BIO
Orit Gat is contributing editor (print & publishing) for Rhizome. She writes about art for other places, too.

Virtual Spectacle: A Conversation with Wafaa Bilal



Wafaa Bilal, Domestic Tension (still), 2007

For the past ten months, Iraqi-born New York–based artist Wafaa Bilal has been documenting everything that happens behind him. A camera has been fastened to the back of his head that automatically takes a photograph every minute. The project, 3rd I, is an attempt to capture the mundane, to create an archive of the everyday we leave behind, and put it all online. Two months before 3rd I culminates and becomes an inanimate archive and a few days after Bilal changed the mounted camera he has been using for the project in favor of a new one, designed to match a plaster cast of his skull, we met to talk about it and some earlier works, and talk about ideas concerning the archive, online and offline space, and slowness.

When considering the extreme nature of some of Bilal's works, like Domestic Tension, where the artist lived in a gallery for the duration of the performance, allowing online viewers to direct a paintball gun at him, or Virtual Jihadi, where Bilal casts himself as a suicide bomber in an Al-Qaeda version of a videogame called "Quest for Saddam," it may induce viewers to discuss these in terms of spectacle. In fact, the spectacle here is part of the performance and should not be confused with the point of the performance. In conversation, Bilal—an artist who thinks about his work complexly and discusses it eloquently—talks about his recent work 3rd I, as well as past works, in terms of his dialogue with the history of art, with the public, and with his personal engagement with politics and history.


 

You talk about 3rd I in the context of ideas of "slowness." This term is becoming increasingly commonplace, especially among people who work with new media. But your idea of slowness includes an intense, long-term commitment too, that is political, physical, and emotional. Now that the project is nearing its one-year finishing line, do you talk about slowness differently?

You're right. In the last few years, a lot of people are trying to slow down technology, I think this nostalgic notion of technology or interactivity is disappearing. I don't know if it's a fatigue or if the medium exhausted itself because there was such a great promise for interactivity and I think artists found their limitation with it making it increasingly complicated. In terms of slowing things down, we are so overwhelmed with these images that we lost any still moment in personal space, so a lot of us are wishing, I don't know if it's possible, to slow things down and shield that personal space.. 

 


"Performance Anxiety" at Stadium Gallery


Steve Bishop, Φ III, 2011.


Stadium is a new event and exhibition space in Chelsea. The inaugural exhibition, "Performance Anxiety," featuring four artists, Steve Bishop, Ben Schumacher, Chris Chiappa, and Timur Si-Qin, opened on November 10 and runs until December 20, 2011.

"Performance Anxiety" was curated by artist Nicolas Djandji, who tragically passed away in a bicycle accident in September. A number of his friends took the research he conducted in the last few weeks of his life and grouped in order to finalize the administrative tasks necessary to complete the show and fabricate new works by artist Steve Bishop, Ben Schumacher, and Timur Si-Qin.

The artists featured in "Performance Anxiety" all deal in their works with the consumer culture of bodily self-improvement. Using quotidian products—deodorant, mouthwash, Vitamin Water—their works show how a trip to the pharmacy can tell us something about the way we live today and our value systems. From the press release:

Here, the notion that the pursuit of athletic, hygienic, and professional perfection should be sought through the constant purchase of new products is cast into doubt. Through a series of works arresting these normally utilitarian, performance-enhancing products in sculpture, Performance Anxiety waxes upon the paradoxical, collectively shared desire of the present-day individual to become superhuman–physically fit, sexually attractive, and immaculately groomed—by way of altering the body’s chemistry and obscuring its most basic functions. Contextualizing these items as aesthetic elements rather than functional goods, each artist carves a meditative space reflecting upon the absurd modus operandi of these products.

A press release so intelligently written—that speaks specifically to the artists' works and practice while tying them in with the exhibition's theme and art historical traditions—is rare. And it seems that as a space Stadium is embarking on an ...

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A Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics


Production stills from Judy Radul, World Rehearsal Court, 2009.


A Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics is an anthology published by Sternberg Press and Henie Onstad Art Center in Oslo, accompanying Judy Radul’s exhibition “World Rehearsal Court.” Radul’s work is a research project into the model of the International Criminal Court, complexly considering the effect technology and new media have had on our justice systems. Her work is a four-hour, seven-channel video installation that includes a courtroom staged and shot in a gymnasium, with a scripted text that takes the forms of vignettes, so that “you never get a whole picture” (Judy Radoul in an interview for Artforum), while including the viewers, who are filmed and projected onto screens that form part of the installation.

Edited by Radoul and Oslo-based curator and art historian Marit Paasche, A Thousand Eyes introduces a different way of discussing the idea of law and the modern justice system in a way that is different than commonplace representation of law and lawmaking in the visual arts. Whereas the form of the trial has been commonly used in artworks, performances, and symposia in the contemporary art world (I am thinking, for example, of Hila Peleg’s film documenting Anton Vidokle and Tirdad Zolghadr’s A Crime Against Art [The Madrid Trial], where the artist and curator put themselves on trial for “collusion with the bourgeoisie and other serious accusations”), the discussion of law and lawmaking in the arts has largely focused on subjects of intellectual property, artistic freedom, and censorship (for example, in Daniel McClean’s (ed.) excellent book The Trials of Art [London: Ridinghouse, 2007]). This book introduces and promotes an intricate web of ways of thinking about the relationship between visual media and the law.

In the introduction to the book ...

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Performa 11


Performa, the Performance Art Biennial, has announced its full calendar of events for the duration of the biennial, November 1-21. The projects involved vary from commissioned theatrical pieces, film series, lectures, exhibitions, walking tours, and public actions. The full calendar of events can be seen here.

The relationship between visual art performance and digital culture is rich in possibilities, which Performa allows us to survey every two years. One of the most productive characteristics of the biennial is its focus on a link with the past and the consideration of contemporary activity within this prism. Thus, the 2009 edition focused on Futurism, and the 2011 one will focus on Russian Constructivism and Fluxus, its research themes deriving from this interest to span language, translation, the politics of speech, and the animation of modern sculpture. All of these provide context for the full, long, and impressive list of events that would happen as part of the biennial, as well as a rare space to consider contemporary practices in light of art history.

Below is a list of recommended Performa events. It was compiled from the calendar, keeping in mind the biennial's focus, but highlighting the prospects of interesting intersections between performance art, architecture, and digital culture. Details such as date, location, and price can be found on Performa's website. 


 

Ed Atkins, Haroon Mirza, and James Richards, An Echo Button, 2011

MARKUS MIESSEN AND GUESTS

ON SPATIAL POLITICS

Berlin-based architect and writer Markus Miessen discusses the relationship between contemporary politics, architecture, and space. 

SERKAN OZKAYA

SPEECH ACTS AND 3D MODELING

Artist Serkan Ozkaya researches J. L. Austin's How To Do Things With Words and 3D modeling of Michelangelo's David in this talk about language and objects.

PUBLIC MOVEMENT

POSITIONS

Israeli collective Public Movement initiates a new action in ...

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The Piracy Project


Sissu Tarka, Pirate Affect, 2008

The Piracy Project was initiated by AND Publishing as a result of a threat to close down the Byam Shaw Library at Central Saint Martins school of art in London, where AND is located. AND's website defines the Piracy Project as "an international publishing and exhibition project exploring the philosophical, legal and practical implications of book piracy and creative modes of reproduction." What this means in practice is a series of suggestions to the way we interact with books, all of which are archived on the project's website, as well as distributed and exhibited by AND Publishing.

Could book piracy be considered a methodology? At a time when discussions about book piracy have proliferated mainly as a result of the rising popularity of e-readers (so often described as the publishing industry's saviors), the publishing industry found itself in a position similar to that of the music and film industries, both of which have been fighting piracy unsuccessfully for a long time. Still, somehow, book piracy always seemed a little different. True, it has its quirks, like illegal translations done from a language other than the original or chapters added in to an illegal version. But maybe book piracy seems different because in a way, we have all pirated books. We read PDFs that a university professor scanned from his or her private copy of a book, including their comments in the margins. We try to interpose open pages on Amazon and those on Google Books in order to get the information we are looking for. Somehow, it seems more acceptable; when a professor scans a few chapters from a private copy it is deemed "fair use," and thus not a copyright infringement, because it is done for educational reasons. But the habit ...

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