“The purpose of this exercise is to show you that no matter how careful you are, you’ll never be perfect,” artist Tom Sachs said as he entered the Plum Bob Field at his NikeCraft Space Camp in New York City. The Plum Bob Field is one of several challenges designed by Sachs and his team that are meant to show you the beauty of failure. This obstacle in particular has a cadet trying to make their way through a forest of golden ornaments dangling from the ceiling with the goal of not bumping into one of them. The task is pretty much impossible, and that’s the point. “You have to navigate through these and accept failure in order to live with yourself.”
Failure is the central theme of Space Camp, an obstacle course Sachs built in partnership with Nike that is located at New York’s Governors Island through June 18. It was inspired by a physical and mental regimen of the same name that the artist makes his design team go through three times a week at his studio, except the Nike version is amplified by 100.
The course is a mix of physical exercises like a rope climb, pushups, and lunges, as well as mental ones like drawing a straight line or tying a bowline knot. Each of these challenges are designed to be done to complete failure.
“It’s the same in art as it is in sports. There are limits and you just want to master those while you’re practicing so when you’re out there performing or in an exhibition, you put your best foot forward and show what you can do,” Sachs said.
Failure is what inspired Sachs to revisit the Nike Mars Yard Shoe, an ultra-rare sneaker that launched in 2012 in conjunction with his Space Program exhibit.
The sneaker was originally designed for Tommaso Rivellini, a mechanical engineer at the the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who invented airbags used on the Mars rovers.
“It’s sort of like how Nike would make an Air Jordan for Michael Jordan,” recalled Sachs, who also did a residency at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “He’s one of the strongest minds in the aerospace industry and I wanted to make a shoe for someone like that.”
That sneaker, rumored to be limited to just 200 pairs, used a vectran fabric from the Mars Excursion Rover on the upper. The material was great for space, but not so much for the wear and tear that shoes face. After daily use, it would rip and the tongue would fall off.
A conversation with Nike CEO Mark Parker, who Sachs has an 11-year design relationship with, got the wheels in motion to do a new-and-improved version of the Mars Yard shoe.
“Parker and I are always working on different projects and he was like, ‘Hey, you want to revisit the shoe? I know you weren’t happy with the way it turned out and there’s a way to fix some of the problems.’” Sachs said. “So we changed some of the fabrics and we re-addressed the problems very specifically so that we can make a new version.”
One of the biggest changes was the switch to a polyester warp-knit tricot mesh on the upper instead of the vectran. The outsole was also slightly re-tooled for city wear. The 2.0 version also comes with an extra cork sockliner, meant to extend the life of the shoe.
Most importantly, the 2.0 version of the Mars Yard Shoe will be more widely available. For now it will exclusively be available to people who make it through the Space Camp obstacle course in New York. The exhibit will also travel to London, followed by a wider online release of the shoe sometime in July.
This is only the beginning of a bigger collection planned between Sachs and Nike. More Sachs co-designed products are expected to release by the end of the year and into early 2018.
“It took us five years of trying to come to terms with what the relationship between me and Nike would be,” Sachs said. “We both agreed that it would have to be 50 percent Sachs and 50 percent Nike, something where one couldn’t do without the other. We kind of had a handshake contract and the projects have been that 100 percent.”
Although Sachs isn’t sure about when his new Nike products will drop as of yet, he is certain about one thing: there will be something wrong with them, and that’s okay.
“We’ve got other projects coming that there will be other problems with. I don’t know what those problems will be,” he said. “If I’m doing things that are perfect, I’m not doing something right. I’m not pushing far enough. I’m really into failure.”
You can register for a spot at Tom Sachs x NikeCraft Space Camp at NikeCraft.com.