Why I Create: Brett Bloom

We are excited to kick off Season 2 of Why I Create with Brett Bloom. Brett Bloom is an environmental activist, artist, and publisher. He works mainly in collaborative groups and situations. He cofounded the art group Temporary Services (www.temporaryservices.org) and the publishing imprint Half Letter Press (wwww.halfletterpress.com). He regularly works with ecological issues. Bloom coordinates intensive training sessions—camps, workshops, schools—part of a multi-year effort called Breakdown Break Down (www.breakdownbreakdown.net). Breakdown Break Down mobilizes people to articulate and build a civil culture to prepare for and survive climate chaos and breakdown; one goal is to generate new stories that replace western petro-subjectivity, our industrialized sense of self and place, with other narratives and future trajectories.

We were inspired by the conversation that Brett Bloom had with Kurt Roembke of Space Owl Productions, so we have decided to transcribe some of their conversation to provide more insight into Brett's artistic and social practice and how it came to be.


"Why do I do what I do, or what is it that I do. I mean, it's a complicated thing to try to unpack. I'm an artist. I've been working as an artist since the late 90's. I spent much time in Chicago, Copenhagen, Berlin, moving around a lot and I find myself back in northeast Indiana.

From the self-publishing poster series, printed on the Temporary Services RISO with drawings by Kione Kochi. 

From the self-publishing poster series, printed on the Temporary Services RISO with drawings by Kione Kochi. 

Temporary Services started making publications from the very beginning. It was just me running it in 1998. I mean, I say running it, but there was a whole group of us, a culture of people collaborating like a year or two before it happened. And then we kind of formalized that.

I wanted to make publications, so we had a storefront on the north-west side of Chicago and I was in a working class neighborhood that was half Eastern European folks and half Latino folks. There were a lot of check cashing places, there were a lot of liquor stores, and a lot of dollar stores. A very low rent place, very rundown.  We didn't want our activity as artists to have this sort of gentrifying impact. We really wanted to be kind of under the radar. So, we had small audiences coming to what we were doing at the storefront, very small audiences, 30 people maybe.

We couldn't really have the opening hours for the gallery, nobody really came to the neighborhood for that, like none of the people in our audience. But we didn't want to make a gallery in that kind of way. So, we started doing a lot of public projects that would help us meet people from the neighborhood or pull other kinds of folks, than those just wanting to come to a young, hip, well, we weren't really hip, you know, opening art space. I think people came looking for that and were disappointed, which is great.

We took our ideas very seriously and we wanted to spread them well beyond this little audience. And so publications are a great way to get your ideas out across the world. A very, very little amount of money can circulate your ideas far and wide and they can end up in incredibly surprising places. And this was something we wanted to tap into.

You know, I'm old enough that when you met with a curator or somebody was interested in your work he brought a sheet of slides. Nothing was digitized. We didn't have a smartphone. We didn't even have a laptop to take around. We took publications around and said, "Hey, here's a stack of 20 publications, if you're interested in what we do, dig through this. I mean, we'll have a conversation with you for an hour and then dig through this. But we're not going to give you slides. You're going to start a conversation with us." We'd try to start in a very different place. And if people weren't up for that then we didn't work with them and this filtered out a lot of assholes. So, we've been quite fortunate we haven't had to work with very many... I have a hard time thinking of... yeah, very few assholes because we've had these filters built in. And we also don't circulate within the commercial art world, and not everybody there is an asshole, of course. But in cities like Chicago, L.A., and New York, it can be quite vicious and stupid. The way the artists trip over themselves to get access to this thing that very few actually make an economy on. So, we didn't want to participate in that and we didn't want to let curators get away with treating us like we were part of that.

RISO poster printed by Temporary Services with illustrations by Kione Koichi.

RISO poster printed by Temporary Services with illustrations by Kione Koichi.

So, it was also an act of self-empowerment to make these publications and say, "Hey, here are ideas. If you're interested in them, read them, if you want to argue with us, do it. We're taking responsibility for what we're saying." And we never looked back since the first first thing we did, since we've made publications. For everything we've done and then some. So, we're up to, I think, 117, and that's just Temporary Services. We've got a whole bunch with Half Letter Press. I publish a bunch of my own. Marc's published a ton on his own. It's just really in our bones and blood to do this. It took us a while to figure it out and to see like actually how things were circulating and traveling.

There's a whole range of possibilities. We were doing this in the late 90's in Chicago and there was a very few number of us spread around the globe, in Buenos Aires and Zagreb in Berlin and Copenhagen and numerous other places. People were working collectively or working in groups. And we choose this term group over a collective to sort of amplify the work that they were doing. The impact you could have working as a group is much greater than working as an individual, so I also work collaboratively all the time. So, this means that I might work under five or six different names. It gets quite confusing for others but I'm not interested in making a brand or style out of my artwork out of my life. I don't need to sell it to anybody. But it's also been extremely important to follow the work I've been doing where it takes me and to focus on the issues and things that I or the groups I've worked with are set upon, so different situations require different strategies for how you work.

So, with that I'm doing I might not even be recognizable to some people as artwork. And that's quite OK. Actually, sometimes it's the point that it's not seen specifically as artwork because you can actually open up a discourse. If somebody thinks they're looking at a work of art, a sculpture, something that they have to interpret and be responsible for coming up with some kind of like thoughtful response to that can often shut down the kinds of responses you can get from somebody. So we work in much more open ended ways where you use culture to shift the social norms that you go into. And then it can create possibilities for other things to happen. This has been a repeated experience for nearly 20 years. This is truly how Temporary Services started as seven people back in 1990. And now it's two of us working together. But we often collaborate with others outside the group and sometimes that collaboration will specifically open up what it is we'll be working on.

We have an idea. And sometimes in the past we would heatedly debate it. That's when there are seven of us because you had to really get seven heads around it. Now the two of us. If it's an idea I know Marc won't like I will do it somewhere else. Some other collaboration. Same with him. So, we maintain other groups and other collaborations that we've participated in specifically for that reason. I do a lot of ecological work with my wife and also on my own, and sometimes with Temporary Services, but it's not the same. It's not the direction I want it to go. We've always tried to make the group open so it wasn't that everybody had to work under the umbrella of Temporary Services and they couldn't do anything else. There's always all these other possibilities all these ideas are just too many ideas too much to get to in a lifetime. That's the beauty of working in a group. You feel a sort of pressure lifted off of you.

So, what is the role of artists in America. I don't think it's to play nice. I think it's a really kind of make things uncomfortable and or at least unsettled. It doesn't have to be aggressive but it needs to unsettle things." - Brett Bloom