Artists build on a canvas of dirt, weeds

Since 1998, Temporary Services' "interventionist" art installations have generated novel results in unexpected places.

By Hugh Hart
Special to The Times

April 23, 2005
Who needs an art gallery when you've got a weed-infested vacant lot?

Not Temporary Services.

On an empty parcel of land sandwiched between a carwash and an apartment building in Echo Park, these three pasty-faced Chicago artists are preparing for their Los Angeles debut by getting their hands dirty.

Salem Collo-Julin, a writer who attended six Midwestern colleges before joining the collective, is uprooting a handful of stubborn wildflowers. Marc Fischer, a former painter who studied art at the University of Chicago, is extracting nails from reclaimed lumber. Brett Bloom, another U of C-trained painter, is weaving bright blue plastic strips into a cyclone fence to form a sign announcing their latest project: "Construction Site."

Accompanied by their Chicago cohorts Rob Kelly and Zena Sakowski, the three have spent the last couple of days cruising nearby alleys in a pickup truck, foraging for reusable objects. So far, their finds include a teetering tower of shopping carts, a broken bass drum, two Pancho Gonzalez-endorsed tennis rackets, a red plastic laundry hamper, a bedsheet hung like a banner on an aluminum pole, three ratty rugs and a handful of inscrutable items ripe with creative potential.

Excusing herself from weed patrol, Collo-Julin ponders a disco-era exercise machine, then points to a pair of objets trouvés with genuine makeover potential.

"We found these two weird plastic headboard kind of things which could be made into a throne or maybe used as a sled for racing down this hill," she says. "This week, we're hoping to spend most of our time taking stuff apart, retooling things and making kind of a little town here."

"Construction Site" is being organized by the L.A. nonprofit Outpost for Contemporary Art with support from the Foundation for Art Resources. It's scheduled to run through May 1 and, beginning Sunday, will feature potluck dinners, film screenings and an outdoor library stocked with Temporary Services' self-published pamphlets. The group also hopes to improvise a yet-to-be-determined concatenation of games, found-art sculptures and music in collaboration with invited guests, neighborhood residents, homeless passersby and anyone else who shows up.

Sitting on rickety chairs that a few hours earlier were piled near someone's driveway waiting to be picked up by a garbage truck, Collo-Julin, Bloom and Fischer pass around a bottle of water and explain their ambitions.

"There's all this excess stuff lying around," notes Bloom. "Instead of its going to a landfill, we're able to bring it to one place and create a certain kind of social surplus, for ourselves and also for people walking by, who may or may not be interested in contemporary art."

What will transpire during their Los Angeles residency?

"We keep shifting based on what we find," Fischer says. "We made some drawings before we came out here, but each new haul suggests other things that could be done. It's really going to depend on people coming by and hanging out."

Collo-Julin says, "The challenge is to make a space where people feel like they can inject their own energy. Everybody already probably has a million ideas of what they'd want to do in a vacant lot like this. We want people to tell us their ideas. Maybe someone will come up and say, 'You guys need a go-kart racing thing, and there's some wheels and let's do it.' "

Since its inception in 1998, Temporary Services' experiments in so-called "interventionist" art have generated novel results in unexpected places. The members have invaded the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, with yellow balloon figures inflated by leaf blowers. They have published the writings of a homeless Chicagoan, Dave Whitman. And for the "Ravioli Project" — in Boston, San Francisco and Chicago — they distributed plastic bags of fake pasta stuffed with art pieces, candy and toys by hanging the pouches on clotheslines or stapling them to billboards.

The threesome's habit of rejiggering public space for aesthetic purposes owes something, Bloom says, to the Situationists, a French group with anarchist leanings that staged disruptive public spectacles in the 1960s. Their more recent role models include Chicago's Haha collective, which hydroponically cultivated vegetables and herbs for AIDS patients in its storefront gallery, and Gordon Matta-Clark, the late American artist known for "cutting" buildings.

The group does participate in gallery shows. "Prisoners' Inventions," an exhibition based on a collaboration with an incarcerated artist named Angelo, has been shown throughout Europe; stateside, the trio's work has been seen at such venues as the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. All the same, Fischer says, "We don't like to go too long without working in publicly used space where things are more unpredictable. It energizes us to be in situations where we don't have to ask permission from others."

For "Construction Site," the artists relied on Outpost director Julie Deamer to find an Angeleno willing to lend an unused property for the project.

As its name suggests, Temporary Services' ephemeral installations are not designed to last. The experience, not the finished product, is what counts. In little more than a week, "Construction Site" will be history, but Collo-Julin, Fischer and Bloom expect the project to leave a lasting impression.

"We don't sell artwork," explains Bloom. "Our art is much more about the social soup the art is embedded in. The model for what we're doing endures whether or not the visual artifacts do."

Collo-Julin muses, "Maybe three weeks from now, there'll be a group of people who use their collective backyards to meet each other and start making their own shopping cart tower."


'Construction Site'

Where: 2014-2022 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park (just southwest of Alvarado Street)

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily

Ends: May 1

Price: Free