When you think about sneakers, there’s a certain pantheon that includes classics that have stood the test of time. One such sneaker is the Nike Air Force 1, a basketball shoe that’s successfully made the transition from the court to the street in its 35-year history (can you believe it’s been around for that long?!), known for its crisp white image you can spot from ten million blocks away.
That iconic white has also become the perfect canvas for artists, and for some time now, Nike has encouraged them to make use of the clean leather upper and rubber sole to express themselves. And to tie in with Nike Battle Force, a celebration of Manila’s basketball culture, Nike launched the Blank Canvas Collective — a curated group of artists including Kayo Cosio, Lari Gazmen, Jade Suayan, and Quiccs — to reimagine the AF-1 with their own artistic interpretation.
Flying high: Kayo Cosio, Nike Philippines country marketing manager Jino Ferrer, Jade Suayan, and Lari Gazmen
For this body of work, which was exhibited at Commonwealth in Power Plant Mall, the four artists were tasked with looking to the future: what does the next 35 years look like? To answer this question, the Collective explored three themes: equality, ecology, and beauty. Kayo (pronounced like “K.O.”) — who also produced the exhibit — created an installation of AF-1s in different stages of deconstruction cascading from the ceiling, and then mapped a projection on the shoes to give it his own spin. Lari painted on the shoe, using a flower called the Columbine — which means “dove” in Latin, while its genus name Aquilegia is Latin for “eagle” — to illustrate how women can be both gracious and courageous. Jade also painted on the shoe, drawing a toy gun (which has recently become part of her signature as an artist) to comment on a woman’s choice of what kind of fun she has. Last but not the least, Quiccs recreated his signature TEQ toy scaled to a giant five-and-a-half-foot statue, this time sporting a blank pair of AF-1s, ready to be customized.
Young STAR sat down with Kayo, Lari, and Jade at the exhibit’s launch last Nov. 16 and talked about their process for this work, their signature, and working together as a new group.
Welcome to the Matrix: Kayo Cosio’s installation made use of projection mapping and several pairs of Nike Air Force 1s.
YOUNG STAR: How did you guys all meet? Have you worked together before?
KAYO COSIO: I think none of the members of the collective has worked with each other before… (Part of) my goals — it wasn’t given by Nike or anything — was that I wanted to have a work that was completely fresh, and in order to do that, we needed to start with a blank canvas, with a clean slate. How do you make the project more interesting, how do you have a dialogue? And how do you make something like having a bunch of people in a room together for the first time, kind of force each other to do better art, you know what I mean?
How did you guys decide on the theme for this exhibit?
Kayo: Coming up with the concept was relatively easy. Once Nike told us what their goals were, and what they wanted to achieve and how specifically they wanted to highlight female talent, it was just obvious that those (equality, ecology, and beauty) were the things we wanted to portray. It’s possible that an iconic design would last forever, would last another 35 years. With that in mind, what were the things that we would hope to affect change in? And for us, those main dialogues really came in environment and ecology; and because we’re all artists, there is constant pursuit for beauty on a day-to-day basis.
Guns blazing: Jade Suayan painted her signature toy gun, a commentary on a woman’s choice on what kind of fun she has.
Flower power: Lari Gazmen’s custom AF-1s were inspired by the Columbine flower.
Do you guys have a signature element that’s always present in your work?
JADE SUAYAN: ‘Yung toy gun. Actually, recent lang (siya naging signature). ‘Yung (interests) ko, puro banda, graffiti. ‘Yung mga kasama ko, puro lalaki. Ako lang ‘yung babae. Yung ginagawa ko kasi ngayon, para siyang nagle-leave ng mark mo. Parang dini-display mo kung sino ka.
LARI GAZMEN: I like using flowers to tell a story. For the flower that I used on the shoe, the Columbine, I wanted to tell the story of flight. Para matahi siya sa Air Force 1, ‘cause it’s named after a plane. The flower tells the story of two different birds, and how they can come together in one flower, and show the duality of humans, of a woman specifically.
Kayo: I do not have a signature element that I put into pieces, but there’s a reason. I have a philosophy of using the right tool for the right job. I don’t wanna lock it into a signature, because there are many movements and many things that can be said beyond just the set up. I do have massive respect for that style; it’s just not me. And I think that’s super important — as an artist, as a creator — (to have) self-awareness.
Follow the artists on Instagram at @kayocosio, @lalalaraine, @jadesuayan, and @quiccs.