Selected Works

Domestic Tension

Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi born artist who immigrated to the United States in 1992, carried out this 30 day interactive art installation in a back room of Chicago’s Flatfile Galleries. The defining feature of Bilal’s sparsely furnished room was an ominous paint gun, which was connected to the Internet via direct feed. Anyone who visited the exhibit’s website could take control of the gun and fire at will. Titled Domestic Tension, Bilal’s installation has been described as an artistic rumination on the interconnections between technology, killing, entertainment, morality, and the global war on terror (Caro, 2007, May 11). Motivated by a television report about a soldier remotely firing missiles in Iraq while sitting comfortably in Colorado, Bilal devised this piece as a response to the abstractness of contemporary war and its consequences—consequences that are intensely personal to him, having lost both his father and brother in Iraq as a result of the ongoing U.S. military campaign.

Part of the poignancy of Bilal’s installation has lain in its challenge to what Ranciere (1992) and Feldman (2004) referred to as the “police concept of history.” In this scopic regime, history has been framed as a “visual dichotomy of ideal safe space and dystopic, duplicit, and risk-laden space” (p. 333). This ideological environment has been commensurate with the new globalized economy and has flourished in the aftermath of 9/11. Privacy has been handed over in return for supposed security. Fear has replaced freedom. Dissent has not coexisted with patriotism. Bilal’s installation challenged these dichotomies by existing simultaneously as both a site of risk (e.g., emotionally, artistically, physically) and aplace of relative safety (e.g., paintballs replace bullets while Chicago serves for Baghdad). Thus, by attempting to occupy the liminal space (Garoian, 1999) between risk and protection, terror and security, Bilal directly confronted the logic of this duality. By purposefully sacrificing his own privacy—not in exchange for increased security but for amplified physical and emotional risk—he artistically complicated the police concept of history by undermining and transgressing the terr(or)itory between order and disorder, freedom and imprisonment, killing and technologies of killing.

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