Since 2011, Chicago-based performance and video artist Kirsten Leenaars has created participatory works of art that explore a quintessential American ideal: the pursuit of happiness. (Re)Housing the American Dream is an extension of Leenaars’ earlier investigations. Commissioned by the Haggerty Museum of Art, this three-channel video installation is the result of Leenaars’ year-long exploration of the relationship between home and happiness in Milwaukee’s Near West Side.
Kirsten Leenaars' practice is place- and community-based. She establishes meaningful connections with people whom she engages in a collaborative creative process. For this project, the artist worked with students from two neighborhood schools—Highland Community School and the International Newcomer Center at the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language—throughout the spring and summer of 2016. They conducted walks in the Near West Side, researched the history of the neighborhood, and considered the larger housing issues that plague Milwaukee. These investigations were framed by the questions: What is the meaning of home? How is happiness tied to concepts of home? What does this tell us about the American Dream? How could, and should, these relationships change?
Through their work with Kirsten, the students developed and performed a screenplay that forms the basis of the video (Re)Housing the American Dream. While the characters and setting—Milwaukee and its young residents—are familiar, the video serves as a metaphoric exploration of the “American Dream.” The video oscillates between fiction and documentation, reinterpreting the students’ personal stories and reimagining their everyday realities through staging, improvisation, and play. The neighboring gallery serves as the storyboard for this video. It includes texts, props, ephemera, and other materials developed during the creative process.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website