Tom Sachs

NEW YORK — Tom Sachs is again displaying his nihilistic arts-and-crafts concept in his latest project with Nike, leading the sportswear behemoth to challenge the glossy athletic conventions it often promotes.

Sachs’ and Nike’s joint venture, known as NikeCraft, has set a temporary space camp obstacle course on Governor’s Island here. Unlike the linear athletic environments often portrayed in the brand’s imagery — sanitized running tracks and scuff-free basketball courts — the obstacle course is dimly lit, haphazard and purposefully dirty; the smell of sawdust only adds to the carefully crafted, uncrafted environment. Keep your eye off the prize and trip into a water hazard, or be gouged in the eye by a swinging metal weight, a fate nearly met by WWD.

The installation on Governor’s Island, fittingly a one-time military training base, creates a larger-than-life implementation of experiential retail. Enormous logs, paintball target systems and pick-up trucks were ferried to the island for the installation, which runs through June 22. Space camps are planned for additional cities, including London.

While a sneaker drop, in essence, the Mars Yard 2.0 release aims to be more involved than the typical queue outside an urban Footlocker. Interested parties must engage in target practice, knot tying, push-ups, deadlifts and rope climbing exercises in order to purchase Sachs’ new-and-improved Mars Yard sneaker design, priced at $200.

“I would even argue that what we do here is much more athletic than at Barry’s Bootcamp,” Sachs said of the exertion required to complete the course and attain a pair of sneakers. Each participant will also be outfitted with a complimentary space camp uniform.

All of the course’s tasks are extracted from the space camp morning classes that Sachs runs out of his downtown studio three times weekly. “We do this to build our bodies strong to make a solid foundation for the different decisions our minds must make,” he said of his exercise ideology.

A room at NikeCraft's space camp obstacle course.

A room at NikeCraft’s space camp obstacle course.  Courtesy of Nike

Sachs was adamant to see that campers remain focused, and therefore, cell phones, photos and headphones are forbidden from use. “I don’t want you to text message while trying to walk across a log,” he said with concern.

In bringing his exercise concept to the consumer masses, Sachs — never one to shy from cultural discourse — is effectively promoting a brand of anti-athleticism, which runs counter to Nike’s vision of obsessed athletes, as well as New York’s amped-up, canned-air exercise class system. Sachs uses a rocket scientist’s restlessness as a muse for his Nike designs, rather than a tennis hero or football quarterback.

“I’m not impressed with the culture of fitness in New York; I think there is a toxic level of numbing competition that excludes all levels of participation. The most important thing in the fitness experience is showing up. It’s about having fun and finding a way of engaging you to create a connection between your mind and your body. If you look at the beautiful, well-lit places here like Barry’s Bootcamp or Orangetheory — they’re so loud you can’t hear yourself think, so you can’t feel your body move.”

The Mars Yard 2.0 sneaker 

Sachs’ first Mars Yard edition, released in 2012 as part of a small NikeCraft capsule, sold out and created a sneaker-head sensation that continues to surge at resale — with eBay prices hovering between $2,000 and $5,000.

By his account, the original shoe design had failed — while engineered as a desert boot, the style fell victim to urban use. Soles wore out too soon, tabs ripped from the tongue, and its base material nearly disintegrated.

Because of that, the shoe has been updated with netting, an improved sole and stronger stitching — still apt for the muse “athlete,” for which it was modeled: mechanical engineer Tommaso Rivellini, who has developed airbags for Mars rovers.

As for whether Sachs has engaged in a mischievous ruse, he said, “When I first started my work with Nike, I told a friend, ‘I feel like a sell-out, putting my 10 Bullets [studio] badge on Nike products, this big corporation, when I make things one-at-a-time, handmade, Nineteenth century style. It feels like something’s wrong.’ The friend told me, ‘Don’t think about it as selling out, think about it like putting graffiti on the side of a 747.’”

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