Whether he becomes the target of a paintball machine that could be triggered by any keyboard across the world or whether he hacks his way into an al-Qaida game to play the role of a suicide bomber, Bilal knows better than many artists or activists how to drag people out of what he calls "their comfort zone" and make them face issues they might otherwise not be willing to engage with.
His latest project addresses the issue of the invisibility of Iraqi civilian deaths during the war.
Wafaa Bilal's brother Haji was killed by a missile at a checkpoint in their hometown of Kufa, Iraq in 2004. Bilal feels the pain of both American and Iraqi families who've lost loved ones in the war, but the deaths of Iraqis like his brother are largely invisible to the American public.
...and Counting addresses this double standard as Bilal submits his body to a 24-hour live performance. His back will be tattooed with a borderless map of Iraq covered with one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they fell. The 5,000 dead American soldiers are represented by red dots (permanent visible ink), and the 100,000 Iraqi casualties are represented by dots of green UV ink. During the performance people from all walks of life read off the names of the dead.
The performance will take place at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York on March 8th at 8pm. Bilal is asking visitors to donate $1 which will go to the group Rally for Iraq, to fund scholarships for Americans and Iraqis who lost parents in the war.
Previously: Positions in Flux - Panel 1: Art goes politics - Wafaa Bilal, Book Review - Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and A few words with Wafaa Bilal.
You know how some charmless and dull cities on the continent pride themselves with the title of "Europe's best kept secret"? I bet Luxembourg wouldn't dare to pretend to the label. The place is as charmless as a man wearing Ugg boots. Don't even get me started on their food. Yet, i keep going again and again to Luxembourg because of its edgy and exciting art offer. My last visit was spurred by the second chapter of the exhibition sk-interfaces at Casino Luxembourg.
Yes, i had already seen sk-interfaces. Exploding Borders in Art, Technology and Society at FACT in Liverpool but the Luxembourg version, i was told by friends, is bigger, bolder and even better than the first one. They were right. Several pieces have been added to the show. The performances are extremely well documented and there is a corner to watch videos. The space itself is kinder to the artworks. There's even extra drama as the poor Victimless Leather (A prototype of Stitch-less Jacket grown in a Technoscientific 'Body') garments had caught some disease on their way to the Casino and were slowly eaten by decay.
It's as if the first exhibition in Liverpool had been a superb rehearsal of this one.
Curated by Jens Hauser, the exhibition sk-interfaces presents some 20 artists who question the ways in which today's techno-sciences alter our relation to the world: digital technologies, architecture, tissue cultures, transgenesis, self-experiments or telepresence - the artists appropriate these methods and explore the permeability between disciplines and between art and science. Their interfaces connect us with different species, destabilise our definition of being human today and reflect on the question of satellite bodies. Oscillating between the physical and the metaphorical, the political and the meditative, the utopias and the dystopias, the exhibition invite us to reflect on how we are perceiving the shifts brought about by technologies, some of which we might not be as familiar with as we ought to.
One of the best surprises for me was to discover that the Critical Art Ensemble was not only showing Immolation but also a video i was very curious about: Marching Plague (little did i know, until the press person at Casino told me so, that the video is also available for online viewing.)
Critical Art Ensemble's film puts into a highly skeptical perspective UK-US bioweapons research and the paranoia surrounding bioterrorism. In the video, the CAE and some volunteers follows the steps of Operation Cauldron, a series of biological warfare trials conducted by the UK governmentoff the Isle of Lewis in Scotland in 1952. These secret trials investigated whether germs could be used as a weapon for ship-to-ship combat. Their tests found that germs were as unreliable and unmanageable on the sea as they were on the land.
The film humorously demonstrates that the public's fear of "bioterrorism" is not only based on incomplete awareness of the facts but has also been exploited by governments to justify the creeping costs of biological warfare programmes. Money which could otherwise be dedicated to the fight against existing or emerging infectioius diseases.
inthewrongplaceness is an intimate performance that Kira O'Reilly developed on her return from a residency at SymbioticA in 2004. The impact of working with pig's tissue in a lab setting instigated her thoughts on the similarities between the pig's skin and her own. By inviting members of the audience to approach one by one and touch both her own and the skin of a dead, nonhuman animal, O'Reilly encourages visitors to engage with the complexities of the relationships between skin, touch and species. The artist also explained in an interview: It was also very much influenced by a book called Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq, about a woman who turns into a pig. She spends quite some time in the middle of the text oscillating through in between stages, neither entirely one nor the other.
I didn't see the performance but it seems that it took place in a room that is part of the exhibition. On the walls and on the floor are props such as flowers, taxidermied birds and corpses of small animals in formalin.
Plage d'hiver ("winter beach") grabs all our senses with a physiological reconstruction of a beach. A skyline of ultraviolet light along with the dark glasses visitors are recommended to wear upon entering the 'beach room' and a cloud of iodine project our body to another latitude, another a season. We breathe the effluvium of the marine aerosol and our skin reacts to the UV-a rays. Rahm has reproduced the angle of sight corresponding to the reflection of sunlight on water which reaches the retina from below as if in duplicate.
Plage d'hiver translates the ubiquity typical of modernity, where seasons are adrift all year long, to the point of overlap in a sort of perpetual spring; a modernity where night and day merge in a white luminous light, diurnal and nocturnal alike, and where distances are reduced until they, too, overlap with the immediacy of globalization.
Antal Lakner's Passive Dress - Double Gravity Suit is a suit ergonomically fitted with weights that make its wearer perceive 1.5-2 times the normal earthly gravitation weight. The mere attempt to keep a normal posture, to stabilize the body or make small gestures becomes a slow-motion meaningless fatigue. The suit challenges men to maintain one of its unique characteristics: we are indeed the only ones among the vertebrates in having a completely erect posture.
I'll end with a couple of images with my favourite artwork in the show: the Roadkill Coat that the members of Art Orienté Objet stitched using the fur of small animals they found dead by highways.
sk-interfaces. Exploding Borders in Art, Technology and Society is on view at Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain until 10 January 2010. Photo on the homepage: Axel Heise.
One of the rules of this blog is never to make announcements of events. Every rule comes with its exceptions... The November programme of the VASTAL workshops and lectures is out!
The VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics Ltd. is Adam Zaretsky and Waag Society's temporary research and education institute on Art and Life Sciences. It's free, open to the public and i hope you'll allow me to remind you how much we enjoy them:
Day 1 at the VivoArts School for Transgenic Aesthetics: Seed broadcasting workshop
Wednesday 11 November
Body Art Lecture with performance artists: Kira O'Reilly, WARBEAR, Jeanette Groenendaal and Boryana Rossa.
Thursday 12 November and Saturday 14 November
Body Art Lab which, i'm told, will involve blood and sex performances in the Glove Box. "Various performance artists will be ritually cleansed and enter the glove box one or two at a time. Various performance artists take turns in the box interacting with the public or other actors reaching into them with the gloves. This is experimental Body Art with a biological theme that references experiments, lab animals, the pure and the impure as well as the distance (or presumed distance) that objectivity implies. "
Tuesday 17 November
Animal Personality Art and Science Lecture and Lab with Dr. Kees van Oers or one of his colleagues and Koen Van Mechelen.
Dr. Kees van Oers studies the genetic background, physiology and fitness consequences of variation in avian personality. In 2005 he obtained a personal VENI-grant to study the evolutionary genetics of personality using a linkage study in a natural population. This work is currently extended in collaboration with the Animal Breeding and Genomics Center in an NGI-grant on songbird genomics.
Koen Vanmechelen is a Belgian conceptual artist whose work engages with issues of genetic manipulation, cloning, globalisation and multiculturalness. The artist is currently working on The Cosmopolitan Chicken project, an experiment to develop a super-hybrid chicken.
Koen Vanmechelen's The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project chickens will be installed from Nov 5 to Dec 6 at the Muziekgebouw aan het IJ in Amsterdam. Vanmechelen is also having his first solo exhibition in a U.S. gallery at Conner Contemporary Art in Washington.
Featuring live chickens, the exhibition also includes taxidermy and blown-glass sculptures, video, and photography, as well as drawings and paintings in tempera made from eggs laid by chickens bred by the artist.
In the 19th century, despite the best efforts of body snatchers, the demand from medical schools for fresh cadavers far outstripped the supply. One solution to this gruesome problem came in the form of lifelike wax models. These models often took the form of alluring female figures that could be stripped and split into different sections. Other models were more macabre, showing the body ravaged by 'social diseases' such as venereal disease, tuberculosis and alcohol and drug addiction.
You would never ever get me into a Gunther von Hagens show but if the Wellcome Collection puts together an exhibition of arty anatomical models and historical artefacts, surely i can go. Art, history... Does it mean it's not going to be shocking and sometimes gross?
The answer to that question is a big 'no' but Exquisite Bodies nevertheless takes you on a fascinating ride, one that blends Victorian freak show, forgotten pages in medical history and crude lesson in anatomy and diseases. The artefacts were not only used in medical schools, some of them were exhibited for educational and entertaining purposes in museums around Europe. The last public museum of that kind in London, Dr. Kahn's Grand Anatomical Museum on Oxford Street, was smashed to pieces by the Metropolitan police a century ago. Suddenly that kind of information was deemed 'indecent and demoralising'. By the look on visitors faces today, it seems that the most sophisticately educated among us have not lost their appetite for the gore and the sinister.
A quick walk through the exhibition:
The most shocking anatomical models can be found in the second room of the exhibition. Just like heavy velvet curtains hide a series of graphic (i fear that id i write 'life-like', i'm going to put you all off sex for a month or two) human genitalia in extreme stages of disease modelled in flesh-coloured wax featuring real pubic hair, i'll conceal those images behind links.
The book 'A survey of the microcosme; or, The anatomy of the bodies of man and woman' enables readers to peel off the body's layers and perform virtual 'dissections' by lifting the flaps to reveal internal organs. First published in 1619, it was the first anatomical atlas to make full use of this method of illustration.
A wrist with a 'cutaneous horn' growing from it. At the time some believed that the malformation may have been caused by exposure to the sun:
Around 1900, a waxworks museum was established by fairground entrepreneur Señor Roca in the heart of Barcelona's red-light district. The location was no accident, the collection targeted the local inhabitants with spectacular visual information about the contemporary 'plagues' with which they were all too well acquainted: tuberculosis, alcoholism and syphilis.
Known as 'The Parade of Monsters', it originally contained a mechanical wizard, a 'house of murders' and a section devoted to human oddities alongside embryological and anatomical models and jars of human parts.
"Le Grand Musée de l'Homme", a popular attraction at fairgrounds in Brussels until the late 1950s, hid its pedagogical message among models of bearded lady, Cyclops and two-headed calf.
Exquisite Bodies is open until 18 October at the Wellcome Collection in London.
Anyone who ever asked me what to do in Paris has heard me rave endlessly about the Palais de Tokyo. That place makes other contemporary art museums and galleries look 'ringard', outdated and out of touch. The Palais is open from noon to midnight. An entrance won't entitled you to a 2 euros discount on a hefty glossy catalog. No, Sir, when you buy your ticket you are handed out a magazine with all the info you need to visit the exhibition and go further in the discovery once you're back home.
The ongoing exhibition, GAKONA, is set under the aegis of Nikola Tesla and its name refers to a village in Alaska. Little more than 200 inhabitants live in Gakona. There's a service station, a small school, a post office, a couple of diners and a scientific research base: the High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program.
The researchers at the HAARP are studying the transmission of electricity in the uppermost portion of the atmosphere. But because of its military funding and the fears associated with electromagnetism, HAARP is surrounded by a cloud of controversy. Its forest of antennas has been accused of beaming electromagnetic waves that are extremely hazardous to human health, of disrupting climate, of having all sorts of influence on human behaviour and of being weapons able to disrupt communications over large portions of the planet.
The icon of the show is Parapluies (umbrellas) by Roman Signer. Two Tesla coils charge up, approx. 5 minutes later an alarm sounds and a blast of electricity spectacularly lights up between the extremities of the umbrellas. I'm not going to delve on this one, have a look at this video or this one instead.
Now Haarp, by Laurent Grasso, is a sculpture clearly inspired by the aforementioned program, not only does it look like its model but its potential effects are invisible as well: are there waves passing through the antennas? Are they harmful? Should we be worried? How real is this?
Chizhevsky Lessons, by Micol Assaël, is a gigantic generator of static electricity. The name of the artwork refers to Alexander Chizhevsky, a scientist who explored the correlation between solar activity and historical events such as wars and revolutions.
Right before being allowed to approach the installation, you are warned that people wearing pacemakers or hearing aid and pregnant women should not go any further, advised that you should "avoid touching other visitors' faces, especially the eyes" and promised that the work would "load the body with static electricity." Thank you very much!
What visitors experience is the unpleasantness of static electricity re-created artificially with a cascade generator, a transformer, copper plates, and wires that fill the space with negatively charged ions. The discharge only occurs when touching an object or person oppositely charged. Although the installation is not dangerous it definitely invites visitors to step out of their safety zone and explore uncontrollable physical, emotional and psychological experiences.
GAKONA is on view until May 3 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
As i mentioned earlier, finally got to visit The Wellcome Collection, a museum in London dedicated to health and medicine. The Collection is based on the artefacts amassed through the years by Sir Henry Wellcome. This turn-of-the century pharmaceutical entrepreneur and collector was hoping to create a Museum of Man one day. The Wellcome Collection features a permanent exhibition of his artifacts as well as temporary exhibitions. They are spectacularly fascinating and have the good taste of mixing scientific and artistic displays.
When i checked the place out, War and Medicine was on the programme. It was, to say the least, quite graphic. Not grossly graphic but elegantly upsetting. As James Peto, the curator of the show, explained, the necessity to repair and heal has to adjust constantly to advancements in the art of hurting and killing:
"I suppose what the exhibition is really about is the struggle of doctors, nurses, surgeons and research scientists to keep up with the pace of development of weapons and armaments," Peto says. However, progresses do not prevent the existence of disheartening paradoxes: "Survival statistics among soldiers are hugely improved, but civilian casualties of terrorist attacks and bombs apparently intended for soldiers seem to be growing."
Concentrating on the modern era, the exhibition explores the intimate relationship between warfare and medicine, beginning with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War in the 1850s, and continuing through to today's conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The prologue of the show is a video installation by David Cotterrell who spent a month in Afghanistan gaining first-hand experience of life beyond the front line, after he realized that he is part of a generation that not only was not required to join the military but that is also the last one to have living relatives who experienced the Second World War.
He observed and captured the daily life of soldiers through film and photography that immerse viewers in the realities of contemporary battlefield medicine.
War and Medicine displays all sorts of memorabilia: old posters warning soldiers against STD, gas masks, bandage with instructions printed on it, old surgical instruments, tin facial prostheses, a brain specimen damaged by a shell splinter and kept in formol, photographs, a portable liturgical kit to enable military chaplain to deliver the last rites, etc.
One of the core discoveries of the show for me was that each major conflict has stimulated great advances in a particular branch of medicine. For example, a series of photos showing the result of pioneering skin grafts on a soldier with a missing nose attests that a priority of WWI was facial reconstruction.
WWI brought soldiers disfigured by shrapnel from exploding shells and gunshot wounds. Facial reconstruction would start in a rudimentary fashion with tin face masks. Made of thin copper, the mask were sculpted to match the portraits of the men in their pre-war normality. They were then painted and finished while the patient wore it, in order to most accurately match the tone of the flesh with the enamels (via.)
On Project Facade is a stunning silent film clip that shows Anna Coleman Ladd and Francis Derwent Wood crafting and fitting tin facial prosthetics to injured servicemen circa 1916.
Surgeon Harold Gillies, considered to be the father of plastic surgery, persuaded the army to establish a purpose-built site that would treat facial injury in a more sophisticated way. The Queen's Hospital, Sidcup opened in 1917. Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery; more than 11,000 operations were performed on over 5,000 men (mostly soldiers with facial injuries).
The most fascinating story is the one of Harold Gillies' German counterpart, Jacques Joseph who treated many soldiers who had received facial wounds during World War I. In the 1920s, he set up a private practice where he developed and performed rhinoplasty on many of Berlin's Jewish community (to which he also belonged). He would sometimes even 'fix' the noses of poor Jews for free helping them to "vanish" into German society.
Joseph died in 1934 but his reputation survived World War II, partly due to the many rhinoplasty instruments he designed, which still bear his name today.
At the time, plastic surgery was much less a matter of vanity than an attempt to cure the psychological depression that arose with a loss of the appearance of a bomb-damaged soldier. The section of the exhibition dedicated to psychological trauma was actually where one could see the most unsettling material.
Extracts of a film shot right after WW2 show soldiers who were released from the army because of emotional difficulties. Titled Let There Be Light and directed by John Huston follows U.S. soldiers from World War II as they are treated in a clinic for a condition then described as "psychoneurotic" illness, (commonly known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD).
You can find extracts of the movie on youtube.
The film was commissioned by the US but the way it portrayed the suffering of shell-shocked soldiers was so uncompromising that the movie remained banned until 1981. "What this also highlights is how far we've come in terms of taking psychological issues seriously - at the time, these men were referred to as 'psycho neurotics'. It's the same condition that led to men being executed for deserting their posts in the First World War," says Peto.
And now ladies and gentlemen, a mix-match of images from the image gallery of the show:
The original version of this cotton bandage was designed by Professor Friedrich von Esmarch, who had been Surgeon General to the German army during the Franco-German War (1870-1871). This later example, designed for use on the battlefield, could be used open or folded and applied in 32 different ways as per the printed instructions on its surface.
In order to accommodate the massive numbers of casualties in World War I, numerous buildings were requisitioned as military hospitals, including mansion houses and casinos.
One of the most elaborate hospitals was the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, which opened its doors to hundreds of wounded Indian troops returning from the battlefields in France.
In the aftermath of World War I, eight million veterans returned home permanently disabled. Social reintegration presented a range of issues from employment to disability rights and war pensions. Like many charities extending their remit in the wake of the war, the YMCA set up an Employment Department that found jobs for 38 000 ex-servicemen.