As a lot of folks at ITP already know through my past work, I care deeply about reducing the gap between military and civilian in America. There are two projects that are on the older end but have proven to be incredible inspirations to me for quite some time. I can’t pick one or the other, so I’m going to write about both.
Wafaa Bilal – Domestic Tension (2007)
Domestic Tension is a performance by Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi-American artist who created the piece to bring the very distant war in Iraq front and center for those here. For a month, he lived in a studio space with a paintball gun pointed at him. Anyone could connect to the gun via the internet and move/fire it. Additionally, an online platform allowed for discussion and comments, some of which ended up being terribly racist and some of which were supportive and contemplative. It can be very difficult to conceive of life as a civilian in a war zone. This project help bring the reality of living in a space during an invasion front and center.
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) – Operation First Casualty (2000s)
Another project responding to the Iraq War, and doing so by attempting to bring the realities of war front and center to Americans, was Operation First Casualty. Members of IVAW wore their uniforms in large American cities and simulated some of the operations they participated in while in Iraq (using actors to stand in for civilians and enemy combatants). Again, the project asked observers to consider what life would be like if this were a daily reality.
In America, the military plays a massive role in our social fabric. It’s arguably our largest and most pervasive social institution, but most have little conception of what military service and war are like. Though it will never be possible to have a perfect understanding without serving, closing the gap between military and civilian is an incredibly important step in developing more healthy relationships between society and military. The above projects are inspiring examples of this that I have long admired and carry with me in my own work.