These Nikes Are Trash

On May 27, 1990, a violent storm in the North Pacific swept five containers off a ship and into the sea somewhere between Seoul and Seattle.

One of the containers sank never to be seen again, but the other four burst open when he the water and unloaded their cargo into the waves. Their cargo? Computer monitors, sex toys and 61,280 pairs of Nikes. It came to be known as The Great Sneaker Spill, a tragic day for sneaker nerds and environmentalists alike. For the next eighteen months, sneakers—sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands—washed up on America’s North-Western coastlines… But no matter how hard they searched, beachcombers could never come up with a matching pair… (I just made that up for added gravitas—they totally found pairs and sold them.)

While the incident wasn’t terrific for anyone in or out of the water (besides the people that scavenged shoes and sold them for a pretty penny), there were silver linings. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer used the rubbery flotsam to study lesser-known ocean currents, and for his work came to be known as (really) Doctor Ocean. But more recently, artist Andy Yoder of Washington, D.C. commemorated The Great Sneaker Spill by creating 250 Nike replicas from the stuff we keep dumping in the sea: trash.

‘Most of the sneakers are made from materials I pulled out of recycling bins,’ says Yoder, ‘like a beachcomber collecting Nikes on the beach. Making art is a form of alchemy, and being creative gives us the power to steer the ship, rather than bobbing around like a sneaker lost at sea. With this in mind, if you come across a shoe on the beach—or a flip flop, or a bottle—do the right thing, and toss it in the trash. You never know where it might go from there.’

The show, Andy Yoder: Overboard, is on view from Oct. 24 to March 6, 2021, at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center in Vermont and also on the internet.

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