Panel: If You See Something Say Something: Art, War, Surveillance and the Sustainability of Urgency in the Post 9/11 Era
My 2007 work Domestic Tension used a virtual, transitory and intangible medium – the internet – to convey to the American public something of the daily experience of the people of Iraq living in a conflict zone. In this project, inspired by the 2004 death of my brother in our hometown of Iraq, I was confined for one month in a Chicago gallery with a paintball gun aimed at me, which people could shoot over the Internet. Since this project, I have had an anti-material approach. I want to create experiences that will last in people’s memories far more viscerally than the passive viewing of a material object which will just end up in a gallery. Embodying an experience in an object is a Western notion. How can we reverse that notion so the artwork becomes the experience itself? So it is an active experience, with no product and all process. The experience of my daily life and those around me is the direct and constant fodder of my current project, the 3rdi. With a camera implanted in the back of my head, capturing an image spontaneously once a minute and uploading it to the web, I am inviting people to examine and acknowledge the otherwise overlooked corners of our lives and surroundings; while also highlighting the ever-presence of security cameras and other surveillance apparata and the near-absence of any truly private space in our modern reality.
- Wafaa Bilal an Iraqi-born artist and Assistant Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (USA), is known internationally for his on-line performative and interactive works provoking dialogue about international politics and internal dynamics. For his current project, the 3rdi, Bilal had a camera surgically implanted on the back of his head to spontaneously transmit images to the web 24 hours a day – a statement on surveillance, the mundane and the things we leave behind. Bilal’s 2010 work …And Counting similarly used his own body as a medium. His back was tattooed with a map of Iraq and dots representing Iraqi and US casualties – the Iraqis in invisible ink seen only under a black light. Bilal’s 2007 installation, Domestic Tension, also addressed the Iraq war. Bilal spent a month in a Chicago gallery as the target of a paintball gun that people could shoot at him over the internet. The Chicago Tribune called it “one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time” and named him 2008 Artist of the Year. Bilal’s work is constantly informed by the experience of fleeing his homeland and existing simultaneously in two worlds – his home in the comfort zone of the U.S. and his consciousness of the conflict zone in Iraq. Bilal suffered repression under Saddam Hussein’s regime and fled Iraq in 1991 during the first Gulf War. After two years in refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, he came to the United States where he graduated from the University of New Mexico and then obtained an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2008 City Lights published Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun, about Bilal’s life and the Domestic Tension project.