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Ellen Sampson

PhD Work


This research explores our relationship with and attachment to shoes. Focusing upon the shoe as an everyday object, it explores the ways that the worn shoe may act upon us, examining how garments and people may become entwined. It suggests that our particular attachment to footwear is located in our intimate and tactile relationship to it; that attachment is created through touch and wear. Through use and wear shoes become, both a record of the wearer’s lived experience, and also an extended part of themselves - a distributed aspect of the self.


The manifestations of this attachment are apparent in the ways that a garment wears: the creases, folds and scuffs, which are the inevitable outcomes of use.  Gesture is preserved within the garment – even when our bodies are gone traces of motion remain. These marks form a web, a map of experience. The worn garment is a repository of experience, a container of trace.


Through an iterative process of making, wearing, and recording, these works make apparent the intimacies of our relationship with shoes.  Rather than record the narratives which we apply to footwear, they highlight the material traces of the relationships embodied within the artefacts themselves. The shoes here are not footwear in a conventional sense but are, instead, objects designed to amplify and make explicit their role as records of gesture and experience.  These empty shoes are records of an absent performances, of gestures which are lost to the viewer so that only their traces, the marks upon the shoe, remain.


  • PhD


    School of Design


    Fashion Womenswear, 2012–2016

  • Ellen Sampson is an artist, writer and curator. Using film, photography and installation, her work explores the relationships between bodily experience, memory and artefacts.  She addresses the  ways that material objects can become records of lived experience and how these traces of these experiences can be read or understood by the viewer. Exploring the resonance of worn and used artefacts, she seeks to uncover how attachment is produced and maintained - the way that an object which is worn or held close to the body can become incorporated into the self.
  • Degrees

  • BTEC Foundation Studies, Norwich School of Art; BSc Anthropology, UCL, 2003; MA, Footwear, London College of Fashion , 2009
  • Exhibitions

  • Worn (Solo Show) , Upper Gulbenkian, Royal College of Art, London, 2016; Dialogue (Solo Show) , Greyfriars Gallery, Kings Lynn, 2015; Palimpsests (Solo Show) NMAG, Northampton 2014; MOBA Fashion Biennale , Arnhem, 2013; Fashion Clash, Maastricht, 2013; Absences, Mall Galleries London, 2009
  • Conferences

  • Inside/Outside: The Shoe as Interior Object, Fashion Spaces: FRN Symposium, RCA, June 2013 ; Fashioning the Dancers Body, International Historical Research Conference, IHR, July 2015 . London; The Cleaved Garment; addressing the me and not me of fashion thinking, Fashion Thinking Conference Kolding Design School, October 2014; Out of the Archive: Shoes away from the Museum Displaying Shoes, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, October 2013; Telling tales: Using Shoes in Narrative Display, National Trust Study Day, October 2013; The Shoe as Palimpsest The World at your Feet Conference Northampton University, February 2013; Footwear And the Body: Memory and Embodied Experience, Fashion Tales, UnniCat, Milan July 2012
  • Publications

  • Shoes: An Illustrated History, Shawcross, R (2015) Book Review in Catwalk Journal Vol. 50 Issue 1; Dancing Desire and Death: Footwear in fairy-tale in Hill, C (2015) Fairy-tale Fashion, Yale, Yale; Nostalgia and the Worn Shoe in Reponen,J (Ed) (2013) Address Issue 2: Journal of Fashion Writing and Criticism, London: Address Publications. ; The Shoe as Palimpsest in The World at your Feet, Seddon, J & Shawcross R (Publication pending) London, Bloomsbury; Shoes Pleasure and Pain Exhibition Review in: Reponen, J (Ed) (2015) Address Issue 3: Journal of Fashion Writing and Criticism, London: Address Publications. ; Shoes Pleasure and Pain, (Perrson, H, 2015) Book Review in Costume Journal Vol. 50 Issue 1