Failure of the American Dream

Phil America:
Failure of the American Dream

Phil America standing outside his tent in "The Jungle"

Phil America, The Jungle, San Jose, USA, 2014, Photo courtesy Phil America

Phil America: Failure of the American Dream

January 31 – May 8, 2016

Failure of the American Dream is an exhibition featuring video and installation created in 2014 by Phil America while he lived in The Jungle, the nickname for a tent city near Silicon Valley in San Jose, California. The Jungle was the largest encampment of homeless people in the United States at the time. The exhibition explores the realities of poverty in the United States that are frequently sensationalized or ignored in Western culture while sharing the humanity of an everyday epidemic.
The popularly understood ideology of “The American Dream” assumes that citizens have the opportunity to attain a level of financial and social status that will make them happy. Homelessness and the tent city are the anti-dream. People living in the tents have created housing and a community on their own terms, outside the laws of society. Their dream has been temporarily or permanently abandoned to focus on the immediate need for safety, food and shelter. Each person in The Jungle was promised this dream by the their parents, their teachers, and has been denied; now their main focus is survival.
Failure of the American Dream is an examination of a Third World within the United States and a portrait of the many people left struggling each day. The video is accompanied by an installation that includes the tent and belongings Phil America used to survive during his month in The Jungle.
Phil America is a performative character, an extension of the artist and his ideas. He describes himself as a “performative character” to help people understand that this work is time based performance art as well as artwork that is documented and exhibited. Highlighting the act of living in The Jungle is as important to him as showing the tent later. Being a performative character helps people focus on the performance aspect of the work and reminds them that they can put themselves in the place of the character played by Phil America.
Phil America will live in the installation at CAM Raleigh and share his experiences with museum visitors from May 4 through May 8.

Phil America - portrait/profile photo“It’s always a difficult and restricting question when asked to put labels on yourself. But, to make things simple, I’m an artist from California, a vegan, an activist, a teacher, a brother and to some a criminal.”

About Failure of the American Dream at the Clockwork Factory, London, UK. 2014:
“America is a country with everything. There are the richest people in the world and there’s third world America. There are highs and lows. But the reality is there is an honesty in the eyes of Americans that doesn’t exist in many other places.”

Phil America – Living the Anti Dream, Trap Magazine, 2014, Interview by Dave Clark

Photo courtesy Cheeze Magazine

Phil America at the Clockwork Factory

Failure of the American Dream, 2014, Multimedia Installation (film, sound and personal belongings), The Clockwork Factory, London
Photo courtesy The Clockwork Factory

Phil America, The American Dream, courtesy Phil America

Phil America was born in 1983 and currently lives and works in California. Solo exhibitions have been presented at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul, South Korea (2015); Dubai Community Theater & Art Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (2015); The Clockwork Factory, London, UK (2014); Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, Bangkok, Thailand (2014); Montana Shop & Gallery, Lisbon, Portugal (2013); Vess, Copenhagen, Denmark (2013). His work has been included in numerous thematic exhibitions Silence Was Golden at MOCA Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan (2015) and The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California (2015); A Transparent Truth: Phil Knight’s Song, Think Tank Gallery, Los Angeles, California (2015); Summer at City Hall, A Totem For Us, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California (2015); Freedumb, Backwoods Gallery, Melbourne, Australia (2015); Utopian Days, Total Museum of Contemporary Art and Nowon Culture and Arts Center, Seoul, South Korea (2014); Journey of Voices, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Bangkok, Thailand (2014); Slum Vacation, Museo de Almeria, Almeria, Spain and a screening in Times Square, New York City, New York (2014); White Ambition, Museum of Modern Art – Cullman Education and Research Building, part of the Exchange Archive New York (2013). Phil America has worked extensively with Public Delivery an international non-profit arts organization founded in 2011 by Martin Schulze in Seoul, South Korea.

Sound Installation: Composed by DJ Pain 1 and Memory
DJ Pain 1 is a music producer, DJ and educator from Madison, WI.  His discography includes music with Public Enemy, Mavis Staples, 50 Cent and others. Guitar is played and composed by Jason ‘Memory’ Kempen, a Madison-based songwriter, instrumentalist and aspiring anthropologist.

Original Project Funded by Public Delivery, Seoul, South Korea (2014)

Public Delivery: Phil America


Public Delivery • The New Arts Organization • Valley Homeless Healthcare Program • DJ Pain 1 • Memory • The Jungle • Indio • Candy • Beth • Kat • Dragon • Troy • Dorian Lynde • Martin Schulze • Victoria Villasana • Sean Lozito


AV Metro • AC Restaurants • AJ Fletcher Foundation • Aloft Hotels • CAM/now • Capitol Broadcasting Company • Citrix • City of Raleigh • City of Raleigh Arts Commission • Clark’s Promise • Ella Ann and Frank B. Holding Foundation • First Tennessee Bank • Robert P. Holding Foundation • Hobby Properties • Hodge and Kittrell Sotheby’s International Realty • Morningstar Law Group • Newmark Grubb Knight Frank • Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein • Red Hat • Research Triangle Park Foundation • SiteLink • The C. Hamilton Sloan Foundation • Tannis Root • The Umstead Hotel and Spa • Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice • The Betty Eichenberger Adams Society

Proceeds from t-shirt sales support Clark’s Promise.
Clark’s Promise is an organization lovingly built in the memory of Clark Grew that offers an avenue of assistance to people who live on our Raleigh streets. Through a caring, committed engagement nurse, Clark’s Promise assists people with medical care, medicine, basic needs, and connections to organizations that can help sustain them–all with love, compassion and respect.

CAM’s educational and community programs are funded in part by the Goodnight Educational Foundation, The Grable Foundation, IBM, the William R. Kenan Jr Charitable Trust, IBM Community Grants, SunTrust and the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. Family Sundaes are funded by the PNC Foundation.  


Marvin J. Malecha, FAIA, Dean, College of Design, NC State University (retired)

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