(Re)Housing the American Dream is an ongoing community based, performative documentary project which started in 2015. It provides a collective forum for refugee and American born children to engage critically with their intersecting issues of immigration, segregation, housing, and happiness. It is structured as a three-week summer camp in Milwaukee’s Near West Side during which the young adults produce a collective video work that is exhibited at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee. Lead Artist: Kirsten Leenaars. Curator: Emilia Layden
(RE)HOUSING THE AMERICAN DREAM: A MESSAGE FROM THE FUTURE
October 6, 2017 – January 14, 2018
During the summer of 2017, Chicago-based performance and video artist Kirsten Leenaars reprised her collaboration with a group of 24 middle school students from two Near West Side schools—Highland Community School and the International Newcomer Center in the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language—to create a video, (Re)Housing the American Dream: A Message From The Future.
During the 2016 film shoot—which was structured as a three week summer camp—personal histories and experiences from the participating students served as metaphors to explore the actual and imagined reality of the American Dream. In 2017 Leenaars and her collaborators revisited that model to imagine America fifty years from now. Where will they be? What will the world look like? How will people reflect on the present moment? The students resumed conversations about complex issues of the day, including the environment, economics, race, gender, equality, education, technology, and (im)migration to collectively envision their tomorrow.
Video interviews, part of (Re)Housing the American Dream:A Message from the Future
The participants talk about their future selves, a future America and the future of the world – while reflecting back on our times today.
What does it mean to be a human being?
What does it mean to be of my culture?
What does it mean to live in the place I do?
What does it mean to have a voice?
What does it mean to be an American?
How to imagine a future America when you are thirteen in what feels like a rather uncertain time? How are our desires and fears marked by the reality of today? How to give shape to these future imaginations through performative actions?
What we set out to do is not to imagine a future that will be, but one that might be, based on our understanding of our past, our current situations, personal experiences and lived realities. We may find it at times hard to imagine what the future might look like, because we can only look forward with the knowledge and feelings we have today. The shape of the future cannot be known with exact precision, but we can perhaps trace its outline, connect dots, deconstruct the past, express our hopes and collectively imagine new scenarios, new ways of existing, living, learning, producing and dreaming together. The future, as the group imagined, holds space for a multitude of shapes, colors, people and possibilities.
What are the ways we express ourselves? When do we feel free in our bodies? Why is dancing so fun and celebrated as a form of expression in many cultures. Where do we get our moves? How can we become even better dancers? What’s the language we speak when we move our bodies? What about dancing connects us? Witnessing pretty much every day all kinds of forms of dancing performed by the kids at any given moment, teaching each other impressive dance moves and the newest choreographies, I looked further into the expression “If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part of Your Revolution”. This quote comes from Emma Goldman, a renowned feminist and anarchist activist, who was born in Lithuania and moved to the United States in 1885. Here she became one of the most outspoken and well-known of American radicals, lecturing and writing on anarchism, women’s rights and other political topics. As a group, we embraced Emma Goldman’s statement, as it suggests that the search for agency and the potential for empowerment lies in all elements of life and cannot be regulated to a firmly cordoned-off arena named the political. It is embedded and reflected in all forms of the arts too.
What does a protest look like? How can you give form to your concerns? How can you propel history forward and give form to your concerns? Contemporary activism in both its “live” and online deployments exposes the intertwined relationship between aesthetics and politics. Though historically there have been numerous examples of tactical uses of embodied behavior within so-called civil disobedience events – for example, Gandhi’s peaceful sit-ins, Rosa Parks’ refusal to comply with segregationist rules – contemporary protests rely heavily on symbolic elements and uses of the body to communicate claims across borders and languages. Anchored in the society of the spectacle, demonstrators put in practice a variety of communicative styles and mobilizing techniques that include strategic uses of non-linguistic, embodied actions as statement. The making of the ‘Monument of the Future, the procession, carrying all its parts through the neighborhood, and final installation of the monument on top of a small hill was just that: a performance and a form contemporary protest in one.
What is the meaning of a monument, or a statue. How do we validate what or who is honored or commemorated? How do we live and come to terms with our histories? How do we reframe or rewrite them? How do our personal and collective histories inform our present and shape our future? What can we learn from our histories in order to create change for the future? What would a ‘monument of the future’ look like? What would it signify?
How do we identify what we want for our future and what we do not want for our future? What do we see when we look at our current situation, how can we use today’s reality as a starting point for imagining how the future might take shape. If we created collectively a ‘Manifesto for the Future’ what would this manifesto say? And how can we say this in a language everyone understands?
What does the individual mean versus the collective in the future? Where does power reside? Who leads, who follows? What does the individual voice mean versus a collective voice, how can one still respect the individual within a group context?