CHECKPOINT DREAMYOURTOPIA
                 - A Border Control Checkpoint to Enter Your Own Dreams -

   The American Dream From a Foreigners View

"Looking at the American Dream theme as the foreigner that I am, my starting point was the fact that for millions of people around the world the American Dream still exists, but it is becoming more and more impossible to achieve because of increasingly fierce border controls, visa regulations, etc. All of them are trying to cross the border in order to chase the rainbow in search of the eternal pot of gold. (Of course this is becoming a universal phenomenon in our global age, as more and more people around the world are trying to enter their promised land , trying to out clever the border patrols at the Mexican border, or embarking with way too many people on an uncertain dangerous journey in small boats trying to reach the European shores from Africa.)

For some, it is an opportunity to achieve more prosperity than they could in their countries of origin; for others, it is an opportunity for their children to grow up with an education and career opportunities; for still others, it is an opportunity to be an individual without the constraints imposed by class, caste, race, gender or ethnicity. People might work harder and longer hours to get bigger cars, fancier homes and other fruits of prosperity for their families, leaving them with less time to enjoy their prosperity. Others may look toward a new American Dream with less focus on financial gain and more emphasis on living a fulfilling and fun life.

This emphasis on the individuals dream became my focus in this new project:

A Border Control Checkpoint to enter your own Dreams

Thus it might make you realize that not only crossing the real borders between countries to enrich your life in whatever sense can be a difficult task. Also crossing the boundaries inside the system of your own heart and life might mean a big leap into the unknown, full of dangers as well as pleasures." -
Dadara, Amsterdam, January 2008

  Playing at Bare Life: Dadara, the State, and Homo Sacer
By Charissa N. Terranova , Professor of Aesthetic Studies at UT Dallas and Director of the Centraltrak Artists Residency - From the 14+1 blog : 14 Minutes of Fame and 1 to keep -

It does not matter…that the killing of homo sacer can be considered less than homicide, and the killing of the sovereign as more than homicide; what is essential is that in neither case does the killing of a man constitute an offense of homicide. Giorgio Agamben[1]

In between, within, and without Dadara’s Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia, there is the body of homo sacer: the bare life of the border crosser, non-citizen, refugee, prisoner, torture victim, death row inmate, other and dialectical necessity of the full-fledged citizen. In contrast to man as citizen, we have before us man as bare life: that which can be spent with impunity – life extinguished without homicide because it is deemed outside of the law and thus without value. Built in Dallas and installed and performed at Burning Man in Nevada 2008, Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia is a human-scaled game board at Centraltrak that calls upon art lovers and fun seekers, interpolating them into role-playing ventures. In nuce, the script goes something like this: “Hey you! You there…immigrant, I am guard, not alien-other, and you are not guard. I am subject and you are object.”[2] We the people become we the players, sometimes alien andhomo sacer, sometimes guard and legal citizen, but all crossing the borders of identity inherited by pre-given structures.

Put simply, Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia challenges the idea and reality of the borders of your country and your heart. It is an ersatz border-themed work of interactive performance art. Upon completion of mandatory immigration forms and interrogation by guards, visitors are given official Dream Yourtopia passports and money and allowed entrance into a world of personal dreams. It is a work about the imagined experience and ideal of the “American dream,” the concept, myth and reality of which is known the world over, by Americans and internationals alike. Essential to this potent and guiding mythology is a process of national border crossing — passage through major portals, such as Ellis Island — assimilation, and hard work. As much as “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” is fundamental to our national law and psyche, so too are the words “Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” the sentence carved on the Statue of Liberty which historically greeted immigrants in search of The American Dream in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The American Dream is increasingly difficult to realize because of evermore fierce border controls and visa regulations. “Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia” riffs on this difficulty, in particular as it is manifested in the challenges to border crossing in an age of fear, terror, and asymmetrical war waged by both developed and undeveloped countries.

The project extracts the two-fold theme of “individualism” and “personal grit” from the mythology of The American Dream and re-channels it into the psychological space of pleasure and desire. Entrants with the proper paper work pass through a border control checkpoint and enter the world of their own dreams, instead of The American Dream. The project parallels real borders between countries and the boundaries inside the structures of your own heart, revealing their similarities — that both trigger a big leap into the unknown, life full of violence, danger, pleasures of jouissance, whatever they may be.

Dadara’s borderland project is unique in its combination of theatricality, participatory performance, conceptualism, temporality, and architecture. It unfolds in time not so much as a narrative but as technocratic process. The goal here is to rarefy experience not singly as an object but as bureaucratic movement and negotiation through time. Objectification comes by way of personhood and architecture: upon acceptance or rejection by guards playing at bare life in a border patrol building, an architectural mise-en-scène mimicking official state apparatuses, one assumes their subjecthood as citizen or homo sacer. You are either in or out, and being “in” is far more physically comfortable than being “out.” In this setting, the body is at base a barometer of pain and pleasure, the locus of a performative take on Locke and Bentham’s felicific calculus (the greatest good is the happiness of the many), which, in turn, is catalyst for quasi-bureaucratic practice, or what we have come to know as “modern democracy.” Disconnected objects give way to action in space, thinking, dialogue, and critical awareness of the structures, legal and otherwise, in which we perform – or are allowed to perform – as individuals. Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia fits within a taxonomy of guided experiences set in motion by sociologists, corrupt administrations, and architects in pursuit of a deliberative guffaw. Related projects include a sociological prison experiment at Stanford University in 1971, dastardly war crimes of torture at Abu Ghraib, 2003-2004, in Iraq, and conceptual-architectural design antics by contemporary Dutch design firms, 1990s-present.

A SHORT SHORT TAXONOMY OF BARE LIFE IN THE POST WWII PERIOD [AS AUSCHWITZ IS THE ÜR CAMP OF BARE LIFE] - Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia, Dadara, Nevada/Dallas, 2008-2009. In April 2008, Dadara presented a maquette of the border patrol precinct realized below in the deserts of Nevada in September 2008. Brought to Dallas in January 2009, the full project mirrors bureaucracy at the scale of the nation-state and includes ersatz immigration documents, passports, money, a police car, border patrol building, guards with fatigues, and you, the would be citizen or alien reject.

Stanford Prison Experiment, Conducted by Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University, 1971. In 1971, a team of researchers led by Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo selected twenty-four graduate students, half of which would play the role of guard and half of which the role of prisoner. Zimbardo and team created a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford University psychology building. Roles were assigned arbitrarily to all students who were chosen on the basis of their clean bill of health, i.e. lack of psychological issues. The experiment was intended to last for two weeks, but was terminated after six days because of the extreme nature of role-playing and identity adaptation that ensued. Several guards were judged genuinely sadistic, while prisoners were overcome by trauma.

Abu Ghraib Torture and Prisoner Abuse, American Soldiers and Iraqi Citizens, Abu Ghraib Prison Facility, Iraq, 2003-2004. In February 2004, Major General Antonio M. Taguba completed a 53-page report on the institutional failures of the Army prison system in Iraq, describing incidences of “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib, the military prison located in the Sunni Triangle. Abuses included breaking chemical lights and pouring phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick; and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack and one instance of actually biting a detainee.[3] In the 2007 book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Stanford Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo parallels the Prison Experiment of 1971 and the torture at Abu Ghraib in 2003-4 by way of the fundamental question concerning the nature of human nature: “How is it possible for ordinary, average, even good people to become perpetrators of evil?”

The Disciplinator, 2003, The Technocrat, 2003, Slave City, 2005, Atelier Van Lieshout, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Since the 1990s the Dutch design firm Atelier Van Lieshout, founded by Joep van Lieshout, has been making work that centers on the dyadic play between homo sacer and citizen, bare life and the good life of the public sphere. Like the work of Dadara, this work begins with an idea in the form of a drawing and grows from there, becoming bigger in format, three-dimensional and life size, and finally a mise-en-scène for performance of the interchange between citizen and non-citizen, member of the city and drone of the camp.

Pig City, MVRDV, 2001, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. In 2001, the Dutch architecture firm came up with Pig City, a visionary project engaging ecological consciousness and the bare life of animals. It is a computer simulated coastal environment in which pig farming occurs vertically in towers instead of horizontally in big boxes. In moving the production of pig life upward instead of outward, the architects at MVRDV sought to push density up into the sky, freeing up the ground in order to subvert soil erosion. In the process of bringing home an idea of ecologically sound pig farming, MVRDV reinforces the devalued role of animals in the processing and manufacturing of life. The industrial farming of animals – pigs, chickens and cows – for human consumption can only happen in an ideological structure where humans view animals as soulless raw material, akin to rubber, petrol, and wood. Eat up! Yum.

IN CONLUSION - So, if I may indulge in a rather tasteless allusion to Agamben’s homo sacer, I can risk the claim that the predominant liberal mode of subjectivity today is Homo sucker: while he tries to exploit and manipulate others, he ends up being the ultimate sucker himself. Slavoj Zizek[4]

In Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia, Dadara plays with bare life, showing it to be the necessary footing of full-blown citizenship. The anonymous artist of Dadara nimbly facilitates a game of power, or what the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes in terms of the opposing forces of “nature and culture, zoeand bios.”[5] Made aware of this common under-footing, namely that the devalued non-citizen isl’homme at the core of the citizen, le citoyen, are we all the better, ready to avoid the travails of torture and murder with impunity? Not necessarily. As long as we live in a state where execution is legal, knowing is but a pallid beginning, rote pulsion towards the ineffable negotiation of the tides of subjecthood and the state. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek forewarns of becoming “Homo sucker,” smug in our self-assuredness of who is committing crimes. There is culpability in all corners, left and right, but is there a way out? To query this is to yearn for metaphysics on the sly.
  [1] Agamben, Giorgio, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998) 102.

[2] Althusser, Louis, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Towards an Investigation,”Lenin and Philosophy, trans. Ben Brewster (London: New Left Books, 1971) 127-86.

[3] Hersh, Seymour M., “Torture at Abu Ghraib,” The New Yorker, May 10, 2004,

[4] Zizek, Slavoj, Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates(New York: Verso, 2002) 71.

[5] Agamben, 181.
  Playing at Bare Life: Dadara, the State, and Homo Sacer  
  Copyright 2009 - DADARA