Two and a half kids. White picket fence. A loving spouse. For many, these things immediately conjure one of our society's most cherished abstractions: the American dream. Yet for others, these fundamental goals signify the dialectic surrounding the abstraction. Some reject the nuclear-family model. Others opt for spirituality in the face of materialism. Still more people design goals that defy a quick description. That's why Global Alien, the Berlin-based arts collective currently exhibiting at galleryHOMELAND, came to the United States: They wanted to investigate the American dream. Does it exist? What is it?
These are the questions asked in Hope and Failure. The exhibition is a series of performances, both recorded and ongoing. Several videos recount interactions in public spaces, like Global Alien's May 3 performance in front of Portland City Hall, where the collective erected a tent and invited passersby inside it. In the tent, participants reclining on a bed were asked to visualize their American dream, and later prompted to describe what they visualized. One man wishes for an American passport. Another, "a country free of hate and anger." Mayor Sam Adams rises from the bed and tells Global Alien that he envisioned a garden in every front yard.
While several of Global Alien's performances investigate their participants, others are designed to encourage participants to investigate themselves. One such exercise is an ongoing participatory work inviting attendees to sculpt their dream house from clay and place it on a world map where they'd most like to live. Admittedly, the resulting lumps of colored clay aren't much to look at, but each represents a period of time spent reassessing materialistic desires outside an oral format—an aspect significant to the project.
Global Alien's investigation isn't limited to an American perspective on the American dream. "The original American dream was not the dream of the Americans who are actually in America already," says Marte Kiessling of Global Alien, "it's the dream of people that are not in America." In the coming months, Hope and Failure will be repeated in Denmark and Germany, where the collective will compile European perspectives on the subject. Later, the results will be shown on Korean television and a book will record the entirety of the process.