Stephen Signa-Aviles chops up perfectly good sneakers to make a point: hip-hop should be celebrated for what it is, a DIY culture, instead of a vehicle for corporate exploitation.

No side-industry has been more fruitful, more completely out of nowhere than that of the hypebeast. For some, it’s become a lifestyle, an obsession able to provide not only hours of online shopping entertainment, but more importantly, a boat-load of cash. For conceptual artist and shoe collector Stephen Signa-Aviles, an old pair of kicks in his closet led to him creating something out of would-be trash. His sneaker sculptures, he says, “explores the relationship between consumerism and masculinity as framed through the lens of hip-hop culture and fashion of the ‘90s.” For him, the act of trashing a fresh new pair and reforming them into art reconstructs a purpose beyond their value to fashion.

“Early on, I wanted to make complete pieces out of just 1-pair of shoes,” says Signa-Aviles. “It’s totally doable — the rhino, unicorn, dragon are all made of one pair. Recently, it’s not as important to me to use just one pair. Now I buy what I need to complete the idea. The larger pieces are made out of at least two pair — I'd say at least 85 percent of both pairs are used in my latest works, the roosters."

“I think it’s super interesting websites like StockX can actually use data to determine the exact value of a deadstock (never worn, pristine) sneaker,” he says. “That's kind of what inspired what I'm working on now … the fact that shoes now have a quantifiable economic value is crazy. When I was kid, they were just dope things to have. They weren't something that people were building business and ‘sneaker portfolios’ with.”

As for sneakerheads losing their stuff because Signa-Aviles is cutting up so many fresh kicks, he says he hasn’t caught blowback just yet, but might like to. “Most of the response I've gotten has been positive,” he says. “I wouldn't mind some push-back. I feel like if I'm making art that doesn't bother anyone, then I might not be doing it right. [laughs].”

[all photos courtesy Stephen Signa-Aviles // originally published April 13, 2018]