Marc Schiller


There are a lot of street art books on the market today but there’s never been one quite like Taschen’s Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art. This 300-page publication links multiple genres of public intervention from the last 50 years with an amazing selection of visuals and extremely well-written essays from a number of perspectives.

Marc Schiller played an integral part in the production of Trespass, along with his wife Sara and a knowledgeable team including editor Ethel Seno and critic/curator Carlo McCormick. Best known for the street art website Wooster Collective, Marc and Sara have been documenting and posting “acts of trespass” since 2000. In addition to Wooster, they also produce events, books and travel the world speaking at museums and festivals. ION Magazine had the pleasure of discussing the making of Trespass with Marc just before the book’s launch.

Trespass is a pretty intense book, there’s a lot there.
There is, and that was really the goal, that we approached the subject holistically and really put in context not only street art but graffiti and protest and performance. We wanted to look at where the common threads were and find the themes that run through multiple approaches to interventions in public places. The historical importance was a focus from the very beginning. The thrill of putting the book together was that we were able to approach it so that Philippe Petit, the performance artist who crossed the high wire across the twin towers could be in the same book with The London Police and other street artists who have gotten a lot of attention in the last couple of years.

Just to give our readers a bit of context about who you are, can you talk a bit about the different roles that you play within the art world?
We’ve been documenting and curating acts of trespass going back to 2000, and have been using technology and the Internet to share that. A lot of people know us through the Wooster Collective website, which over the years has showcased not just street art, but tens of thousands of examples of public intervention. For us, the website is only one small part of what we’re doing. We do a lot of events, from small personal salons to large, full-scale exhibitions. In 2006 here in New York we did the 11 Spring Project, which brought artists from all over the world to Manhattan to paint. We also do a lot of lectures, about five or six every year. We’ve spoken at festivals, museums—we’ve spoken at the Tate Modern, at the New Museum, at MOMA…. And then there are the books. This is our first book with Taschen, but we’ve published 15 of our own books over the years. Holistically, we’re always looking to explore new areas and to challenge ourselves. There’s no question that the Wooster site is only one component of a much larger plan.

You were recently involved with the production of Exit Through the Gift Shop, can you tell us a bit about your role in the movie’s production?
Through the Wooster website we’ve had a long relationship with Banksy, and have exposed his work to people, especially in the early days. Whether it was the museums where he did interventions in New York years back, or the work he did at Disneyland, we are definitely appreciative of his work. And so with the movie, as with all Banksy projects, he reaches out to a group of people that he trusts. Sara and I participated in curating with him some of the footage of artists doing different actions, especially at the beginning of the film. We were thrilled when he invited us early on to see the rough cut of the film. We loved it and had some really strong thoughts about it. And when he decided that in the United States he would release the film himself, Sara and I played a role in helping that process.

What was the response like from audiences? As I remember, a lot of people were questioning whether or not Mr. Brainwash was in actuality just another of Banksy’s creations…
Well the film did very well, in the United States it was the indie hit of the summer. The response to the film has been fantastic. Thierry is definitely not a fictional character. I think the film is very smart and interesting in how it is put together, but Thierry is as real and as crazy as anybody—and the reality is that the film only represents a small portion of the craziness that exists in the street art world. With Thierry, as with everybody else, the stories that are not in the film are just as crazy and interesting as the film itself. I think it’s a brilliantly edited and produced film that works on so many different levels, and it’s fascinating to see people—because the film is so well done—question the reality of it. But a lot of people know Thierry, and he’s about as real as you can get.

How did you initially get involved in the street art community?
We were always involved in art. I have a long background in collecting art, in having a passion for the creative process, and Sara as well. We grew up around art—but specifically with street art, we came to it probably the same way that a lot of people do, and that was by noticing it on the street. It wasn’t an intellectual decision; it was very much a visceral thing. To make a long story short, we moved in 2000 into a new apartment in the West Village of New York. And a few things happened at the same time: we got a dog, a Weimeraner puppy with a lot of energy that needed to be walked a lot. I went to Japan and got a digital camera, one of the first high-end digital cameras, and one day I was walking the dog and noticed that there was street art in my street. And it sounds kind of silly, but this is the middle of Lower Manhattan, and you don’t really tap into it. And also this is prior to anybody really writing about street art, it certainly wasn’t a focus in any traditional media outlets.
So I started taking photographs of everything that I saw, which is definitely more widespread these days, with sites like Flickr where you can share a lot of that stuff—but Flickr wasn’t around back then. After a year I had taken so many photographs of street art that my hard drive was getting packed and I literally was ready to delete them off my drive. It was just a personal project; I wasn’t doing it for anybody else. Sara suggested that instead of deleting them, I upload them to the web. I found some very simple software and when I looked at the photographs all together as a website, it was really cool—a year of street art in my little neighbourhood. So I emailed like 20 friends with the link and kinda forgot about it. About two weeks later I went in and saw that over 20,000 people every day were viewing the site, everyone had shared the link around and it was getting tons of traffic.

Around that time I’d started hearing about a new software called Blogger, and thought that maybe I would start playing around with that—and the Wooster site became one of the first blogs. Since that day we’ve just kept adding to it. We’ve made small adjustments to the site but there’s no advertising, we’re not trying to make money from it, it’s really been the same thing that it’s always been. So, long answer to your question but the beauty of it was we came to street art by discovering it, not by being told about it.

Can you talk a bit about your role in the production of Trespass?

So our team was terrific. I really must give Sara an immense amount of credit for this—as much as Sara and I do things together, we do split duties. Sara worked tirelessly on this project, with a woman named Ethel Seno, an editor who had previously done a book with Taschen. We recommended Carlo McCormick to write the text, as we had known Carlo for a while and he knows the subject very well. The core team was really Sara, myself, Ethel and Carlo, working on this book for three and a half years. We then reached out to a few people who we invited to contribute some thoughts on the concept of trespass. There are some wonderful essays by Tony Sera, a lawyer who approached it from one angle; Anne Pasternak who did the promotional video wrote a wonderful essay; Sara and I wrote an essay, and then I reached out to Banksy, explained the project, and he wrote a very wonderful introduction. And all of us worked in conjunction with the Taschen team, Benedict Taschen and his designers.

What do you feel sets this book apart from previous publications in the genre?
We wanted this to be a book that you’ll still have on your coffee table three years from now, and then have on your bookshelf for a really long time—and to do that you need it to be something that is substantial. We didn’t want this to be a book that you bought because street art was popular this year, and so we needed to make sure that this was not just a book of interesting images.

We also wanted to be true to our theme, so we rejected a lot of pictures of wonderful artwork because they were done with permission. We actually had to go back to artists again and again to really find that photograph that nobody knew existed. Some of these things, because they are ephemeral, that you don’t have a photograph of, or you took a photograph on a cheesy little camera.

Another important point was that we didn’t want it to only be about one type of work. Sometimes street art books are about only stencils, or only certain types of murals. It’s nice to see the art, and understand the art, but for us it doesn’t explore the topic fully.

One of the most interesting sections of the book for me was Public Memory: Private Secrets…
Yeah, so these things are very personal, not just for the artist or the person who is making the piece, but for the person who is experiencing the piece. Something could be really big, but because the space that something was on is not bought, people can feel that something was done without permission, you can feel the energy of it. Maybe it was rushed, or raw, or the content is such that you know that it wasn’t an advertiser that put it up there. You don’t need a brand logo to know when something is put there with permission or without. So the space that the artist is working with is stolen space.

For the artist, it’s not about the finished piece, it’s the experience of making the piece. The process of doing it is the thrill—the people that stop by, or the danger of not getting arrested. And it becomes a very personal and infectious experience for everyone involved. For the people that view the work, they know that it has the potential for a very short life; that it could be washed off tomorrow. Dan Witz, for example, he was putting up hoodies in the Lower East Side at a time when that neighbourhood was completely crack-infested. And for people who happened to look up and see the hoodie looking down at them—not everybody does, most people don’t—it’s a very personal experience, and it becomes a very private memory. For us, having Jenny Holtzer’s inflammatory essays in the book was very important because it was a personal thing. Armsrock, same way. These are people that he wants recognized, and it becomes a very personal thing.

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