Home Front is a site-specific installation I created for the Terrain Biennial, curated by Sabina Ott and generously hosted by Justin Witte and Olivia Schreiner. Home Front takes note of what it means to have a sense of place and belonging and the dream of leaving – by desire or necessity at a time in America in which this conversation is defined by walls and travel bans. Reflecting on the complex situation of the emblematic figure of the immigrant throughout time, I examine my own and the Witte-Schreiner’s Dutch roots and immigration history.
Link to show: https://www.terrainexhibitions.com/
(Re)Housing the American Dream: A Message from the Future
Three-channel video, 2017
Duration 13:42 min
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? Referencing Lygia Pape’s performance ‘Divisor’ and Simone Forti’s ‘Huddle’ the students create a sensorial cartography of the future, of the individual and the collective. They wrote a manifesto, embody the future creative work force, planted flags devised from silver emergency blankets in the neighborhood, took over the streets moving as one collective body and created a large-scale ‘monument of the future’ in public space in response to the Charlotteville protests. Collectively they imagined how we could move forward as a nation comprised of a multitude of histories and identities, like the group itself.
Director / Editor: Kirsten Leenaars
Assistant Director: Zachary Hutchinson
Camera: Ellie Hall and Paul deuth
Sound: Brent Walquist
Composer: Paul Deuth
Performers: Alanis Aranda-Salgado, Iman Fatmi, Hannah Plevin, Grace Elaine Ohlendorf,
Elsa Grace Berner, Javon Amin Barker, Coen T. Kriofske Mainella, Vittoria Lucchesi, Ju Hta Paw, Paw Htoo Boe, Paw Boe Say, Rahma Mohamed, Amina Mohammed, Nur Begum, Yusof Begum, Isa Begum, Rokimah Begum, Malachi Moore, Matthew Moore, Kaylin Dillard, Hamilton Reinbold, Jordan Muhammed, Wayan Muhammed, Awais Ali, Nurtho Ali
The Shape of Things (Come Tomorrow)
Duration 15:58 min
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?
Director: Kirsten Leenaars
Camera: Paul Deuth
Sound: Brent Walquist
Editing: Ellie Hall
The Dangerous Professors, a curatorial project exhibiting over one hundred and fifty artists–educators, acts as a counter-action to the pervasive rightwing impulse whose spirit jeopardizes civil, artistic and academic freedom by calling out, shaming, and harming those it opposes. The exhibition responds by first inviting artists who define themselves as educators to participate, the result of which creates a list of art-educators that can be deemed, in the current political climate, as dangerous. Second, the exhibition portrays the spectrum of art done by the presumably “dangerous” educators, and has the potential to become “dangerous art.” Third, the exhibition will provide a publication that voices the individual concerns of the artists-educators participating in the show. The text will structure a platform for public dialogue that furthers the development of strategies toward radical education.
Public event for the release of The Dangerous Professors Publication: Thursday, May 25, 6pm to 10pm
Public Access, 3306 W. North Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Exhibition continues until June 10th, 2017. Gallery open hours on Saturdays from 12-6pm. https://www.publicaccess.biz/standards-variance/
Standards Variance is a group show of speculative proposals around what is possible for urban space (empty lots, abandoned buildings, storefronts, green-space, etc.) in Chicago.
Julia Arredondo, Stella Brown, William Camargo & Yvette Mayorga, Monica Chadha & Carlo Parente, Raul De Lara, Angela Davis Fegan, Alejandro Jimenez Flores, Alfredo Garcia, Danny Giles & Sharmyn Cruz Rivera, Jaclyn Jacunski, Leo Kaplan, Morten Kvamme, Kirsten Leenaars, Ruslana Lichtzier, Fran Lightbound, Kelly Lloyd, Lora Lode, John Lusis, Jesse Malmed, Nicole Marroquin, Victoria Martinez, Gabriel Montero, Nuria Montiel, Josh Rios, Bailey Romaine, Luis Rodriguez Rosario, Edra Soto, Third Object (Ann Meisinger, Raven Falquez Munsell, Gan Uyeda), Selina Trepp, Rafael E. Vera, Lisa Vinebaum, Aaron Walker, and Latham Zearfoss.
Details wall drawing (20x12ft) “I’ve Got The Best Words”, 2016. Evanston Art Center, 1717 Central Street, Evanston
Based on linguistic research and google searches around the language and words used by both candidates in the upcoming elections this work addresses the notion of language as something elusive, fleeting, troubled, tainted and at times powerful, ultimately questioning word’s power to align themselves with authenticity and meaning. And when are words ever “just a few words”?
“Words matter when you run for president,” as Hillary Clinton reminded her opponent during the first presidential debate. Clinton was clearly admonishing Donald Trump for a season of off-the-cuff remarks and tweets which have been routinely misleading, false, hateful, derogatory, inflammatory, juvenile, and—most recently—“lewd.” Trump’s counter, at once boastful and inscrutable, is that he has “the best words.”
For example Trump used most first person singular pronouns (I, me, my) while Clinton was more likely to use first person plural pronouns (we, us). Trump used twice as many empty words (e.g. anybody, everybody, nothing, thing) as Clinton.
“I’ve Got the Best Words” traces the meaning and meaninglessness of the language in political campaigns and its fleetingness. Layers and layers of words staining and smudging each other, signifying and obscuring, erasing and inscribing.
For more info on the exhibition: https://www.facebook.co m/events/1158744114206685/?act ive_tab=discussion
During a 13-day video shoot personal histories and experiences from the participating middle school students served as metaphors to explore the real and imagined reality of the American Dream. The video raises questions about the notions of home, belonging and happiness in context of the American Dream. Delving into the complex notions of place, person, community, family, country, origin, land, or a moment of time as a site of identification, with being a person. The video ponders the enduring question of what it means to be human and how this has become inextricably from the question who we are to each other? How is the American Dream both an individual and collective dream? These young residents of Milwaukee imagined and (re)envisioned the American Dream and what is most required to allow this dream unfold.
Director: Kirsten Leenaars
Assistant Director: Lindsey Barlag Thornton
Camera: Ellie Hall and Nick Drew
Sound: Mathew Jinks and Paul Deuth
Composer: Paul Deuth
Editor: Kirsten Leenaars
Participants: Alanis Aranda-Salgado, Iman Fatmi, Hannah Plevin, Grace Elaine Ohlendorf,
Elsa Grace Berner, Javon Amin Barker, Coen T. Kriofske Mainella, Infinity Hopkins, Vittoria Patricia Lucchesi, Ju Hta Paw, Paw Htoo Boe, Paw Boe Say, Rahma Mohamed, Amina Mohammed, Nur Begum, Muhammad Yusof Begum, Mahmud Isa Begum, Rokimah Begum.
Part of the (Re)Housing the American Dream project.
Interviews with all the participating middle school students about home, belonging, segregation, the American Dream, Donald Trump and immigration.
Camera: Nick Drew
Editor: Ellie Hall
(Re)Housing the American Dream was exhibited Fall 2016 as a three-channel video installation at the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, Milwaukee from August 18 – December 23, 2016. The exhibition installation included multiple video works derived from the project, and documentation from Kirsten Leenaars’ collaborative process.
Artist-in-residence Kirsten Leenaars engages children in the search for home and happiness on Milwaukee’s Near West Side.
By Megan Knowles
On a vibrant and sunny June afternoon, an enthusiastic bunch of middle school students chatted on an empty lot near 27th street. Holding onto white balloons and gathering around the remnants of a large structure made of decorated cardboard and brightly colored tape, they brought a DIY-scrapbook vibe to a street where underused spaces are giving way to development plans and relatively new arrivals such as Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille.
Overcoming the feelings of awkwardness and skepticism young teens can bring to group projects, the students formed a line, balloons in hand, amidst conversations about TV shows and summer plans. Each balloon carried a piece of the cardboard construction waiting to be sent to the sky, many scribbled with personalized messages ranging from smiling cartoon faces to pointed political messages.
What appeared to be an activity for a day at summer camp was part of a larger ongoing project by Chicago-based performance and video artist Kirsten Leenaars, who was commissioned earlier this year by Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art to continue her project in Milwaukee’s Avenues West neighborhood. The result is a video-based exhibit at the Haggerty that runs through December 23, 2016. Leenaars will join fellow artist Fo Wilson in a public conversation about “House/Home” at 3 p.m. on Thursday, October 6 at the Haggerty.
So why all the cardboard and duct tape?
The American Dream comes in all shapes and sizes, but at the heart of all those dreams is one central concept: Home. Leenaars’ project, (Re)Housing the American Dream, explores the search for home and happiness through the eyes and words of students from two schools on the Near West Side of Milwaukee: Highland Community School and the International Newcomer Center at the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language.
In particular, Leenaars set out to talk with students about their own experiences with home, family and ancestral homelands, examining the slippery ideal of happiness and the ever-present notion of the American Dream.
“The image of the American Dream is owning your own home, white picket fence and everything,” Leenaars says. “What does that mean and how does that all tie together? I think it’s about getting at the notion of home not just necessarily as a building or house or structure, but also thinking about what you need to feel at home or safe, and how are they related?”
That’s where the cardboard construction comes in. During the two and a half weeks Leenaars worked with the students, they shared their ideas of home and imagined their dream houses, crafting and personalizing each piece while thinking up narratives to sell their ideal homes in commercials that would become part of Leenaars’ exhibition.
“I think what was amazing to see is how much both groups loved making. As soon as they were really making something, building those houses, they were completely engaged,” recalls Leenaars, who with support from the Haggerty turned an available storefront space on 27th Street into her studio for this fieldwork phase of the project.
In the video installation, viewers can catch a glimpse of their ideas and dream homes through the form of a quick commercial the students narrate, selling the audience anything from a home with a movie theater and a yard full of trees to a house containing an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
More than that, the exhibit includes video interviews of the students defining the American Dream, speaking to their perceptions of America and sharing snippets of their home lives.
“Having a house is part of the American Dream because you need a house,” a 7th grader at Highland Community School shared. “Home feels like a place where I feel safe with my family and friends.”
Discussing the home where she’s lived since she was one, the same 7th grader shares a story of stability that’s distinct from some of the other narratives in the video. A number of students lived as refugees moving across multiple countries, such as Malaysia and Somalia, before moving to Milwaukee.
Several refugee students described America as a place they could be with their family and have an opportunity to go to school, but still kept their homelands close. Detailing a castle with bright colors, flowers and trees, one student, who lived in Somalia and Uganda before coming to America, shared, “I hope one day I can build this home in my country.”
For the Haggerty, Leenaars’ exhibition is another example of Marquette’s engagement with its surrounding community, an area with a diverse population and housing that ranges from tenements and small efficiency apartments to grand rehabbed Victorians in the Concordia Neighborhood. Though the neighborhood is just one corner of Milwaukee, it serves as a microcosm of some of the larger problems and challenges confronted by the city.
“In particular, we’re pursuing and developing exhibitions that explore Social Responsibility through Community Engagement. The arts can be a powerful catalyst, elevating and amplifying the voices of those most affected by injustice,” says Susan Longhenry, the Haggerty’s director/chief curator.
“Museums can and should be forums for this dialogue,” Longhenry adds. “And when they partner with an artist whose work embraces collaborative social practice — as Kirsten’s does — the result is powerful.”
Asked what she would like the audience to understand about (Re)Housing the American Dream, Leenaars emphasizes the effort involved in living together. “Living together is within your own house with your family members, within your community or even within the world. It’s a complex, very layered thing, but I think it’s possible,” Leenaars says.
“I think these kids are proof…that there is room for all of these individuals with their own personalities to live and exist and play together.”
(Re)Housing the American Dream will be exhibited on the 2nd floor of the Haggerty Museum of Art through December 23, 2016. Learn more about the exhibit or upcoming opportunity to hear Leenaars discuss the project.
Image from Kirsten Leenaars: (Re)Housing the American Dream Photo Credit: Clare Britt
House/Home: Artists Kirsten Leenaars and Fo Wilson
Moderated by Dr. Jasmine Alinder
Thursday, October 6, 3 p.m.
Haggerty Museum of Art
Join us for a public conversation with artists Kirsten Leenaars and Fo Wilson, moderated by Director of UWM’s Urban Studies Programs Dr. Jasmine Alinder. This program is presented in collaboration with Imagining America’s 16th Annual National Conference, themed At the Crossroads.
Kirsten Leenaars: (Re)Housing the American Dream, is a three-channel video installation on view at the Haggerty Museum of Art, and is the result of Leenaars’ year-long exploration of the notions of home, belonging and happiness in context of the American Dream in Milwaukee’s Near West Side. Leenaars created this piece in collaboration with students from two neighborhood schools—Highland Community School and the International Newcomer Center at the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language. Personal stories from the students serve as metaphors to explore the real and imagined reality of this Dream. Delving into the complex notions of place, person, community, family, country, origin, land, or a moment of time as a site of identification, with being a person. The video installation ponders the enduring question of what it means to be human and how this has become inextricably from the question who we are to each other? How is the American Dream both an individual and collective dream? These young residents of Milwaukee imagined and (re)envisioned the American Dream and what is most required to allow this dream unfold.
Chicago-based artist Fo Wilson’s installation Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiositiesis currently on view at the Lynden Sculpture Garden.This full-scale structure is both wunderkammer and slave cabin; it imagines what a 19th-century woman of African descent might have collected, catalogued and stowed in her living quarters. Informed by historical research, but represented in the past, present and future simultaneously, Eliza–animated by an Afro-Futurist vision that embodies a hopeful version of an African American future–presents an imagined collection of found and original objects, furnishings and artifacts.
The program will be followed by a reception and presentation of the exhibition catalog (Re)housing the American Dream with an essay by Steven L. Bridges. Design: Sonia Yoon.
Design: Sonia Yoon
Essay by Steven L. Bridges
Release Date: October 6, 2016
This catalog was published on the occasion of the exhibition Kirsten Leenaars: (Re)Housing the American Dream. 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 (Milwaukee, WI), this latest work is the result of Leenaars’ year-long exploration of the relationship between home and happiness in Milwaukee’s Near West Side. Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University