If You See Something Say Something: Art, War, Surveillance and the Sustainability of Urgency in the Post 9/11 Era

This panel will provide an opportunity for the examination of politically motivated, media based practices as we move into the second decade after the 9/11 attacks and the resulting War on Terror.
Dates: 
Friday, 16 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Joseph DeLappe
Presenters: 
Bernadette Buckley
Presenters: 
Wafaa Bilal
Presenters: 
Hasan Elahi
Presenters: 
Rita Raley
Image from Domestic Tension project
Studio shoot of 3rdi project with camera mounted

Chair: Prof. Joseph DeLappe

This panel will provide an opportunity for the examination of politically motivated, media based practices as we move into the second decade after the 9/11 attacks and the resulting War on Terror. The individuals involved in this panel have been instrumental in defining the use and dissemination of tactical media practices that have resonated widely in the cultural sphere by confronting issues of war, memory, terrorism and surveillance. The panel provides a crucial and timely context for these creative practitioners and noted scholars to discuss the efficacy of such ongoing efforts of engagement in works that seek to intervene in our contemporary political context. This will be an opportunity for critical discourse by these panelists and the panel attendees to consider the evolution and adaptation of these ideas in light of the challenges to sustaining a level of urgency in such politically activist creative practice -  as conflict, terror and fear have come to typify the status quo. 

Paper Abstracts

Policing the Police in a Post 9/11 Culture

by Bernadette Buckley

In a culture of mass-mediated terror/ism, Ranciere's notion of policing takes up from where Foucault's discussion of Bentham's 'panoptican' ends.  For Ranciere, policing is not so much the ‘disciplining’ of bodies as a rule governing their appearing - it is "a configuration of occupations and the properties of the spaces where these occupations are distributed" (Jacques Ranciere, Disagreement, 1998, p.29). What happens then, when the powerful and ubiquitous strategies of ordering, controlling and policing are reversed - when the police are themselves policed; when the 'voiceless' begin to interfere in the rules of appearance? When Wael Ghonin created a Facebook page for Khalid Said, the 28-year-old Egyptian man who died after allegedly being beaten by police, the page became a rallying point for the January 25 protests against Mubarek's regime in Egypt. When demonstrations started to flag, an interview with Ghonin, broadcast on You Tube, again galvanized protesters, who came back on the streets in large numbers in order to press for an end to the Mubarak regime. Similarly, many artists are increasingly turning to the strategies of sousveillance in order to explore and subvert existing power relations in a post 9/11 culture. By turning normative tools of surveillance and/or systems of dataveillance, back upon themselves, such artists seek to produce methods by which to counter-terrorise or deconstruct the mechanisms of political violence as a series of appearances in media events. This paper explores how, for artists like Rod Dickinson, Harun Farocki, Voina, Vision Machine or Ubermorgan, strategies of surveillance and control can be replayed in reverse and how the rules of appearance can be revisited and 'detourned'.

Dynamic Encounters

by Wafaa Bilal

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.

Conscience, Memory and Protest - Vestiges of the Forever War

by Joseph DeLappe

In March of 2006, to roughly coincide with the 3rd anniversary of the start of the Iraq conflict, I first entered the online US Army recruiting game, America’s Army, in order to manually type the name, age, service branch and date of death of each service person who has died to date in Iraq. dead-in-iraq is essentially a fleeting, performative memorial to those military personnel who have been killed in this ongoing conflict. My actions are at the same time an interventionist gesture to protest against the war in Iraq. This work marked the overt politicization of my creative practice. I went on to create an online database of memorial concepts and projects entitled iraqimemorial.org. This ongoing project invites artists, architects and other creative individuals to upload memorial concepts dedicated to the many untold thousands of civilian casualties from the Iraq invasion. Through these works and others, I seek to develop and implement strategies for utilizing the Internet as the location for interventionist acts of consience, memory and protest. I will discuss the progression of these works and ongoing efforts to continue to engage issues surrounding politics, war and terror, including my participation in the fake New York Times End of the War edition, my efforts to place Hosni Mubarak up for sale on eBay and ongoing works to reify the us and them of representations of war through contemporary first person shooter video games.

Data Camouflage

by Hasan Elahi

With the recent transition from soldiers wearing conventional camouflage in warfare to digital pixels on their battle uniforms, we no longer have a need for the soldiers to blend into the landscape of warfare, but instead
we need them to blend into the machinery of warfare - namely the digital noise in the chip found on night vision goggles. With the widespread use of household digital tools today, for the first time in our culture, we have almost as many producers of information as we have consumers. As we generate data at a continually increasing rate, collection of information is no longer as important as the analysis of that information. In an age where everything is archived and the need to delete is almost nonexistent, can we hide and remain private by generating digital noise of our own?

Discussant

by Rita Raley

Bios of the Participants

Dr. Bernadette Buckley

Dr. Bernadette Buckley joined the Department of International Politics at Goldsmiths in 2007. Before arriving at Goldsmiths, she was a lecturer in Contemporary Art Theory & Practice at the International Centre for Cultural & Heritage Studies, Newcastle University. Buckley’s research interests traverse a number of different fields. She has long since been interested in the complex relationships between art and war and/or art and terrorism. Simultaneously however, her interest in ‘Gallery Studies’ has led her to explore the relationship between ‘curating’ and ‘creating’ and to investigate the ontology of curating from the perspective of the ‘event’. In this vein also, she is also interested in the (de)differentiation between ‘contemporary art’, ‘heritage’, ‘education’ and other areas of practice. Additionally she has explored notions of (un)‘education’ both in ‘artistic’ and in ‘gallery’ practices. Dr. Buckley is a Board Member of Tate Papers and the Journal for Museum Education and a member of Polarts, the ECPR Standing Group for Politics and the Arts.  She wrote the chapter, TERRIBLE BEAUTIES , for Art in the Age of Terrorism, eds. G. Coulter Smith & M. Owen, Paul Holberton, New York, 2005. The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq by P.Stone, and J. Farchakh, eds., HMP: London, 2008, an edited collection of essays for which she wrote a chapter on the implications for contemporary artists, recently won the 2011 James Wiseman prize, from the Archaeological Institute of America.

Wafaa Bilal

Wafaa Bilal an Iraqi-born artist and Assistant Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, 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.

Joseph DeLappe

Joseph DeLappe is a Professor of the Department of Art at the University of Nevada where he directs the Digital Media program. Working with electronic and new media since 1983, his work in online gaming performance and electromechanical installation have been shown throughout the United States and abroad - including exhibitions and performances in Australia, the United Kingdom, China, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada. In 2006 he began the project dead-in-iraq, to type consecutively, all names of America’s military casualties from the war in Iraq into the America’s Army first person shooter online recruiting game. He also directs the iraqimemorial.org project, an ongoing web based exhibition and open call for proposed memorials to the many thousand of civilian casualties from the war in Iraq.  He has lectured throughout the world regarding his work, including most recently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. He has been interviewed on CNN, NPR, CBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and on The Rachel Maddow Show on Air America Radio. His works have been featured in the New York Times, The Australian Morning Herald, Artweek, Art in American and in the 2010 book from Routledge entitled Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Game.

Hasan Elahi

Hasan Elahi is an interdisciplinary artist whose work examines issues of surveillance, simulated time, transport systems, borders and frontiers. His work has been presented in numerous exhibitions at venues such as SITE Santa Fe, Centre Georges Pompidou, Sundance Film Festival, Kassel Kulturbahnhof, The Hermitage, and at the Venice Biennale. Elahi recently was invited to speak about his work at the Tate Modern, Einstein Forum, and at the American Association of Artificial Intelligence. His awards include grants from the Creative Capital Foundation, a Ford Foundation/Phillip Morris National Fellowship, and an artist grant from the Asociacion Artetik Berrikuntzara in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain. His work is frequently in the media and has been covered by The New York Times, Forbes, Wired, CNN, ABC, CBS, NPR, Al Jazeera, Fox, and has appeared on The Colbert Report. He is currently Associate Professor of Art at University of Maryland. He is a 2010 Alpert/MacDowell Fellow and in 2009, he was Resident Faculty and Nancy G. MacGrath Endowed Chair at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

Rita Raley

Rita Raley is Associate Professor of English, with courtesy appointments in Film and Media Studies, Comparative Literature, and Global Studies, at University California, Santa Barbara. Her primary research interests lie at the intersection of digital media and humanist inquiry, with a particular emphasis on cultural critique, artistic practices, and language (codework, machine translation, electronic literature, and electronic English). Her book, Tactical Media, a study of new media art in relation to neoliberal globalization, has been published by the University of Minnesota Press in its Electronic Mediations series.  Her most recent publications include the co-edited Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2, as well as articles on poetic and narratological uses of mobile and locative media and text-based media arts installations. In addition to ongoing research on digital poetics and interventionist media arts practices, she continues work on Global English and the Academy, excerpts of which have been published in The Yale Journal of Criticism and Diaspora. In the English department at UCSB, she currently directs the Transcriptions Center (original website) and co-directs the Literature and Culture of Information Specialization. She has had fellowship appointments at the National Humanities Center and UCLA, as part of the Mellon-funded project on the Digital Humanities, and has taught at Rice and the University of Minnesota.