November 17th, 2010
10:46 AM ET

Professor to implant camera in the back of his head

Professor Wafaa Bilal, known for his eyebrow-raising experiments, like having people shoot paintballs at him over the Internet, has a new idea sparking concerns.

Remember when your mom warned you she had eyes in the back of her head? She might have been onto something.

Because a New York University professor is doing exactly that - surgically implanting a camera in the back of his head in the next few weeks. Why? It's art, duh.

Professor Wafaa Bilal, who works at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts' photography and imaging department, is causing a stir because of his artistic experiment raises privacy concerns.

Bilal, who has a countdown on his website for the project - dubbed 3rdI - will have images from the camera broadcast live from the back of his head to an exhibit in a museum in Qatar scheduled to open in December.

The camera, which will be the size of a thumbnail, will be attached using a method similar to piercing, according to The Wall Street Journal, which spoke to Bilal's colleagues familiar with the project.

The artistic endeavor is "a comment on the inaccessibility of time and the inability to capture memory and experience," according to the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, where the installation will be displayed.

The Journal reports that Bilal will have the camera in his head for a year, and it will take pictures in one-minute intervals.

What will museum visitors see? Well, that depends on Bilal's travels, which is where the controversy comes in. Questions have been raised as to whether he will have the camera on while he teaches at NYU and whether students' privacy may be invaded. NYU is looking into the issue.

"As a school of the arts, a school whose mission is to educate artists, we place a high value on his right to free expression in his creative work as an artist, and take that principle very seriously," NYU Spokesman John Beckman said in a statement. "But as a school of the arts, we also take seriously the privacy issues his project raises, its impact on our students and the importance of preserving trust in the pedagogical relationship between a faculty member and students.

“There have been numerous conversations since Professor Bilal informed us of his project as we sought to find the right balance; we think they have been constructive and productive. We continue to discuss with him the right mechanism to ensure that his camera will not take pictures in NYU buildings.”

This isn't the first time the Iraqi artist's experiments have caught people's attention.

His work "Domestic Tension," where he stood in front of a paintball gun and allowed people to shoot him over the Internet 24/7, caused widespread buzz online.

His controversial video game piece, “Virtual Jihadi,” ended with a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. Bilal hacked a video game and put an avatar of himself in the game and then appeared as a suicide-bomber hunting Former President George W. Bush.

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Filed under: Art • New York • Technology
soundoff (213 Responses)
  1. Melissa

    I kinda like this guy.

    November 17, 2010 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Sandra

      I don't think this is an invasion of privacy any more than if he just turned around to see the same thing. It can also be looked at as a method of self defence in that noone can sneak up of him. I don't think I'd do it though because there are always side effects and if we were meant to have an eye in the back of our head, we would've been born with it.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Choconet

      I think it is a violation of privacy. When we witness something with the bare eye only we see it , no one's privacy is violated. However, when we witness something with a recorded device and that recording can reply forever, it’s a privacy violation because the person being recorded did not give consent. Our eyes only record to our memories what we have witness personally, but when a machine records and its played back for everyone to see that's a whole other story. Besdes this is just freaky! Ewww!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darrell

      Radiation that close to the skin for that length of time is NOT safe. Carrying a cell phone in my pocket for a couple of years has caused a radiation burn.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hoodie

      Gee, what a shock that your name is Darrell!!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      He has another brother Darrell...hahahahahaha

      November 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edd

      Don't forget about Larry.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • bg

      really? You kinda like him? Based on what? He does bizarre things and calls it art. Anyone can do bizarre things. And anyone can learn to disguise it as art by offering seemingly erudite conversations that begin with the artist's cliche "What is art?" Somehow, merely posing that question qualifies anything as art. What's described in this article does not make this guy special or a genius.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Noocrat

      "Radiation that close to the skin for that length of time is NOT safe. Carrying a cell phone in my pocket for a couple of years has caused a radiation burn."

      Does your phone have enriched plutonium or uranium in it? Or nuclear waste? On its own, that's not possible...

      Although, if your tinfoil hat collects too much heat from the sun, that might burn your head.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • MiMi

      I think Spiderman has just found his first "real-world" archvillain. Watch out, Spidey!

      November 17, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Texas Pete

      No wonder no one takes artists or art degrees seriously.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      bg, please tell us what art is.

      November 17, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      bg, when did "I kinda like this guy" come to mean "he's special and a genius?" Also, what color is the sky in your world and do you have radioactive cellphones there too?

      November 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      This guy is a moron!

      November 17, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      maybe he is trying to see what students are giving him the finger during class ?

      November 17, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • tstriker

      It's a useless surgical procedure that will put him at risk for infection. And his art being, "a comment on the inaccessibility of time and the inability to capture memory and experience". A person is not meant to have vision behind him/her, so those experiences and memories don't exist to begin with. Further, if you're not supposed to see behind you to begin with, then where is the time constraint? Time is getting more accessible every day. Wafaa, just buy a smart phone; you get a camera too! Bonus!

      November 17, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • freeman

      I hope he puts on a hat when he goes into a public restroom. Nobody wants to see any of that at the museum.

      November 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • ScottK

      Not only is it not an invasion of privacy, it is everyones right and I think should be promoted, at least video devices, maybe not implanted, but worn. When we ask someone for eyewitness testimony do we really want just what they think they remember so there is some ambiguity in it? If everyone wore eyeglass cams we would no longer have a need to hear what they think they saw, something that could have, in their brains been altered in some ways by their past experiences or emotion, the camera would give just cold, hard video evidence. Look up how many people are currently in prison based on eyewitness testimony and how many people have been exonerated due to DNA evididence who had been convicted based on eye witness testimony. Within 20 years everyone in America under 40 will have implants with their passport, credit cards, cell phone, gps and video recordings of their suroundings 24 hrs a day. This is where the world is heading and no one can stop it even if you wanted to. The world has become far too litigious and reliant on technology to have it any other way. Professor Wafaa is a pioneer, but proves Orwell right.

      November 17, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • brooklynmc

      Choconet... Does that mean those police dashboard cameras are an invasion of our privacy?

      November 17, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • MickeyOregon

      What a self important ego-centric ass.
      He does a good job though in fostering discussion of the meaning of the word and term "art".

      November 17, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spendlove

      Indeed I kind of like this dude too.. keep on keepin on Professor.

      November 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • sammieg

      With all the jokes of Jihadi aside. I like the fact that this guy is creative, from and artistic standpoint. In order to create new ideas, be innovative and grow in areas, in arts or anything of the sort, people like this professor, need to push the envelope.
      I am glad he his pushing creative ideas in arts to a new level....

      November 17, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • jon

      He should walk backwards.

      November 17, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Adog

    "His controversial video game piece, “Virtual Jihadi,” ended with a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. Bilal hacked a video game and put an avatar of himself in the game and then appeared as a suicide-bomber hunting Former President George W. Bush." so we can hunt all the terrorists we want in the game but it cant work both ways lol the Hippocrates amuse me

    November 17, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Compass

      You used Hippocrates, the name for an ancient Greek physician. Perhaps you were hoping to use hypocrites instead?

      November 17, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Impartial

      Indeed, Compass...
      The father of doctors, does amuse me...

      November 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • nimrod

      hahaha hippocrates? really?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary Faber

      Is ignorance a sufficient reason to report abuse?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Parrot

      Oh man I've never posted on here but Hippocrates??? LOL!!!

      November 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veritas

      @ADog: Are you saying that all these people whining are doctors (MD)? I think you need to grab the dictionary and thesaurus the next time you want to seem adept with the English language. @Professor Waffa: Get a life! It isn't art, otherwise my three year-old's "swirlies" in the toilet say much more about the decline of civilization than the back of his head.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      My cool guys, he made a mistake! One time I made a huge one at the subway and I said modern, but thought it was pronounced mode-ern and all these guys were like, "You're saying it wrong!" But I learned pretty fast, one could even say that my language was "modernized"! Ha tee hee I love you guys

      November 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      @Sifaluth, while you make a good point, there are a couple of key differences.

      1. He capitalized the word. That should be a hint that it's time to be extra careful.

      2. He was using the Internet during his post. He had access to Google, et al. You didn't have that advantage on the subway.

      Capitalizing the word demonstrates that he was aware the word was a proper noun. Of course, a proper noun like Luddite does identify a viewpoint. Still, I think it would be unwise to use Luddite (or any other proper noun where you aren't sure of the definition) in a sentence when you have access to reference materials.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      You're right! Friends always just tease one another, that's how we develop senses of humor! By the way, you have such articulate rationalizations, you're incredible to me and all of us!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Sifaluth, I can be silly you Luddite!

      No wait. That's not right...

      November 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Being more silly, who references the Luddites in "You Have Mail?" (Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks movie).

      November 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wester

      Here is an interesting take on what was said... What if Adog meant to combine the ancient figure Socrates and the term hypocrites together for some tongue-in-cheek humor to give us sort of a "play on words." I'm a writer and I create words often to illustrate a point. Adog just might be more clever than all of us on this here reply chain. And Adog, if that wasn't your original intention, roll with it.... 'cuz it's a rad idea.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ghost

      Hippocrates? The ancient Greek physician? I think you mean, 'hypocrits', tool.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Justin

      @Ghost By saying "tool," you have now become one. Ignorant cliche for the win!

      November 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • jj

      Ghost, by spelling hypocrites incorrectly... well, whatever

      November 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • meh

      If by "hacked" you mean used the ability of the game to insert any asset you like ... this isn't "hacking" stop trying to make it sound like he did something sneaky by putting in a word you think will scare people into siding with you.

      November 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Lisababy

    He's peaked my curiosity want to hear progress reports

    November 17, 2010 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Impartial

      I believe you mean 'piqued', not 'peaked'...

      November 17, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • DDave

      Unless his curiosity is now at maximum= "peaked."

      November 17, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      You are a bunch of Hippocrates.

      November 17, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • kaw

      Good Lord, Buster Bloodvessel just made me laugh so hard that I did a spit take hot tea!

      November 17, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fricsaid

    I was under the impression that when you're in the public, you're free game when it comes to being captured on media. There are cameras in parking lots, in business and even taking pictures of your license plates. Maybe people are afraid that they will be caught "doing something behind his back." This reminds me of the old saying, "when one is alone, one is their true self." That stand true for those "that think" their alone too. 😉

    November 17, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Wrong, otherwise Google Street wouldn't have had so many issues concerning privacy.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • /e/tard

      @Rick – Google street has issues not because they mapped, took pictures of, the streets but because of the method they chose to implement it and the kind of applications they tried to associate with it (detecting wifi hot spots).

      November 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      There are certain "public" places (i.e. public restrooms) that you are not free to take pictures of other people and these types of places are the most likely to cause concerns. As far as the classroom goes, while NYU is a public university it is still private property and they can restrict the use of cameras on the property if they feel it is necessary. This would most likely fall under a policy that the university would already have in place to limit students, members of the media or even members of the general public from taking pictures or recording videos in the classroom without permission.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • anna

      @Brian: when did NYU become a public university?
      @ Fricsaid: as long as we're pointing out errors, don't you mean "they're" not "their" in that last sentence.

      November 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. fred

    I am worried about the trips to the restroom or locker room. How about the privacy of the people in there. Other than that, all public pictures are game in this country. Just need permission in a private residence or where the expectation of privacy is.

    November 17, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Kent

      I guess he wears a ball-cap or something when he leaves a fully public environment. But then, there are all those issues of "privacy expectation" concerns... if someone looks away from you, are you then to assume your actions are private and not to be shared? Who knows? who cares? ...i just know i don't. Interesting story though.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      A person standing outside a locker room pointing a camera at the locker room door is likely to get into some trouble (at least in NY State). While outside the locker room is public, inside isn't. While you might see "something," that doesn't mean you are permitted to take a photograph of the "something."

      He could be standing outside a locker room (for instance), with his back to it, and be completely unaware of what is happening, until it is too late.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shelby

      Besides the remarks about grammar and language, privacy is a huge concern. Some have very interesting points, I agree that if he is going to do this, then he should at all times, public or private areas let people know. Artist have to go through precautions to paint, photograph or publish someone with their consent, he should have to do the same. This guy isn’t the exception just because he is being alternative in his methods of art.
      Secondary, for those who question if this is art, is photography art? Isn’t art expression of oneself and the world around them? Theodore Dreiser once said, “Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathering on wings of miser and travail.” As well as, Michelangelo once said, “The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” Furthermore, Paul strand once said, “The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.” So theoretically it could be on the back of his head.

      November 17, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      Hmm, an Iraqi taking pictures from the back of his head and transmitting to the Middle East. Sounds a little strange to me, why is he transmitting them to Middle East, finding new targets for the terrorists?

      November 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MikinAZ

    I wonder how many games you could sell if the object was to get GW?...Cheney? Osama? little kim?(S.korea)

    November 17, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      "I wonder how many games you could sell if the object was to get GW?...Cheney? Osama? little kim?(S.korea)"

      I believe you meant N. Korea.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Journalism Class Kid

      You mean N. Korea. S. Korea is the democracy we have troops currently stationed in

      November 17, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Parrot

      Why you be draggin Lil' Kim inna all dis?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mpouxesas

      hey indeed you meant South Korea, but, hey Journalism Class S. Korea a democracy? really? if yes, why do WE have troops there?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarkinFL

      Why do YOU think we have troops in South Korea. I'm really curious.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      MarkinFL – South Korea has THE MOST sophisticated military in the region, while North Korea ranks literally in last place. Their nukes, more like fizzle devices, are not deployable. There is absolutely ZERO reason for us to still be in South Korea. They are PLENTY capable of protecting themselves. And even in worse case scenario, we always have a large navy presence in the pacific. We are literally just a stones throw away by sea, there is no reason for boots on the ground other than to waste money.

      November 17, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Reason

    They are more concerned with the students privacy than they are with the fact that this man can travel around the US with a CAMERA in his head taking pictures and broadcasting them directly to the middle east?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    November 17, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      As if the people in the middle east don't have access to television? Not to mention the many live webcams you can watch over the internet...Paranoid much?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alana

      Have you never heard of google earth?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reason

      Yes, I have heard of Google Earth. The Google Earth pic of my house was taken at least 5 years ago. I think that is a little different. Don't even get me started on privacy issues...I can't video anyone I want and he shouldn't be able to either. It doesn't matter what he calls it; art, history, science..

      November 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarkinFL

      Actually, you can video anyone you want. Why do you believe otherwise? Paparazzi anyone?

      November 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      Normally that wouldn't bother me given how wacky artists can be... however, this is an individual who already hid behind the 1st amendment as protection concerning something that otherwise would have been an illegal threat to the President (a serious Federal felony) that he actually called "virtual jihadi". The man has self identified as having terrorist sympathies while claiming to be somebody seeking asylum and is now entering into a project with individuals and organizations in Iraq that will allow him, because of a medical procedure, to take a camera into areas where cameras would otherwise be legally prohibited. This definitely should be raising security concerns not just for the university that is allowing him to expose their students to this project in the classroom and other private university areas not open to the public but to the law enforcement agencies.

      November 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Logic

    This man is a moron. Plain and simlple. This is not art, this is a try at 15 minutes of fame. You, sir, are a waste of time.

    November 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      I think what's a big waste is when we don't try! He he you are Logic! I like to do stuff that no one else, I really mean no one else, has ever tried! We can only learn by trying new stuff and seeing their results! I freaking love really amazing results to things we do, right my favorites?!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Would that depend on your definition of art?

      When asked "what is art," Count Basie is reported to have replied "art is what you have when you remove everything that is not essential" (Zull, 2002, p242).

      Using that definition, which was made before the year 2003 (and thus not influenced by the above story), this is art.

      How is Count Basie, or at least James Zull, in error?

      Zull, J. (2002). The art of changing the brain. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. chrisk

    It's like 1989 again, and there's nothing worse to worry about than stupid BS like this.

    November 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Parrot

      What happened in 1989?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      yeah...tell us what happened. we want to know! give it to me and us, please we want to know more than you'll ever know, please.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • blah

      Maybe he meant George Orwell's 1984...

      November 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Parrot – What happened in 1989?

      Geroge H Bush sworn in a President? Tian'anmen Square? A's win the earthquake interrupted World Series? Pete Rose banned from baseball... Lots of stuff.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Sifaluth, it's a silly contest. Good post, btw.

      November 17, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lisa

    He shouold implant it in his rectum and give us a look at what he is full of. ...and they say that Americans are crazy. Any doctor that would perform this surgery should lose his license. What the heck is wrong with people? Is it in the air or the water?

    November 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobby

      Its not a surgery....did you skip that part of the article? It is like a piercing.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      Hee hee why is everyone talking about butts!? Ha hee you're funny! When I went to my school, there was this guy that really liked talking about his butt and he always did the Ace Ventura impression. It was so funny, I bet ya'll would like it! Ha I'm laughing so hard remembering that guy, I should see what he's up to. Maybe he's you! Ha hee

      November 17, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Really

    This is what he chose to do with his time?

    And why is it being broadcast live to Qatar??

    This guy is a waste of space.

    November 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Police

      He'll try to visit as many military installations as possible.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      He won't go to military zones, because he's too busy with his job! Teaching is hard! I used to know a professor, well actually, I only met him one time and we talked for about three-sevenths of an hour, and he said his job was time consuming!

      November 17, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Alex

    Looks like yet another "artist" ("Art" being apparently anything you want to call art. Hooray for blind acceptance) who earns a paycheck doing nothing of value for society or...anyone at all....

    November 17, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      And if you had your way I suppose all art would be banned? Wow, advertise your ignorance much?

      November 17, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Derp

      Yes, what have artists ever done for the world? We'd all be a lot better off if everyone was in big business.

      November 17, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. joohn susmaras

    He should be even more daring and implant a camera in his buttocks .

    November 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sifaluth

      Teeheehee bad boy, bad idea hee hee

      November 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. What??

    How is this art?

    November 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • howzatnow

      I believe the artist is attempting to show how ones subjective memory of a given experience can differ from what has actually taken place. By implanting the camera in the back of his head he is literally looking backward in time as he physically moves forward in space. The idea is an interesting one, if it does not violate the privacy of those who are in a place where that is a reasonable expectation there is no difference between the pictures his head camera takes and those of a basic security, atm, or traffic cam.

      November 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sifaluth

    This is such a cool idea! If he's careful to not invade privacy, maybe even check for intrusive camera shots before they're uploaded to the museum in Qatar, he'll pull it off. I love art, things like this make me so joyous. Stay creative. Yes to a different type of favorite!

    November 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
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