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. Olli

    who gives a flipping duck, let him do what he wants, maybe he think you guys are all whackjobs for not doing this!!! it is all relative

    November 17, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rick McDaniel

    Stupid people tricks.

    November 17, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Olli

      It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought even if you don't agree with it

      November 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  3. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    "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."

    This terrorist wannabe should be in prison, not teaching at an American university!

    November 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. according to count Basie

    his head is his most non-essential part

    November 17, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. flyboy

    Well. we already know where his head is so he might as well give himself a colonoscopy while he's at it.

    November 17, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MarkinFL

    I wonder if some of the people that are so outraged at his "art": in the form of the terrorist games are also outraged at Muslims being outraged at cartoonists making fun of Mohamed? Its called the first amendment. Like it or leave it. Mohamed's fair game, as is the President ( current or past ).
    This is all over nothing. He's carrying a hidden camera that is being highly publicized. He's just aiming it backward. Just apply the same rules to him as to anybody with a camera. End of problem.

    November 17, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      Actually, sitting Presidents and those running for the office of President are NOT fair game. Making threats against them is a federal felony and he hid behind the 1st amendment as protection against what would otherwise have been criminal prosecution.

      November 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lufe27

    this isn't an invasion of privacy any more than it is art. "a comment on the inaccessibility of time and the inability to capture memory and experience," you know what that is? psycho-babble. I appreciate art, I studied it all four years in college, i frequent art museums, both contemporary and classic. Just because you've got a novel and well just plain silly idea of how to capture images/sound doesn't make it art, just makes it strange.

    November 17, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      It is an invasion of privacy if he enters any area while it is installed where cameras would otherwise be prohibited or if he does not actually turn it off when he enters any area from which it would be illegal to broadcast pictures (such as the men's room).

      It could also be an invasion of privacy in a classroom or other area of NYU not open to the public if there is any school policy concerning broadcasting pictures without the consent of any students (with extra protections for any minors if there are any freshmen that skipped a grade or two) involved.

      Also, he could potentially violate laws concerning the privacy rights of minor without even knowing it until he has committed a felony offense (which, since he is undergoing this procedure willingly and reasonably should know that it is a potential risk, he would still be liable for even if he doesn't specifically target the minors in terms of transmitting illegal photos).

      November 17, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Lufe, sorry your art didn't sell, but denigrating other artists won't validate your own work. Did you paint children with big sad eyes, or landscapes? Try putting a blue dog in every painting. Trust me, if you think you can say definitively that this isn't art then you paid too much for your art education. Maybe if you painted a giant soup can?

      November 17, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bremen3011

    Anyone think this man was made fun of behind his back a lot in school? I bet he knew, so after many years he is going to rectify the situation, he wants to know if someone behind him is making fun of him (ofcourse with a camera on the back of his head, im sure he will be, at least he can see it now).

    November 17, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mary

    Nothing can justify doing this for any reason other than medical reasons..And I can't even think of one medical reason that justifies this..
    It's absurdity..

    November 17, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tom

    This will be very useful to him in Iraq as he can see if anyone is coming up from behind to attack him!

    November 17, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Oklahoma29

    This is just weird.

    November 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. frankie b

    Too bad Rock Hudson didn't have a camera there– at least he would have known who gave AIDS

    November 17, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Auntie Warhol

    Some people get so upset about 'unconventional' art. Some of the people who think this guy is absurd think Sarah Palin is sensible. It is to laugh.

    November 17, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • victim of democrat hypocrisy

      Brought to you by the same people who thought Andy Warhol was talented.

      November 17, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      victim, you know who Warhol is, and you can probably describe a couple of his works (giant soup can, silk-screen Marilyn) and quote him on 'fifteen minutes of fame.' Now explain why he was untalented, and how his work hasn't survived his time and has no relevancy today, etc, and we will all laff at you.

      November 17, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KBR

    I suppose it will take pictures at one minute intervals in the restroom and other such places.

    November 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John

    This has got to be the dumbest thing I've heard of this week...and i've heard a few...

    November 17, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      No, this week Palin said she intends to run for president, so not even close.

      November 17, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
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