Running down whats behind hanging sneakers
By Lincoln Anderson
Although its unclear exactly what they are supposed to signify if anything at all pairs of old sneakers dangling by their laces from lampposts are a common sight in New York City, whether it be in the inner city or the Lower East Side and Soho.
Sneakers hanging on a lamppost at Chrystie and Rivington Sts., including a pair of flat wooden ones, the trademark of a group called Skewville. The photo was taken by a member of the group, a man who goes by the name Ad DeVille.
If the sneakers arent puzzling enough, now pairs of hanging cans of Red Bull, the Austrian energy beverage, have begun appearing Downtown. Tied together with a string, the cans can be seen suspended from one of the new, highway-style, street signs at 14th St. and Eighth Ave., on a wire at Broadway and Houston St., even by the Washington Sq. Arch daringly tossed on a lamppost with one of the parks police surveillance cameras on it, no less though, this time, one of the cans is a sugar-free Red Bull.
What does it all mean? Is this the work of some caffeine-crazed cabal? Is it a sign that Flugtag is coming back to the Hudson River Park? And what about all those Jordans and jogging shoes up there in the first place?
Urban lore has it the hanging high-tops mean Drugs sold here. Others say they appear where a child has died or when someones virginity has been lost.
But Detective Jaime Hernandez, Ninth Precinct community affairs officer, said, as far as he knows, those are myths.
Thats a tradition, he said of chucking old sneakers onto lampposts. When I lived in Brooklyn, we used to do that. It didnt mean anything. I grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant so I would know.
Clayton Patterson, a documentary photographer and gallery owner on Essex St., said if the suspended sneaks stand for anything, its a mystery to him.
Its a community tradition thats gone on on the Lower East Side for a long time, he said. I dont know that theres a symbolism.
People have done it with different things over the last few years, he added, mentioning that someone threw up pairs of linked alligators on Lower East Side lampposts two years ago to promote a play in the Fringe Festival. And he said he knows of a group on Orchard St. that flings wooden shoes up on poles and wires, not just on the Lower East Side, but around the world.
The Orchard St. group, Skewville, which likes to keep a low profile, is actually two twin brothers. They handmake and silkscreen the wooden sneakers usually resembling Chuck Connors low-tops and have thrown up 3,000 pairs around the world. They shoed the area around the Long Island City MoMA when it opened, and plan to hit Australia and Japan next.
Weve been doing it just to represent, said one of the brothers, who goes by the name Ad DeVille.
DeVille said he and his brother chose sneaker tossing because graffiti and stickers had been done.
When graffitists say theyre going to throw up it means to make a painting on a wall. But when urban shoe or can or alligator tossers say throw up they really mean it. The toss technique is easily explained, hard to master.
You gotta be perpendicular underneath and get it to wrap around. Hit it in the middle, DeVille, 32, said.
Just as with graffitists who aggressively paint over rivals work on walls, shoe tossers battle for bragging rights to lamppost crossbars, shooting up old Addidases and And 1s once a virgin pole is first tagged also a graffiti term.
Once we throw up, people start tagging, said DeVille. St. Marks and Second I threw up a pair like two years ago. Before long, there were 15 pairs of sneakers.
The shoes shelf life is short, DeVille noted, due to laces breaking, the city taking them down and the wind.
DeVille and his brother used to throw their basketball shoes brazenly.
I hit five pairs in Washington Sq. Park in broad daylight with hundreds of people around, DeVille recalled. I guess thats when I was younger and stupider. I guess we already got the money shots, so we have nothing else to prove.
Although they dont exactly know the law on shoe tossing, DeVille said, We know theres a Vandal Squad and theyre tracking us.
They had heard about the Red Bull cans. Ah, its killing me! he said. Whether Red Bull is responsible or not I think someone is getting paid to do that, DeVille offered he said they couldnt let it stand unchallenged.
Its like its a complement, but its also a slap in the face, he said. I think we probably should respond.
A few days later, on the wire next to the Red Bull cans at Broadway and Houston St. were a pair of flat, wooden sneakers.