[ISEA2011] Panel: Wafaa Bilal – Dy­namic En­coun­ters

Panel Statement

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.