The Red Shoe Delivery Service: From the Armory to the Land of Oz

by Francesca Granata

The Red Shoe Delivery Service is a Brooklyn-based art collective which was conceived in 2003 by M.K. Guth, a New York-based artist, along with Molly Dilworth (who, upon receiving her MFA from NYU, has been active in fashion and art) and Cris Moss (a video artist based in Portland, Oregon). Last spring, the group was stationed at the New York art trade event the Armory Show. There, using the Swiss Institute booth as a command center, they shuttled people to their destination of choice, but only after the riders donned a pair of glittery red shoes.I caught the final ride out of the Armory Show. In the midst of what resembled an enormous bazaar with a dazzling array of art objects for sale, it was refreshing to be presented with something which not only was not for sale, but was free. And as if to play a pun on the usual associations between art, fashion and commerce, the objects that were not for sale were sparkly red shoes. After having picked a pair of red boots from the RSDS's vast collection, I settled in with the other riders; after a few blocks, the van had transformed itself into a mini-salon. As I went home, I jotted down some questions for the members of the collective, who soon after were off to PICA, the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, where they continued their performative rides. You were mentioning how one of the intentions of the RSDS performance is to substantiate the very American mythology of Dorothy's travel from Kansas to Oz, and to combine useful service with a fantasy of instant transport from one place to the other. I found that in some way, there is something magical, as well as disorienting, in the way the RSDS constitutes a welcome disruption of people's routine. Would you agree with that? What kind of response do you get from the people who participate?

Absolutely. Making the choice to ride with RSDS is adding an absolutely unknown factor into someone's day. I believe it is one of those happenings that the person involved in spends the rest of their day telling other people about. For example, one of our riders from last summer--an older woman--asked to be dropped off a block before her destination. I assumed she was embarrassed --but when we asked her why, she said she wanted to tell her friends the story her own way. This way, the tale was hers alone for the telling. Another woman kept telling us that her experience with RSDS was a New York story. In general, people seem to revel in the fact that they are involved in an unusual occurrence, an unplanned adventure, one that not only disrupts their day, but also changes it in an unforeseen fashion.We have met a wide range of people. Some are into the project because of the art context, while others seem to engage with it on a nostalgic level, remembering their childhood and the movie The Wizard of Oz. And some are just happy for the ride. The RSDS van functions like a bar. In the van, we talk with the passengers about all sorts of things, from the project to their jobs, their dreams and aspirations. The topics are rarely the same. I suppose this is because each person's response and understanding of the project is different. For Molly, Cris and I, this is what keeps the project interesting.

As for the glittery red shoes, besides their obvious reference to The Wizard of Oz, they strike me as a more general throwback to a child-like fantasy to a dimension of play, especially when it comes to playing dress-up and choosing a pair. What struck me the most is how your choice of shoes for the performance doesn't limit itself to feminine ballerina slippers, which would be more literal to the movie. The shoes in themselves seem to combine utility with a sort of girlish magical playfulness. Could you talk a little bit about your choice of shoes and the process with which you apply the glitter to them?

Since RSDS travels the streets and picks up anyone willing to participate, I felt that the shoes needed to reflect a cornucopia of tastes. The shoes constructed for RSDS are, in a sense, stand-ins for the diverse participants involved in the project. Regardless of the rider's gender or taste, there should be a pair of shoes that would be to their liking. This is why I make so many and so many different types. As RSDS continues to pick up more passengers, I continue to make more shoes. We are currently at about a hundred different pairs and the number continues to grow. The shoes are constructed by painting them first in red rubber, then coating them with glitter, finally covering them in another coat of clear rubber. This way, they are sturdy and waterproof. So far, I have been buying cheap new shoes, but through the assistance of Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, we are trying to get donations from shoe company like Nike or Doc Martens.Moreover, the tradition of masquerade, costuming, and dress-up toys with our desire to be transformed into something else. RSDS engages in this desire. What if merely wearing a pair of fancy shoes gave you power? Would you not in some way be changed? It has been interesting that with a few exceptions, men are as willing as women to don a pair of sparkly red shoes. I believe one of the pleasures of participating with RSDS is to actually pick out your shoes. This gives the rider a sense of autonomy and individuality in the process.

One of the people you collaborate with is also a fashion designer. Have you thought of taking the performance from an art to a fashion realm?

Yes. Molly Dilworth-our driver and audio person-is both a painter and a fashion designer. Molly also designed our uniforms. As part of our participation in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's Time Based Art Festival in September, we created a mock shoe store in a space donated to us by one of the museum's board members. It was in the Pearl District-an area which has been converted from industrial to pretty fashionable. The space-a 3000 square foot room filled with 150 pairs of glittery red shoes-was identifed as the Red Shoe Delivery Service Store. But it wasn't easily recognizable as an "art space," so that passersby often read it and interacted with it as if it was an actual store-despite the fact that nothing was for sale. Cris designed the space to look like a high-end boutique, while our videos and a mural that Molly painted of RSDS's previous participants ultimately made it an RSDS installation. We are thinking of doing something similar in Nottingham this summer, as we will be there to participate in Nottdance- a dance and performance art festival.For more information on the project and upcoming events, visit