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:: By Mark Athitakis, AB’95

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Peer Review ::


Three Chicago artists carve out a creative alliance.

During the summer of 1997 about a dozen plastic news racks cropped up around Chicago, filled not with newspapers but with art free for the taking: pamphlets offering absurdist advice (“do not read trade magazines in cafés”), homemade bars of soap, and more. The project, called “Dispensing With Formalities,” was the brainchild of Brett Bloom, MFA’96, who wanted to bypass galleries and museums, taking art directly to the public. “The commercial art world distorts and limits access to really interesting ideas and ways of working,” Bloom says a decade later. “It pushes everything toward saleability,” which “contradicts what it means to be an artist.”

His pronouncement could be the mission statement for Temporary Services. Since its 1998 inception Bloom’s art group—which now includes Marc Fischer, MFA’95, and Salem Collo-Julin—has helped design some 70 projects, challenging typical notions about discussing and presenting art. Some are straightforward works like 2005’s “Framing the Artists,” a 24-page pamphlet on how artists get depicted in movies and TV (for example, Ed Harris “clearly put in a lot of studio time” for Pollock, while Cheers and King of the Hill play into crazy-artist stereotypes). But much of their work has a complex, provocative bent. For “Construction Site,” the trio traveled to Los Angeles in April 2005 and used scavenged materials to transform an empty lot into an art, performance, and living space. “Audio Relay,” created in 2002, is a CD collection of sound-art, music, and discussions engineered to become a pirate radio station (with a five-mile broadcast radius) wherever it’s placed.

The group’s best known, most controversial project is “Prisoners’ Inventions,” a showcase of jerry-rigged tattoo guns, chess sets, cigarette lighters, and other devices created by inmates from available materials. Inspired by Fischer’s correspondence with a convict named Angelo, “Prisoners’ Inventions” has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, and its schematic drawings comprise a book by Chicago art publisher WhiteWalls (distributed by U of C Press). Fischer declines to disclose Angelo’s full identity or why he’s in jail, an issue that generated heated discussion when the project showed at the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art in 2003. “I feel like what he does has importance far beyond his own personal biography,” says Fischer. That debate inspired its own pamphlet, “Three Dialogues,” in which Temporary Services members tussle with the exhibit’s ethical and artistic questions.

Such booklets, often sold at Chicago’s Quimby’s bookstore for $2 a copy, help offset the group’s costs for storage space and future projects. Members also earn money from lectures and workshops about their creations. “We certainly aren’t surviving from Temporary Services’ work alone,” says Fischer, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Opting against nonprofit status (“then your relations with each other are defined by the government—having a board, turning in an annual report”), the group is not wedded to any particular organizational structure. “It’s almost an experiment in working with very specific people. Brett describes us as a family sometimes,” says Collo-Julin. “We all share the same sense that things haven’t been solved in the art world.”

In July the three finished Group Work, a collection of interviews with other art alliances similar to their own, to be published by New York nonprofit Printed Matter. Supporting Temporary Services’ philosophy that gallery owners and agents alone don’t control the art world, the book presents a host of do-it-yourself artists. Among the interviewees is the Chicago art collective Haha, which includes Laurie Palmer, a visiting professor at the U of C while Bloom and Fischer were students.

One of Temporary Services’ own defining elements is that it is more idea-specific than site-specific—members don’t have to occupy a single hive of activity like Andy Warhol’s Factory studio. That distinction reflects its current arrangement: since August 2006 Bloom has lived in Denmark, in residence with a local art organization. Unsure when he’ll wind up back in Chicago, he doesn’t mind the distance from his colleagues. “Marc and I used to live half a mile away,” Bloom says, “and we’d talk and e-mail more than we actually saw each other.” As long as there’s an Internet connection, the collaboration continues.