Temporary Services at Block Museum, Chicago

by Tiffany Funk, May 2011

Temporary Services wants you to get out of your house.

A joint effort of Chicago- and Copenhagen-based artists Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin and Marc Fischer, Temporary Services specializes in non-specificity: in the artists’ work, creative practice provokes and frequently transgresses distinctions between all disciplines, whether art or otherwise, and challenges the form of the “art space” itself. Their projects, ranging from printed pamphlets and books to feats of creative, cooperative street activism, provide those frequently alienated by established media markets with spaces for resistance. Like the Paris-based Situationist International movement of the 1960s, Temporary Services strives to create an experience outside of the capitalist order, constructing situations that engender non-focused, non-commercialized interaction, offering participants the fun of unorganized creativity.

In an exhibition at the Northwestern University Block Museum, Temporary Services presents Social Mobility, an exhibition combining the display of digital and printed cooperative materials with public interaction. The most novel of these displays, Designated Drivers, exemplifies this approach. Under the tagline: “You are invited to copy everything!” the exhibit encourages visitors to pull an assortment of 4GB USB flash drives from gallery walls, attached by retractable laundry lines, to peruse their contents with a host computer or their own portable devices.

At first, the exhibit seems uneven. Wandering through large numbers of digital files echoes the experience of aimlessly browsing YouTube or StumbleUpon. Nevertheless, any perceived unevenness seems to the point: the abundance of material, some more organized than others, encourages visitors to explore their own free will. Visitors can jump from short films by frequent Temporary Services contributor Deborah Stratman, to drone-music performances documented by Terrence Hannum, to a barrage of electronic sounds contributed by Loud Objects. Adam Trowbridge and Jessica Westbrook’s entry, Benny and Eva: A Tainted Love Story, explores affection as a computer virus. Animated .gifs dance around the screen, instructional PDF pamphlets appear and catalogues of thousands of images are all available for download.

This act of “surfing” in public feels distinct from private, home viewing: here, visitors rarely view any one video, photo or animation in isolation, instead frequently with others, over their shoulders, or in dialogue with them. The vast array of material begs in turn for subsequent home perusal, perhaps for sharing with friends, or to save for a rainy day. The act of “surfing the web” becomes tangible and social; the content itself becomes less important than encouraging public discourse about the content.

While this is not the first USB-inspired art project—for example, the 2010 Eyebeam Residency project Dead Drops by Aram Bartholl received considerable attention—Designated Drivers attempts a persuasive critique of virtual culture with a refreshingly lo-fi gesture. The tactility and versatility of the USB drives reinforces how, through the cracks of white noise, awareness of physical space can still be achieved. The drives themselves dash the common misconception of digital art as “virtual,” a predominantly incorporeal form: a private, portable storage medium is translated into a public, physical forum inviting active criticism, community and sharing.

Like the Situationist International movement, its patron saint, Temporary Services encourages visitors to leave their comfort zones and enter the public arena. With Designated Drivers, the artists open a channel for information-sharing unburdened by the constraints and controls inherent in established media outlets, where interaction is preordained. They want you to “copy everything,” selling nothing but the importance of community; to Temporary Services, interaction is never virtual.

Social Mobility: Collaborations with Temporary Services
7 April—14 August 2011
Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston