Archive: Issue No. 118, June 2007

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ArtHeat project space

Wafaa Bilal
Domestic Tension 2007

Domestic Tension
by Ed Young

Since May 4, Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal has found himself locked in a small room at the back of the FLATFILEgalleries in Chicago, Illinois. The room is fully kitted out with a bed, computer, books and a Web cam. The audience can log on, chat and observe the 'live' art thing.

Observing an artist-cum-lab rat is hardly a new concept - I recall a similar experiment happening at Dirt Contemporary in Cape Town a few years ago. But Bilal's project has added pleasure. While one can control the Web cam and follow him around, the camera also has a paintball gun attached to it. Online viewers are invited to take numerous pot shots at this Iraqi when deemed necessary - even while he is sleeping. It's an all round 24/7 thing.

According to the Chicago Tribune, 1 850 rounds had been fired at him within the first four days of his confinement. Two weeks later this number escalated to an astonishing 40 000 rounds. Apparently he is suffering from sleep deprivation. An article in Newsweek states that Bilal came up with the concept after watching an interview with an 'American soldier firing missiles into Iraq from the safety of her Colorado base. She said her intelligence was solid and the people she was killing were bad'.

About a decade ago, Bilal escaped Saddam Hussein's soldiers and fled to a Saudi Arabian refugee camp. He was granted asylum in the US where he studied art and now lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2005, Bilal's brother was killed by shrapnel during an American attack on Iraq. His father passed away only months later, suffering from severe heartbreak.

Bilal notes that his audience is divided: those that want to shoot him and those that control the gun to shoot away from him (apparently on one occasion while he was trying to eat a pizza sent to him by a reporter).

Domestic Tension runs until June 15.