Wooster Collective answers all at DI2010

“Why would an artist risk arrest in order to create?” asked Mark and Sara Schiller of the Wooster Collective.

Mark and Sara Schiller of the Wooster Collective formed part of the street art double-bill with Faith47 at the 2010 Design Indaba Conference. Challenging the audience to go beyond their preconceptions and prejudices, they asked: “Why would an artist risk arrest in order to create?” Here they answer the SMS questions posed by the audience.

How do you make money?

Marc owns a New York based digital brand strategy firm called Electric Artists, and Sara runs Meet at the Apartment, a creative meeting space that she founded in 2008 with Marc. Because we have funding from our other businesses we can support Wooster Collective as a passion project.

Your thoughts around the similarities between modern day street art and cave art? Specifically around expression and looking after our modern art?

People have always written on walls. It is a way to prove that you were there – that you exist. It is a fundamental human expression. Caves were where peopled lived. Now people live in cities. The core desire to confirm your presence is expressed in the same way – by writing on walls.

Do you believe that there is no line between art and vandalism? Is every act of expression to be applauded?

We believe that vandalism and street art have similarities and differences. Both are illegal and both are reclaiming public space. Street art, however, focuses on beautifying ugly places – a building that is already run down. Rarely do you see a piece of street art on a brand-new building. The motivation of the street artists is not to vandalise.

Do you have any legal/moral implications representing and encouraging vandalism? (Yes a prudish definition)

We embrace gray areas – and we believe that street art fits right in the middle between “black and white”. We don’t believe in vandalising well-kept buildings. But we do believe in beautifying ugly buildings. Street art is provocative because it is not easy to define what is “right” and “wrong” – and it varies greatly according to the viewer. We do know that many people, when they understand the difference between street art and graffiti, begin to embrace street art for the beauty and energy it can impart on a city.

Have any brands consciously created work with the purpose of engaging and opening the dialogue with these artists and been successful?

Sure. Adidas has done some terrific work in this area. So has Absolut Vodka. While it’s not easy to pull off, brands and street artists can indeed work together in successful ways.

How do you feel about the mainstream ad industry stealing street art for profit and advertising?

It’s impossible for advertising agencies to steal street art “successfully”. There is something special in the authenticity and energy found in street art that makes it impossible to truly co-opt. First, it is done illegally and by hand. Advertising is the opposite of this. It’s mass-produced and put up in legal spots. Advertising can never successfully, “steal” a wall. Secondly, there is no “flight date” for a piece of street art. For ads, you purchase the length that the ad is seen in public. You buy the right to know the day that it goes up and the day that it comes down. For street art, it may be there for minutes, hours or days. The artist has no control.

Have you ever done street art?

We’ve dabbled here and there – always anonymously. We are not artists, but love art. We realised that our role is in celebrating the art – not necessarily making it.

What are your views on graffiti and tagging and its negative connotations?

People think that street art is not art because they have never seen it or they confuse it with graffiti. They simply need to go on a walking tour, meet with the artists and open their mind. We have made many converts over the years. This can been seen by the change in the attitudes of press like the New York Times. Papers around the work wave gone from reporting street art as vandalism to now recommending things such as a tour of street art in the Travel Section as a reason to come to New York City. At its essence, street art has a couple of main elements. It is free, illegal and ephemeral. Often street art is funny, surprising or political. Street artists really think about a location before they put a piece up. So the context of the piece is important. Most street artists are looking to beautify a building, not vandalise it.

Read the Design Indaba magazine feature on the Wooster Collective.

Watch the Talk with Faith XLVII