SURVEILLING EMPTINESS AT WAPATO JAIL ACE LEHNER
Unlike most empty prisons, Wapato Correctional Facility’s 525 beds are not haunted by ghosts, instead of pristine pillows rest atop heinously cheap and hideously green mattresses that have never been slept in and do not hold indentations made by the weight of past trauma. There are no stains, no hairs, no traces of human suffering. Completed in 2004 the Multnomah County jail has stood empty till today and while it has often been described by locals as an albatross, it might more fittingly be considered a physical manifestation of Jeremy Bentham’s conception of the Panopticon. For, like Bentham’s Panopticon -a conceptual structure that, never actually housed any prisoners- Wapato Jail’s surveillance cameras perpetually watch over constant emptiness.
Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility probes the many concerns that the vacant jail suggests: breakdowns in democracy, prevailing power structures and others. The project's title takes its meaning from various interpretations of the word "demos". The Greek word "demos" (pronounced "day-moss"), refers to the "village" or "people." In English, "demo", is used as a shorthand for "demonstration", as a reference to the "demo mix-tape", or as the vernacular for "demolition". ERNEST thus uses "demos" to refer to its interest in keeping their methods experimental and provisional, while creating opportunities for local participatory engagement.
ERNEST is a working-group comprised of a flexible roster. Shifting the focus away from the individual identities of the artists, ERNEST provides a democratic means for artists to make work that challenges dominant ideas about site, body, and power. Learn more at iamernest.us.