Over the course of 2014-2015, ERNEST has been making a multi-media artwork investigating an unoccupied jail site called Wapato in the St. John’s neighborhood of Portland. Our project, Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility is comprised of a video, publication, a print edition (printed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest College of Arts’ Watershed Press), and a participatory event. This work is done with the support of Portland’s c3:Initiative.
Demos (pronounced “day-moss”) conjures early Athenian concepts of both “village” and “People” (Δῆμος). Equally, demos can be read to connote more modern concepts of the “demo,” or mix-tape, as well as the shorthand vernacular for demolition. As a collaborative group intent on testing and enacting forms of radical democracy, demos refers to local participatory engagement, keeping methods experimental and provisional, while harnessing the power of generative de(con)struction.
Coyotes, ERNEST’s unlikely interlocutors at Wapato, burrow beneath the fenced perimeter of the jail to come and go as they please. Coyote, and an unrelenting sense of frustration, leads Demos: Wapato Correctional Facility in a transformation of the specifics of Wapato Jail into a platform for challenging conversation and collaboration. The video component acts as conjurer, the publication as a platform for voices ranging in depth and breadth, and the event component creates an opportunity to stimulate discussion around the issues it brings up for various members of the community.