This Aug. 24, 2010 photo provided by New York University arts professor Wafaa Bilal, shows Bilal holding the prototype of a digital camera that he had implanted in the back of his head, in New York. Bilal, a visual artist widely recognized for his interactive and performance pieces, has undergone surgery to implant a tiny camera in the back of his head for an artwork commissioned by a new museum in Doha, Qatar. Titled “The 3rd I,” it is one of 23 contemporary works commissioned for the opening of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art on Dec. 30, 2010. (AP Photo/Wafaa Bila, Bard Farwell) NO SALES (Bard Farwell – AP)
In the name of art, an NYU photography professor has surgically implanted a camera into the back of his head. So he can have ‘eyes at the back of his head’ for a year
Implanting a camera in the back of his head as part of an art project may have granted a New York University photography professor, Wafaa Bilal, a certain notoriety in the last several weeks, but it has robbed him of something else: dinner-party invitations.
Concerned about the intrusion of his head-camera, which is rigged to broadcast online a live stream of images snapped automatically at one-minute intervals, some of Mr. Bilal’s acquaintances have removed him from their guest lists, he said Thursday in his first newspaper interview about the project.
But he is not offended: “If people don’t accept it, then I don’t want the invitation,” Mr. Bilal said. “It’s part of me, and that’s the idea.”
An assistant arts professor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Mr. Bilal was commissioned to implant the camera for the period of one year by a new museum in Qatar. The museum, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, will also display a live stream of the photos when it opens Dec. 30.
Roughly two weeks ago, Mr. Bilal underwent a procedure to install the device. Though he has previously withheld the details, he explained the process, a “transdermal implant,” to The Wall Street Journal. Performed not at a hospital, but at a piercing studio that specializes in body modification, it was nevertheless a “serious operation,” Mr. Bilal said.
Following an incision, three titanium plates, each with a post attached, were inserted underneath a large flap of skin on the back of Mr. Bilal’s skull. The skin was then reattached, concealing the plates but not the posts. The base for the 10-megapixel camera, which is just under two inches in diameter and features automatic adjustment and color, was then screwed onto the posts.
Though Mr. Bilal received local anaesthesia, he described the procedure as painful, and said he remains unable to bring himself to watch a video recording of the implantation.
His wounds have mostly healed, he said, but “it’s uncomfortable for sure,” and sleeping is now problematic. He must prop himself upright with four pillows, but cannot place any behind his head.
The project, titled “The 3rd I,” was prompted in part by Mr. Bilal’s interest in constructing a methodical documentation of his existence and surroundings after having no ability to do so during a nomadic existence in the Middle East. Raised in a Shiite family in Iraq, he fled the country in 1991, after the invasion of Kuwait. After two years in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, he was given asylum by the U.S.
“I was forced to leave places with no record, and that bothered me for a very long time,” he said.
Mr. Bilal, whose previous work, such as “Virtual Jihadi,” a video game in which he inserted an avatar of himself as a suicide-bomber hunting President George W. Bush, has addressed politically and culturally sensitive topics, also described an interest in “calling attention to the idea of how many times we are recorded without our knowledge.”
He added: “There is nothing private, which is ironically the state of the state we are in.”
His project has already sparked conversation and controversy at NYU, as the school has struggled to accommodate Mr. Bilal and his camera on campus while also shielding student and staff privacy. After several rounds of discussions, the university requested that Mr. Bilal consent to cover the device with a lens cap while on NYU property, and he has agreed to do so.
Mr. Bilal said he understands the school’s concerns. “NYU is an institution that is very supportive of my research, but they have a community to protect and I think they have a valid point,” he said. “I would have liked not to have the cap, but I have to accept the condition of the institution that supports me.”
But perhaps the biggest hurdle for Mr. Bilal is yet to come: an encounter with his girlfriend, who lives in Chicago. Mr. Bilal said that while she did not balk when he told her of his project, she also didn’t quite believe he would go through with it.
He is confident, however, that she won’t impose her own version of NYU’s lens-cap rule. “She’s my best friend and she believes in what I do,” he said. “So far there is no cap restriction, but I’m waiting for the first photo of her on the Internet, and then we’ll find out.”
Artist Wafaa Bilal demonstrates the current plan for how he will be geared up for his art project “The 3rd I”, Thursday Dec. 2, 2010 in New York. For the project, Bilal had a mount for a camera surgically implanted into the back of his head. In this image, the camera, encased in the silver and black housing, is being held in place on Bilal’s head using the surgically implanted mount. A USB cable is attached to the camera which is connected to a Nokia Booklet held in place on Bilal’s body by a removable harness. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg).
… The thumbnail-size camera implanted in his head will automatically snap one photograph per minute for an entire year, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week. Bilal, an assistant professor in the photography and imaging department of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, intends to activate the camera on Dec. 15.
The project, titled “The 3rd I,” was commissioned by Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. Bilal plans to broadcast a live stream of images from the camera to monitors at the exhibit in Qatar, scheduled to open Dec. 30.
… For one year, Mr. Bilal’s camera will take still pictures at one-minute intervals, then feed the photos to monitors at the museum. The thumbnail-sized camera will be affixed to his head through a piercing-like attachment, his NYU colleagues say. Mr. Bilal declined to comment for this story… >>> wsj.com
… ‘Yes it hurt a lot’, he said in response to whether the procedure carried out under local anaesthetic was painful.
‘I wanted to lose that subjectivity of knowingly taking photographs’, Mr Bilal said. ‘At the same time I wanted to capture everyday mundane images. He says the project is ‘a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience.’ After an uproar over privacy issues, Mr Bilal has agreed to conserve the privacy of his students at Tisch School of the Arts by wearing a lens cap on the camera when he’s on campus… dailymail.co.uk
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