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Review: Temporary Services/Block Museum of Art

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“Social Mobility” is an installation put together by Temporary Services, a group that investigates public space. Their projects represent and raise questions about everyday places and people, rather than the colorful outpourings of privileged individuals. Relational art is not political per se, except that it generally takes place in the city, and simultaneously in the flow of signals we call the internet. Although the people who practice in this area likely have what we might call progressive ideas, their tactics often owe more to Dada, Situationism and punk rock than any theoretical or ideological position. “Social Mobility” centers on projects that challenge accepted (or hegemonic, if you like) channels of distribution of art and information by freely sharing information as pretexts for social exchange. Their current exhibition contains several vitrines of booklets and found ephemera, such as stickers, posters and religious tracts, some bookshelves that hold the Self-Reliance Library, an unpredictable collection of books and references regarding practices like self-publishing, nomadic living, herbals and weapons production.

Despite the aleatory nature and potential for disarray in its divergent collections, the installation seemed antiseptic (like a hospital waiting room) and just a bit too cerebral for the on-the-street strategies usually enacted by the group. Banners designed to call attention to the economic and political forces shaping the ubiquitous and homely personal petrochemical plastic shopping bag make an impact—they were quilted—but for all their admirable labor, they are very neat and drab. Among the banner slogans: “The inexperienced dreamer simply cannot survive alone—The Survivor.”

The focus of the installation is a computer with an encyclopedic, but disconcertingly minimalist, array of flash drives, called “designated drivers.” Each drive—nineteen artists and groups were invited to send a four-gigabyte flash drive—can be pulled from a retractable laundry line to the USB on the computer. The drives contain the artwork, experimental music, animation, manifestos, photographs, documentation of projects, diverse music videos and collections (more found materials) of contributing members which visitors can download for free.

I sat at the computer and downloaded some things; the visual (and aural) pleasures, if such a concept is still useful, lay hidden in the artist’s files. I liked what I saw of Lisa Anne Auerbach’s photographs of “Grand Opening” signs she encountered while riding her bike around LA. In her statement she remarks that she finds the signs and the ice cream trucks that roam her neighborhood “eerie and unwelcoming.” The files I copied (pictures of DIY housing from Matt Bua, which reminded me of the Whole Earth Catalog, speaking of collectives, DIY and information) took forever and I would have had to distract myself with a library book if it were not for the talkative museum guard, a retired man who writes books and makes films about a cappella street-corner singers (the style known as doo wop) in the sixties in Jersey City. A fortuitous meeting, since among its many salutary aims, Temporary Services seeks to valorize the art of everyday communications and hopes their file-sharing project will provide a chance for us to “get out of the house and mingle.” (Janina Ciezadlo)

Through August 14 at the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston.

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