Labels define museums. Inglorious, undersized, and subdued, they are an essential element of museum display. Labels reassure us, reduce our anxiety about interpretation, and reaffirm our trust in the impartiality of historical knowledge. Taxonomies are clearly demarcated, classification systems are preserved, and everything belongs to its place and time. Unless we are in a museum to see an installation by Fred Wilson. Scrambling taxonomies and reshuffling classifications to expose their arbitrariness is the strategy of this New York-based artist who has been "mining museums" for almost two decades. And labels are his mining tools. For instance, in the work Addiction Display (1991), included in the traveling retrospective exhibition Fred Wilson: Objects and Installations, 1979-2000, which was on view at BAMPFA until March 30, a black-and-white photograph of a man standing at the edge of a fenced-off heap of dust is accompanied by two labels. The one on the left reads "Pre-Columbian Archaeological Site, 1500 - 500 BC (Colombia)." The one on the right reads "Cocaine Processing Site, 1991 (Colombia)." The work hinges on the uncertainty and complexity of our historical, economic, and political interest in Colombia as revealed by the innocuous label: a goldmine of pre-Columbian artifacts as well as a goldmine of cocaine for the rest of the world. Wilson's latest work, Aftermath, on view in Gallery 4, was created especially for BAMPFA while the artist was in residence at the Consortium for the Arts at UC Berkeley last fall. It draws on the collections of both the Berkeley Art Museum and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Museum of Anthropology. The theme of Aftermath is war, its evidence and influence-direct and indirect-upon art and material culture. On an enclosed platform nearly forty objects are scattered, seemingly randomly-a modern African mask with a beard of shell casings, an ancient Greek marble head, an Inca beer pot, a pair of shoes, a cell phone. According to Wilson, the installation is intended to look like a ruin site or archaeological dig; it also evokes visions of a battlefield and, certainly, Ground Zero. We find disfigured bodies including a millennium-old clay female figure from a Jingdi tomb in China, items of clothing such as a child's shirt from turn-of-the-century Guatemala, and such touching personal belongings as a toy truck made out of fuel cans by a South African boy. Visually, the display brings the sense of catastrophe close to home. Objects in museum collections are no longer the subjects of detached historical scrutiny but are returned to the realm of human life and tragedy. Beyond its visual impact, Aftermath yields another layer of interpretation when the labels are paid attention to. Standing labels indicate just a date or a range of dates; the backside bears a different date than the front. All refer to violent conflicts in world history. For instance, the label next to a doll in peasant costume reads "1914 - 1918" on the front and "1939 - 1945" on the back, obviously referring to World War I and World War II. From a handout that discreetly provides proper museum object identifications we find out that the doll was made in Germany in 1950. Next to an earthenware beaker, a label reads "1945" on the front and "AD 672" on the back. According to the handout this beaker was made in Japan circa 300 BCE, but the label frames the object with the two most violent events in Japanese history: the atomic bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and the Battle of Jinshin in 672, when two princes waged a war of imperial succession. Which set of labels makes more sense, asks Wilson: the cool museum object identifications or the vague yet passionate artist's allusions to history and human tragedy? What knowledge does the standard label convey, and what does it conceal?