Over the weekend, Balenciaga’s latest creations, a line of Crocs shoes that are lent a decidedly avant-garde touch, went viral on social media, as is perhaps only natural for high-heeled plastic footwear. Most of the attention that the brand’s latest campaign received was devoted not to the shoes themselves but rather to an off-putting blue sculpture that appeared to be wearing them. Positioned with its hands against a cement wall and its legs spread open on the ground, the sculpture appeared below a fishing hook that mysteriously arced over it. The figure was contorted into an impossible position with a car-seat-like harness on its back.
The person behind that artwork—and yes, it is an artwork, not just a clout-chasing marketing ploy meant to be gawked at—is Anna Uddenberg, whose oddball creations have been exhibited at institutions like the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and the now-defunct Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles. For the Balenciaga campaign, Uddenberg’s works were photographed by artist Kristina Nagel who, like the artist, is based in Berlin.
As it happens, that blue sculpture wasn’t the only one Uddenberg produced for the fashion house. Another, titled Tanya, features a female figure wearing a plaid jumpysuit and harnesses, along with Balenciaga’s lime-green high-heeled Crocs. That figure is shown attending to a dysfunctional stroller that does not contain a sitter—not that it exactly could host one, given that it doesn’t include a seat. According to Vogue Scandinavia, Balenciaga comissioned these works intended to works to mix “the alien with the familiar.”
Such a phrase could be applied to much of Uddenberg’s output. The sculptures for which she is best known feature female bodies presented in extreme—and often sexualized—states. Her best-known work, Journey of Self Discovery (2016), features a woman using a selfie stick to snap a picture of her thonged behind; it first appeared at the 2016 Berlin Biennale, where it was panned by critics such as Jason Farago, who wrote in the Guardian, “From the Pergamon to this in 2,000 years.” Other works have featured partially naked female forms, which appear to emerge from suitcases and pieces of furniture that seem better fit for the set of a sci-fi movie than one’s home.
As it happens, Uddenberg has enlisted Crocs in her works before, with some of her futuristic-looking women even donning them in some cases. Uddenberg’s work is often hard to parse, though it’s possible that her use of Crocs and contorted poses is part of a larger inquiry into “basic” fashion styles and the marketing of them toward women. “I think the link between feminine expressions and conformist consumer options is the idea that it’s done for someone else’s pleasure and therefore it’s connected to victimhood,” she told Pin-Up Magazine in 2018.
Nagel’s photographs of the new Uddenberg sculptures had first appeared on Balenciaga’s social media, though the brand has since wiped all of its posts without explanation. (That brings Balenciaga one step short of Bottega Veneta, which drew a mix of confusion and fascination when it deleted its social media accounts altogether this past January.) The shoes are part of a campaign, with offerings priced at up to $695.