Temporary Services is a 23-year old group made up of artists and cultural workers, based in Illinois, currently made up of Brett Bloom and Marc Fischer and their collaborators. I’ve known of their work since I was in college in 2004 and worked on a thesis research project and website (now lost) about socially-engaged and critical public art practice. I stumbled across their work online and found it revelatory.
I learned they had produced dozens of artist zines with essays, manifestos, exhibits, conversations. They were downloadable as PDFs and available for cheap through mail order distro. I was attracted to Temporary Services’s DIY punk ethos of self-publishing and presenting their work in temporary storefronts, informal card tables set up on the street and the like. They produced newspapers of interviews and images that could be unfolded and pasted up as an exhibit. They championed the work of maligned artists, creative practitioners, prisoners and activists. At the time the medium of ‘social practice art’ was gaining some momentum and becoming more formalized in some corners of the art world, particularly championed by curator Nato Thompson (at Mass MOCA and then at Creative Time art organization) and in some graduate programs like Harrell Fletcher’s Public Practice grad program at Portland State University and Ted Purves’s Social Practice graduate program at California College of the Arts as well as identified within the work of artists like Mierle Laderman Ukeles, British artist Jeremy Deller, Thomas Hirschorn’s Gramsci Monument project, and the public projects of street artist JR.
As this ‘genre’ became more normalized to some degree even the commercial art market was inevitably able to commercialize or institutionalize it, and here I am thinking of (no less powerful) work like Suzanne Lacy’s public events treated as performances that are documented as photographs, then sold or presented as installations in galleries. Or the multi-farious mega public practices of Theaster Gates combining performance, social practice, painting and objects for exhibition and sale. Many other examples abound…
In 2021 this medium has now been re-integrated into art canon and I regularly see artist calls for artists working integrated within communities. Perhaps it’s harder to see it as so distinct from other media anymore as it’s become more of the norm for artists to combine disciplines: artist and video maker and photographer and musician and performer.
Temporary Services never quite fit within this world. They resisted being commodified and went right on producing pamphlets, hosting exhibits at local art spaces in Illinois and occasionally around the country or around the world. They started a press and distribution company Half Letter Press to distribute their own materials and those of friends. They traveled around the country to distribute their works through art book fairs. And they continued to abide by their own goals in one of the most simple, beautiful and powerful manifestos I’ve ever read and been moved by.
We strive to build an art practice that
WE STRIVE TO BUILD AN ART PRACTICE THAT:
Makes the distinction between art and other forms of creativity irrelevant
Builds and depends upon mutually supportive relationships
Tests ideas without waiting for permission or invitation
Champions the work of those who are frequently excluded, under-recognized, marginal, non-commercial, experimental, and/or socially and politically provocative
Puts money and cultural capital back into the work of artists and self-publishers
Makes opportunities from large museums and institutions more inclusive by bringing lesser-known artists in through collaborations or advocacy
Insists that artists who achieve success devote more time and energy to creating supportive social and economic infrastructure for others
This manifesto can be found as a printed poster for sale through their distro Half Letter Press