Abandoned Signs

Brand new lighted signs on the side of a building or road exude a strong, yet unreal and unflagging optimism. They are the equivalent of trying to stand and perpetually smile at thousands of people without pause or emotion for years on end. They incessantly radiate hope to passersby day and night. Signs tell a short yet full story about what you can expect to do or encounter in a nearby building or site. They beckon with the simplest of means: a few words in a clean font, neatly arranged, and perhaps accompanied by decorative lights or images. Signs help to order and regulate how we behave, and set the scope of what is possible in the landscapes we construct.

When these signs are abandoned, they continue to tell a story: a melancholic tale of ruin and neglect. The illusion of necessity that they supported, no longer functions.

The photographs in this booklet were taken by Temporary Services (Brett Bloom and Marc Fischer) between 2015 and 2017. The signs are primarily from Indiana (Fort Wayne and Auburn) and Chicago. We document city and rural spaces, practices, and infrastructure like this under the series title Public Phenomena. It is a constant mode of informal research that we started when we began working together in 1998. When the signs are considered en masse, a number of distinct themes emerge. Some patterns we have identified are below.

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Abandoned Signs booklet cover