you have to take each step very slowly and carefully.

You’re known for deconstructing and then rebuilding sneakers in your custom projects, but have you ever done anything on this level before?
No, I can honestly say I've not worked on a sneaker for it to be anything but a sneaker. I’ve always had to tackle problems and learn new skills or techniques with most of my customs/designs, but I never thought electronics and carpentry would be one of them. Hopefully you'll see more of it in the future…

What was the most difficult part of the build?
I guess the gutting of the sneaker - these things are bloody well put together. I never would have thought I would complain about how hard it was for a sneaker to come apart. Also, fitting in the amp was quite hard, delicate and time consuming.

The electronics look complicated - did you know what you were doing?
I didn't have a clue, but it’s not like I was building a rocket to orbit Jupiter. I'd not really worked with electrics before so I just made meticulous notes as to what wire went where, constantly tested the speakers at each step, and then made sure that each join was soldered together firmly. 

In terms of the Inspired Ingenuity project, can you relate to the people of Havana, who create what they need from what they have? We definitely see sneaker customisation as a form of Inspired Ingenuity
I guess I can relate to some extent, as I don't have many emanates at my disposal to develop the ideas that I visualise - I mostly have to make do with what I have to hand. On the other side of the spectrum I make things for pleasure, things that are more of a luxury than a necessity. I can't really relate to doing it all of the time for everyday items, or for things we take for granted as part of a way of life.

Finally, what was the first track you played through the speakers?
Hustlin’ by Rick Ross

Thanks to Nash for his Inspired Ingenuity. For more information on the Havana Club competition, click hereFollow Nash on Twitter @nashmoney