Thursday, April 12, 2012

Social Mobility at the Block Museum: Art as Service


Social Mobility: Collaborative Projects with Temporary Services, on exhibition at the Block Museum until August 14th, is an interactive installation of a wide range of works by the Chicago artist group Temporary Services. Temporary Services, originally formed in 1998, is comprised of Brett Bloom, Salem Collo-Julin, and Marc Fischer. The group’s name is indicative of the work they produce, which includes instigating social actions, publishing do-it-yourself manuals, and providing other “services” to the public.

Before entering the main exhibition room, the viewer is greeted with large-scale mosaic banners. Made of plastic shopping bags, the banners transform the bags—symbols of shopping, capitalism,and excess—into a raw material that can be reworked and remade. The slogans on the banners speak to the anti-hierarchical, pro-collaborative, let’s-built-a-better-society-together ideals that Temporary Services advocates, with messages such as “The inexperienced dreamer simply cannot survive alone.”

The exhibition room itself contains several glass cases full of materials that acquaint visitors with the group’s practices. Taken from previous projects and collaborations, the materials include everything from stickers and humorous essays (“Don’t Wait for the Hearse to Take You to Church!”) to vegan recipe booklets and do-it-yourself instruction guides (“Re-Exhibition Strategies”). On another wall is a “Self-Reliance Library,” a shelf of books that includes various educational publications that museum visitors are invited to read. Topics of the publications range from instructional writings on nomadic living and sustainable nesting skills, to books of color photographs of decorated “art trucks” in Japan. Whatever the topic may be, one can expect to come away with a renewed sense of creativity, as well as the idea of rendering the mundane valuable.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the Designated Drivers project, presented as a series of reels mounted onto the wall. On each reel is a laundry line with a flash drive attached to the end. For the project, 20 artists and artist groups from around the world were invited to contribute data onto flash drives. Visitors are encouraged to view the content of the drives (which includes films, interactive websites, essays, music, and more) on the desktop in the exhibition space, or even bring their own drives to download and explore from home. By encouraging visitors to engage with the files directly in the museum, Temporary Services transforms the exhibition space—traditionally a passive viewing area—into a social arena of dialogue and interaction.

The interaction encouraged by the exhibition is well-reflected in the show’s title. “Social mobility” is generally perceived in the upward sense, the ability to ascend the social ladder. But in the context of the Temporary Services exhibition, it becomes instead a reminder that our positions in society are not fixed,that they can be subverted through simple skill-sharing and mutual communication—the reminder of human creativity and potential. Through the exchange of information and creation of dialogue, social hierarchy has the capacity to be overturned. The entire crux of the exhibition is perhaps best summed up by a word that is illustrated in a manual that visitors are invited to take home from the exhibition:share.

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