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If you live in New York City or L.A., you’ve probably seen TrustoCorp’s work more than once. They’re an art collective behind often politically charged street art, including fake street signs, fake products, hijacked billboards, phone booth ads, and altered subway signs. They also create gallery work, and are currently showing their largest exhibit yet, Life Cycle, at Opera Gallery in SoHo. (Animal New York calls it “50-works worth of awesome.”) We had a chance to ask them some questions about the origin of the collective, their latest show, and what they think about America (and Occupy Wall Street).
What is Trusto Corp? How long have you been doing what you do, and why?
We’re an art collective that makes mostly politically charged art, sometimes with a little humor and mostly in an illegal, public context. There is a core group of us here in Brooklyn, and we have an extended group of volunteers cross-country that we ship art packages to. They put up the work in the streets the same way we do, then upload pictures to our Flickr.
We started making work as a reaction to the political discourse around the 2008 Presidential election and have kept going ever since. Things seem to be getting more and more ridiculous in the national discourse, so we keep getting more and more inspired to make fun of it. We all have day jobs, but Trusto takes up a lot of our time. We try to keep the quality of the work high when it comes to materials, execution, and concept, so it ends up feeling very full-time.
Tell us about your latest exhibit. Why should people see it?
This exhibition is our biggest yet. It’s our take on the experience of growing up American from childhood through puberty, adulthood, and death. The show uses the average American life cycle as a starting point, but further into the work is our interpretation of America’s life cycle as a whole. The birth, rise, and fall of the empire is a dark theme for sure, but the exhibition has a lot of fun in it that we’ve seen people enjoy. Among other things, the childhood section features a fully functioning kiddy ride oil-pump, an interactive, 6-foot-tall “Botched Operation” game, and a series of giant board games and puzzles working as a platform for our message. The puberty section is all vintage arcade games from the 1920s through the 1950s, refurbished with our style and concepts. You can play “Riot Cop” or “Border Patrol” or even shoot Osama in the “Seal Team Six” game. Further into the show are our giant cereal boxes and our technicolor refrigerators, followed by our stained glass window series in the death section. There are over 50 pieces in the show ranging from sculpture and print work to paintings and installations. Fun for the whole family, unless your family are registered Tea Party Republicans.
What’s your favorite work (or works) you’ve ever done? Approximately how many pieces have you done since you began?
No particular favorites, but our Banko’s cereal seems to be the greatest crowd pleaser. In the nutrition facts, it lists banks and exactly how much money they got in the bailouts. The list barely fit on both sides! Overall, we’ve produced over 100 paintings and formal works for exhibitions, but our illegal street pieces are upwards of 400 or so. We don’t keep a formal count.
Have you ever had incidents with the cops in the posting or distribution of your art?
We are extremely cautious, but we’ve had some close calls and some cat- and mouse-style evenings of eluding and evading. We normally have lookouts on the phone and police scanners (the iPhone app!), so it’s pretty air-tight. Also, our work doesn’t actually hurt or deface any property, nor is it permanent. But we do know that our street signs have been resold in New York and Los Angeles by the people who take them down. One of our favorite collectors first acquired our work through a city worker who was selling it. We think that’s pretty funny and don’t have a problem with it. They probably get a crappy wage, so we’re happy to give ’em a little something extra!
What inspires you in general and, in particular, what about New York City life inspires you?
We like to imagine American culture followed through to its logical extreme, so a lot of our work is over-the-top satire about where our country is going and how it’s getting there, but executed in a way that can be fun and informative at the same time. Often we design in the style of the space we’re taking over to make our work blend in, but when we can, we like to pull from the golden age of American advertising — the 1940s through the 1960s. That era had a beautifully false veneer to it that works really well for us. Politicians talk about that era as being a more innocent time in our history and the advertising reflects that, but the reality was way different. Our country has always been racist, violent, and oppressive.
When it comes to New York, there’s a general chaos to the visuals on every given block that create endless opportunities. Every public sign, advertisement, and surface is a place for us. Anywhere you see graphics and messages from brands you trust, the city or the government — that’s where we want to be.
How accurate is the map on your site featuring the locations of your work?
The map is accurate but outdated. We’ve added at least 50 more signs in other locations before and after the creation of that map. The original idea for the middle finger stretching from Canal to 34th Street was imagining detectives in a police department placing pins on a map wherever they found a Trusto sign and finally…voila! Fuck you!
How do you feel about Occupy Wall Street? Do you consider yourselves part of the 99%?
At first we were a little deterred by the lack of coherent message, but it’s starting to come together. We’re fully behind it, but we’d like to see the protest lead to actual pressure on actual people on Wall Street or Capitol Hill. At this point, it seems like the big banks and “in the pocket” politicians can just wait this out. Now that the movement is spreading, that might change though. We’ve been waiting for the right time and right way to support and help the cause. We’ll be jumping in when we figure out how to be most effective with what we have to offer.
I particularly love your subway art (“You Look Lovely,” for instance). What’s the inspiration and meaning behind those? What sorts of reactions to you hope for?
The subway pieces are a way to put a smile on people’s faces and remind them that the world around them is malleable. They break up the monotony of the visual landscape and sometimes makes people feel good. I think it only lasts for about a minute or so.
Do you make money from your art?
Of course. They work we create is very expensive to produce so the sales help us sustain our production of the gallery work and the street work. Everyone in Trusto gets paid to create the gallery work, but the street work is always voluntary. There is a core group of us that always does the NY street projects, and we invite others from time to time. But no one is getting rich off this. We’re planning long term and hope to sustain the TrustoCorp project as long as possible. As we gain more support, we’ll be focusing on ways we can contribute to tangible change and positive effects outside of visual sarcasm.
What should we know about you that we haven’t asked?
A picture is worth a thousand words, so all you need to know is at the exhibition! Also, new works will be on display for our closing reception Thursday, November 10th, 7 to 11 p.m. All of New York is invited.