Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cybernetics and Gaming

Iraqi born artist Wafaa Bilal has exhibited his art world wide, and traveled and lectured extensively to inform audiences of the situation of the Iraqi people, and the importance of peaceful conflict resolution. Bilal's 2007 dynamic installation Domestic Tension placed him on the receiving end of a paintball gun that was accessible online to a worldwide audience, 24 hours a day. Newsweek called the project “breathtaking” and the Chicago Tribune called the month-long piece "one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time," and named Bilal its 2007 Artist of the Year. Bilal has exhibited worldwide including in Baghdad, the Netherlands, Thailand and Croatia; as well as at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Milwaukee Art Museum and various other US galleries. His residencies have included Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, California; Catwalk in New York; and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In fall 2008 City Lights published “Shoot an Iraqi: Life, Art and Resistance Under the Gun,” about Bilal’s life and the Domestic Tension project.

Wafaa Bilal's 2007 installation, Domestic Tension is intriguing to me through its use of media, sharp political critique, and reflexivity with the user/participant. His use of an online server that can be accessed by anyone connects dirrectly with second order cybernetics, in that those outside of the system/gallery space can connect dirrectly with the artist, and in this case cause him bodily harm through the paintball gun.

I am also interested in the differences between passive observers, i.e. those at the gallery watching others manipulate the gun via a computer terminal, and those who are enacting in the "gameplay" of Shoot[ing] An Iraqi, as Bilal originally intended to title the piece. Active participants of course include those sitting at home operating the gun, though perhaps these participants are more engaged the sort of disconnected reflexivity Bilal is creating because their connection to the artist is limited to the computer screen. So are those "outside" of the gallery (literaly and figuratively) only playing a game? Rather, are those engaged through the "gameplay" of Bilal's piece more engaged with the piece itself? There is also a video blog that he kept everyday of the piece, that anyone can view online. This serves as another level for users to connect online with Bilal, as seen through his self-directed webcam and not the limited one attached to the gun. It offers a more insightful, personal and provocative view of the artist; a glimpse of what he may sound and look like slightly removed from the "gameplay" narrative.

Now, as I have been watching the video blogs from Domestic Tension and reading Shoot An Iraqi, which traverses between Bilal's experiences growing up in Iraq during the Gulf War and to present-day experieces in Domestic Tension, I am still able to experience the piece even though I never operated the painball gun over the web.

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