LAAF 2017 Programme
22 June 2017
Wafaa Bilal: 168:01
LAAF presented an ambitious restaging of acclaimed Iraqi-born visual artist Wafaa Bilal’s work 168.01. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts lost its entire library of more than 70,000 books – set on fire by looters. Bilal’s installation served both as a monument to cultural losses during Iraq’s history and a platform for potential rebirth.
Visitors could become donors whose contributions fund educational texts to replace blank books and its austere white shelves, and ultimately in the College of Fine Arts itself.
168:01 was realised in partnership with FACT and Open Data Institute, and was part of the exhibition at FACT, The New Observatory, (which ran 22 June 2017 – 1 October 2017). The exhibition brought together an international group of artists whose work explores new and alternative modes of measuring, predicting, and sensing the world today through data and other observational methods.
The Liverpool iteration of 168.01 by Wafaa Bilal was co-produced by Liverpool Arab Arts Festival and FACT.
In 168:01, an installation of an austere white library at the Art Gallery of Windsor serves as both a monument to the staggering cultural losses endured throughout Iraq’s history as well as a platform for its potential rebirth. Comprised of a series of white shelves filled with blank tomes, the library doubles as a system of exchange connecting its physical and virtual visitors and beyond to the College of Fine Arts in Iraq. Aimed at restoring its lost archives, 168:01 positions viewers as potential donors whose contributions fund educational texts from a list compiled by faculty members.
As the installation accrues donations, the white library replaces the blank tomes with books from the faculty wishlist, becoming saturated with knowledge. Select donors receive the blank tomes in return for their contribution. At the end of the exhibition, all donated books are to be shipped to the College of Fine Arts, beginning the process of rebuilding.
Iraq has a long history of such cultural destruction. During the Islamic Golden Age in the 13th century, an invading Mongol army set fire to all the libraries of Baghdad, including the famed House of Wisdom, or Bayt al-Hikma. Legend describes the invaders throwing the Bayt al-Hikma’s entire library into the Tigris River to create a bridge of books for their army to cross. The pages bled ink into the river for seven days, at the end of which the books were drained of knowledge. The first minute after grief becomes the starting point from which 168:01 takes its name—signalling the struggle to move forward and the beginning of a cross-cultural encounter between individuals contributing to a globally distributed effort to rebuild anew.
Wafaa Bilal, 168:01, participatory installation, 2016.
Photo credit: Frank Piccolo.
Copyright Wafaa Bilal.
Courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries and the Art Gallery of Windsor.