DACA Lounge: A Dream Sanctuary at Archer Gallery (photos Jeff Jahn)
Immigration policies for the United States of America have always been an impromptu patchwork of reactionary policies that put a quick bandage on whatever current situation prompted that action. During President Obama's 8 years DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was put in place as a stop-gap when Congress did not ratify the Dream Act into law to address the plight of children of illegal immigrants who have known no other existence besides being in The United States of America. It was a moment when the USA started to talk about things it generally left unsaid and nearly 800,0000 kids have applied for the program. In the current, rather reactionary political climate the fate of the DACA program is held hostage as a political pawn, creating an uncertain, extremely stressful situation for these kids. Fact is the USA has always been a country built on such immigration.
To this enter Horatio Hung-Yan Law's latest art exhibition DACA Lounge: A Dream Sanctuary. It is one of the most poignant and timely exhibitions the area has ever hosted. Interesting but not surprising that art is being a better host than a country. Law even did what the actual law hasn't done yet, work directly with dreamers and it is telling that he did so with such sensitivity, without a whiff of wanting a gold star for this basic empathy.
Many Portlanders are obnoxious in their wanting credit for doing good, but Law knows better and it is heartening that artists are finding ways to make strong work that doesnt feel self indulgent, exploitive or righteous. Kudos to the Archer Gallery for putting on such a strong exhibition, most Portland institutions have the same problem that Portlanders have and its nice to see Vancouver across the river leading the way which puts the subject ahead of the moral platitudes.
The first thing visitors encounter is a grid of photos depicting Syrian refugee children titled Burn Offerings. Each child looks out with that world weary look that doesn't match their age and an origami butterfly made of a burnt photo tells the sad tale of what is going on in the Middle East. The butterflies signify and a sense that kids should be able to be kids but their singed condition acknowledges the seriousness of it all.
Another Great Wall
After entering that vestibule the visitor encounters two walls filled with cheap plastic Chinese bowls that are covered in gold leaf inside. Titled Another Great Wall, it pokes fun at the current president's obsession with a wall to keep out immigrants. These walls never work (because the USA relies on the cheap labor) and though the bowls are cheap like human lives are often treated they still have immense value. This is essentially a waiting room lobby and its funny/sad reality are hard to miss. Notably this wall of greatness is just a way to welcome visitors.
The rest of the multimedia exhibition beckons.
The DACA Lounge itself consists of of a series of leaf shaped inflatable air filled lounge chairs that are lit from within to reveal the cloudy blue sky patterns. Motion sensors invite the visitor over with relaxing meadow sounds basically inviting visitors to sit a spell, perchance to dream? It is a very simple move but for Dreamers whose very place of existence is in question, a neutral sanctuary space is perhaps all that can be hoped for. Odd that art can provide what govenment cant? ... basic human dignity. The choice of blue skies is also a nice move as a general symbol of freedom.
The large video projected Constellation Wall cycles between a starry sky festooned with stars and some plastic jewels into a star map with various Greek constellation names and outlines. It is yet another mood piece with a relaxing night sky, something nobody actually owns or controls. The use of constellation names reiterates the human need to classify and relate names to perceived structures, a good parallel to the DACA Dreamers and the borders of counties. Still, it is the placement of little plastic jewels that brings the wall to life. Working with Dreamers Law has bedazzled the wall and several other works in the show. The facets create flashes in the eyes of visitors, like meteors streaking through the sky, or are they tears?
The show is funny, sad, infuriating and relaxing. It's a sanctuary that offers a very human respite and a chance to consider all of the Dreamers as well as all of the Syrian refugees stuck in limbo. It even call to mind all the refugees the USA is not sheltering. It seems like politics are simply not working for the human beings it is supposed to serve and the DACA Lounge is a moment to simply consider the humanity of the situation without drama. In fact, it is the way Law has executed this show without a lot of histrionics that a lot of Portland area liberal elites seem to indulge in (as if they want a medal for their good will efforts) that is refreshing. Art when it is decoupled from politics like this allows us to realign ourselves withe humanity of individuals. For Dreamers its a momentary sanctuary, for visitors it is a chance to avoid being sanctimonious. These are kids after all, they practically ooze art and I hope this exhibition tours because every city in the USA could use a DACA Lounge or more right now.
Today is the last day for the exhibition (12-5PM), go see it if you havent already
DACA Lounge: A Dream Sanctuary | April 10- May 5th
1933 Fort Vancouver Way