The Iraqi-born (Wafaa Bilaal is) 19 days into a grueling monthlong (art installation) project that sounds, at first blush, suspiciously gimmicky: until June 4, Bilal is living his entire life inside one room at Chicago's Flatfile Gallery, which anyone with a Web connection can log on to watch. Oh, and to shoot him. With "Domestic Tension" Bilal has turned his makeshift living quarters into a 24-hour-a-day war zone. Viewers can peep in on him anonymously at any time, and even chat with him online. On the installation's Web site, his audience can fight for control of the camera and pan it around the room. Since the camera is affixed to a rifle-sized paintball gun-and the Web site has a button that allows viewers to fire the gun-they also have the opportunity to shoot at him, or anything else in his room. Which they have done an astonishing 40,000 times in the project's first two and a half weeks.
"Domestic Tension" is a breathtaking work of political art, forcing even casual surfers to ask themselves: Would they shoot a man if all it took was one noiseless click of the mouse? Are there any physical repercussions to what you do online? Those who stick around longer may even begin to think about the consequences of starting a seemingly painless, videogame-style war with overwhelming force in a faraway country. The Webcam resolution on the project's site is very grainy, but it's clear that plenty of people have no problem with pulling the trigger. The once-white gallery walls have been pummeled with neon yellow paint pellets over and over again. And so has Bilal, who wears only ski goggles for protection-so many times, in fact, that he has lost count. "This is an encounter instead of didactic art," he explains over the phone as the gun can be heard firing in the background. "I had no [BANG] control over how it would come out. The only hope is to engage in [BANG, BANG] in conversation."