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Signs of the times

As our hybridized winter-spring finally gives way to summer, you can expect to see tourists flocking to our shores soon. And who better to welcome them than the region's most enthusiastic partisans among the creative ranks?

Just in time to confuse visitors and natives alike, Spaces has transformed into the Cleveland Convention and Visitors' Bureau. The makeshift embassy welcomes newcomers with brochures, postcards, and the chance to reexamine their place in history, the economy, and the cosmos. Plus, there'll be hot tea.

The Bureau's centerpiece is the "Essence Unique Shrine and Showroom," an immersive installation by the artist collective SGS Cleveland. Self-appointed chroniclers of the city's visual culture, SGS — the letters signify nothing, incidentally — collects and synthesizes images of local storefronts and advertisements in photography and video. The group's membership has fluctuated since its founding in 2006, but revolves around six core members who operate under principled anonymity. They fear crediting individuals, for doing so prevents viewers from engaging the work directly. So, please, just deal with it.

"People would look at us and, based on our behavior [or] personalities, would undoubtedly make erroneous assumptions about our work, sexual orientation, and political beliefs," one representative writes.

The "Shrine" contains original signs, produced by SGS, which draw on patterns of iconography from real-world storefronts. The original adverts will be showcased in electronic and video collages, paired with halting, discordant music meant to evoke the chaos by which the world — and perhaps Cleveland in particular — operates.

Though SGS finds itself interested in all unique signs, the group's favorite subjects are amateur, handmade items made by shopkeepers. "From a design perspective, we appreciate the variance in self-made signage. What was intended to be an indicator of commercial activity turns into an expression of a person's hopes and dreams," writes SGS.

In addition to providing a platform for the city's quiet dreamers, SGS unspools thematic threads from the community's signs to make posters of its own. Its "Essence Unique" headliner sign (pictured) populates the Giza pyramids with images of nuclear families, big payouts, and wise men. The iconography draws on lottery and gambling adverts, as well as the storefronts of psychics. SGS sees the two enterprises related by shared reverence for the element of chance. As the group notes: "Even the most die-hard atheists pray to the god of good fortune to deliver a championship to our city."

SGS billboards and advertisements will debut this week on West 25th and West 72nd Streets. The Visitors Bureau opens with a 6 to 9 p.m. reception on Friday, May 11, and continues through July 13 at 2220 Superior Viaduct; call 216-621-2314 or go to spacesgallery.org.

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