Doreen Chan “HalfDream: Another Room” Exhibition Overview

In her first solo exhibition in the US, HalfDream: Another Room, Doreen Chan (b. 1987, Hong Kong) finds in dreams a poetic medium for identifying possibilities of human connection and a communal language. As the title of her show expresses, for Chan dreams provide another room–“a space that is real for the dreamer, not fake,” in her words, or illusionary–but is instead a tangible, psychological realm that allows for a better understanding of how individual experiences, personal memories, major life changes, and daily routines, are shared by others. Further, by working through them, a person’s dreams can make a concrete impact in their perception–of relationships or the past–altering the course of healing or shaping new trajectories.

This ongoing participatory project grew out of a body of work that began as a response to Chan’s vivid, rapid dreaming in the context of the political climate in 2019 where the artist grew up in Hong Kong. Following the stay-at-home order period of the COVID-19 pandemic, the artist’s consideration of dreams morphed into HalfDream. This project explores commonalities at a time of political polarization–how psychological experiences and very real states of instability, displacement, and isolation, recur throughout the unconscious inner worlds of many. Removing herself or a particular city as the central protagonist in this exhibition, Chan sets into motion a system for gathering and sharing the ephemeral, idiosyncratic dreams of the collective, transforming them into artwork with the participants, and asking visitors to reflect on their own dream memories.

During her residency in Pittsburgh, Chan has worked closely with local groups and classrooms, forming meaningful collaborations that created opportunities for intimacy among people with seemingly disparate backgrounds. For Chan, this collaborative engagement is the fundamental material of the work itself: comprised of the trust and exploratory conversations forged over the course of the project. While her HalfDream works incorporate an online component with anonymous contributions, the artist parses and pairs the individual dreams herself. The resulting exhibition situates the viewer decidedly between the physical and immaterial, personal and collective.

The installation on view, including new work in video, sound, and sculpture as well as social-practice, brings together dream content from eleven “dreamers,” as Chan describes the participants in her work who function less as subjects than as active collaborators. In a three-channel, interactive video, three of these individuals revisit, express, and analyze important relationships, from childhood trauma to potential loss of a friendship. Here, Chan assumes the role of facilitator and mixologist, inviting participants to talk through their dream content and associations through visceral blends evoking related places, smells, and tastes. One dreamer talks about a move from mainland China to Chicago and the distance from home over a concoction of brandy, garlic, and chili oil, reminding the dreamer of her father.

Other parts of the show take the form of abstract sculptures and wall-based works that fuse dream landscapes held in common by multiple participants: an underwater location marked by a glass window or fish tank; an ambiguous melding of sunrise and sunset; a feeling of sitting on a bench between two individuals whether known or strangers. “Is somebody else here? And who are they?” is a suspicion that runs throughout, as the irregular curvature of a seat suggests a missing body, or the sound of footsteps from the ceiling above reminds us we are not alone. Embedded within this sentiment are stories incorporating humor and grief, family relationships, and the passage of time.

These themes have occupied the artist’s practice regarding her own personal world, but here they shift into deeply considered conversations with others. Throughout the exhibition, dreams become a common language to communally make sense of social events, everyday phenomena, or tragedy. Using structural materials like resin, acrylic, and wood to create the subtlest alterations expected in objects reminiscent of a clock, a bench, a bookshelf, Chan’s sculptural and multi-media installation refuses to mimic qualities of dreaminess, but instead suggests an evocative laboratory for engaging that which evades, and connects, all of us.

HalfDream: Another Room will be on view through fall 2023. During the run of the exhibition Chan will return to Pittsburgh and invite some dreamers to revisit their submissions and create artworks based on their dreams with her in the gallery. To participate, share your dreams on 

Doreen Chan (Hong Kong, b.1987) has received training in visual communication and photography. She graduated with an MA in Art Education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2021. Primarily a lens-based and site-specific artist, Chan’s ongoing work is realized both online and offline. In her current participatory art project, HalfDream, she blends her deep desire of connecting people and the progressive development of her artistic practices with the focus on the investigation of personal perception, materiality, and daily details that are often overlooked. Key elements in Chan’s work include interpersonal relationships, personal memories, and fragmentary moments of daily life in the city. Chan was listed as a finalist in the Art Sanya Huayu Youth Award in 2019, and the 4th VH Award. She was named a Cultured Magazine Young Artist in 2021 and received the Pritzker Fellowship in 2019.