Sneakerheads beware: Pinar & Viola are out to make you sniff their trainers. For their performance at last week's Gabber Expo in Paris, the artist duo strapped on their Air Max and forced a sneakerslave (that’s a trainer-loving shoe fetishist, FYI) to lick, sniff and worship their feet.
It’s not a subject that the pair shy away from: in their 2013 column, they introduced Dazed to the idea that shoe fetishism could go beyond thigh-high leather boots and enter the realm of high-tech sportswear. After all, how much difference is there between a devoted sneakerhead who almost starts a riot for their beloved trainers and one who’s willing to lick them clean? The lines between devoted fandom and sexuality can sometimes get pretty blurry at times.
But it’s one thing to talk theory, it’s another to actually wear the shoes in question and rub them all over some guy’s face while dressed as a Nasir Mazhar-esque girl gang member. As Pinar put it in an email: “I had to train under cold showers for two weeks in order to be strong in my mind to treat a man like a dog.” Dazed caught up with Pinar & Viola to talk fetish objects, powerful women and gabber (also known as gabba) culture.
Dazed Digital: Tell us where the idea for this performance came from.
Viola: We wanted to put ourselves into the shoes of what’s often associated with men – we wanted to go beyond sneakerheads and introduce women into it. You do have girls in sneaker fetish scenes as well, but they were basketball sneakers with super short skirts or old-fashioned tennis shoes with virginal white panties. It’s made for the gaze of men. What I like about what we did is we put ourselves into a very sexy position, but in a very masculine way.
DD: How did you find your sneakerslave?
Pinar: We contacted the biggest sneakerslave online forum in France and our assistant became friends with the admin; together they placed advertisements for sneakerslaves. We found one sneakerslave who was in theatre – maybe that’s why he dared to do this in public! He said that his first memories were about sneakers – as a child, he was really fascinated by them. As he grew older, his fascination became something quite sexual.
I think sneakers are quite suitable as fetish objects: they’re tactile, they have so many different textures. Everything is streamline and aerodynamic. It’s something that comes very clean and perfect, but when it’s used it becomes something very personal – almost like underwear – and something dirty. It takes on the sexuality and physicality of the person wearing it. The sneakerslave wanted old shoes, by the way, and old socks.
DD: How does sneaker culture relate to the Gabber Expo, and gabber culture in general?
Viola: Gabber is a subculture with its own music, hairstyle and clothing: the shoes are very specific. Gabbers really like Nike Air Max Classics. Gabber fans look kind of tough but the culture is really around friendship and being each other’s mates – the word ‘gabber’ means ‘friend’. And sneakerslaves are this group of men who look a bit like a gang of friends, but instead of hanging out on the street they love each other’s sneakers. Of course, gabber is so 90s and the 90s are (or were) back – but we thought to bring back a subculture that was genuinely important for its time made it lose so much of its necessity and value. That’s why we decided to do something that made people feel very uncomfortable.
DD: What was it like dominating this guy in the performance? And how did people react?
Pinar: I realised I don’t personally enjoy treating people like dogs. But this is how it is for dominatrixes: you give orders, you axphysiate him with a sock till he can’t breathe... I’ve never treated a human being like this. I remembered the way I treat the dogs of my friends. When a dog barks to much, you say, “Sit here! I told you to sit!” And the dog likes it! The rest of your people think you’re very mean, but the dog becomes your little angel. In the beginning, we were like, "Do you like it? Do you like this and this?" and he said "no, you have to do it!"
After every performance, everyone usually comes up with big eyes, going "oh my god, thank you very much". You also long for it, as an artist: the gaze of people is your payday. But this time, people were trying to avoid my eyes! And then I realised the power of what we did. We made people feel uncomfortable, and that’s very hard – and not in a penis-showing way. That’s what I felt, the power and charm of discomfort.
Follow Zing Tsjeng on Twitter here @misszing