There is one commonly held belief in Mexico which, in spite of all its precariousness, remains almost infallible: Shit is fucked. Women, journalists, and students are murdered in cold blood on a daily basis—the harsh consequence of living in a dictatorial, authoritarian and despotic regime. There are remote corners of the web that force us out of such passivity and manage to place us smack-dab in the middle of the shitstorm. D.R.E.A.M.H.O.U.S.E. is one such place.
D.R.E.A.M.H.O.U.S.E. is a 3D rendering of the now infamous Casa Blanca (or white house), a $7 million mansion built by a government contractor for Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto and his family. Upon investigation, it exposed a net of corruption and conflicts of interest between the president and elements affiliated with his party, spurring widespread umbrage among the public, who called for the Peña Nieto’s resignation. Created by a team of Mexico City-based visual artists dubbed Vngravity—comprised of Salvador Loza, Alfredo Martínez, and Gibrann Morgado—the work essentially takes what is widely considered to be one of the most shameful incidents of the current president’s administration and re-purposes it as a space to both present and function as, albeit virtually, art.
Salvador Loza, one of the artists behind Vngravity tells The Creators Project, “One day, while looking at pictures of the house, I noticed that it looked a lot like a contemporary art museum—one those white boxes we liked to mock—so I started to imagine what it would be like to have an exhibit in there.”
Part of what is so fascinating about D.R.E.A.M.H.O.U.S.E is how it renders an inhospitable environment livable, accessible and almost tangible. It's there to be more than just morbidly consumed, as just another headline in our quotidian feed, but actually lived in and experienced as a breathing entity. Operating under the shrewd conceit of turning the notorious mansion into a "private" museum that is at once public and open to all, the work manages to go beyond a mere denouncement of opulence, raising questions about the idea of access itself. It brings to mind the discourse surrounding the 1% in the wake of the Occupy movement, where the shadowy figures at the top who purportedly oppress are always presented as a kind of abstract idea, a politicized construction that never truly generates a human face or contains any obvious links to reality.
What Vngravity’s 3D recreation does is place us in the living quarters of the ruling elite which we could imagine as just another clichéd construction of evil. It's very much real, it is after all the place where Peña Nieto and his family resided, and a metonym for all things awry in Mexico today. As artist Loza deftly places it, “La Casa Blanca is a despotic symbol, it's uninvolved with its surroundings, which—in its seeming architectural gleam—is a way of shutting out the outside world. A white space, covered in marble, minimalistic, it’s the perfect place for a president who wants to deny his own duty. It's despotic and opportunistic. It's a place that denies its roots.”
Indeed, for a moment, when we are "on the inside," we do gather a sense of idyllic retreat, a kind of unsettling tranquility that is only upset by the starkly contrasting soundtrack—Top 40 hits like 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” and Gucci Mane’s “El Chapo,” (songs that also bask in the glorification of accumulated wealth). Decorated with works of art, the sensation that being inside the house generates is not unlike that of stepping inside a gallery—itself a white-boxed, sealed off environment.
This fact that is not at all lost on the artists, as privilege, opulence, and access (or lack of) are all elements that—in addition to describing Mexican politics and late capitalism—can also apply to the mainstream art world and its institutions. It's precisely its inaccessibility to most—not moneyed, not white—that makes it so appealing and so revolting to so many others.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that D.R.E.A.M.H.O.U.S.E should present this parallel in the form of digital art, which has always remained at the fringe of the mainstream art world, given in large part to its complicated monetization scheme. It's all open and freely available to anyone with an internet browser. It's not an altogether new idea, but it does stand out in an art scene as dispersive as Mexico's, which tends to be represented globally through the same tired art fairs and the same thematic clichés.
D.R.E.A.M.H.O.U.S.E is brash, subversive, and forward-thinking—something that inevitably pushes it to the fringes of its country's artistic and political landscape, yet renders it all the more potent.