One reward, among many, for keeping alert and awake in this city is the abundance of hidden street-art. Not necessarily graffiti, although various quality-of-life arguments have been made in that direction. Not throw-ups or tags or wheatpasting or the hideous new plague of scratchiti — the definition of which is scratching one’s name into a subway-car window with a key or pen-knife. No, we mean hidden street art, over your heads and blending in with the surrounding ‘hood, because by its very existence it is slightly invisible. We are talking about our favorite pair of street-artists and pranksters, Skewville, and their city-wide multimedia art installation, whimsically and perfectly titled When Dogs Fly.
Ad and Droo Deville, twin brothers and Queens natives (and with matching New York accents so thick you could spread them with a butter knife), started this project, in which they flung handmade painted wooded sneaker replicas over telephone wires and electrical lines throughout the city, in 2004. They expanded their sneaking-flinging empire to include Philadelphia, Seattle, Orlando, and that’s just the cities listed on their homepage. The faux-sneaks are painted to resemble the classic Converse kicks, but in far-ranging colors and styles. The image of sky-born sneaks reach back to the 50s and 60s, when shoes were required footwear for private and some public NYC high schools. When school was let out at the start of summer, the exuberant children would fling their shoes as high as possible, in a brilliant moment of liberation never to be worn again. At least, that’s how my Dad, a Bronx native, tells it.
Other explanations involve houses of ill-repute that could be identified by the hanging dogs; or drug spots; or, as the Skewville twins so aptly put it, that when their kicks were absolutely worn through and through, they’d just send them upwards, as a territorial claim. “It’s all about representing. Leaving your mark in the hood.” These sneaks are so lovely because of their ephemerality. As a native New Yorker, we became well aware of hanging shoes in our teens, going into the Village for the midnight Rocky Horror show. The first time we caught a pair of Skewville’s shoes, suspended over Sixth Avenue at West 4th Street, and watched the wooden imposters turn in the wind to essentially disappear (a plywood board being far more two-dimensional than canvas and rubber). To take a piece of New York’s iconography and twist it as such, in the wind, out of reach, is a thing of wonder, a piece of beauty, and a constant reminder of our still kicking history. Just look up.