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. Denver Steve

    Hey Melissa, this guy is sucking Mohamed's pee pee!

    November 17, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. guest

    so he can't just strap the camera to a hat?

    November 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Phil

    The article didn't say much about "invasion of privacy" so let me fill the audience in. Any college student may keep his/her schedule of classes and grades private. As a college instructor, I can not mention a students name or grades in email unless that student signs a waiver. Why? Because emails are not encrypted. I can see where sending their photo over the internet would be a problem.

    I see a simple solution here: Professor Bilal can wear a hat or other head covering (or even put a bandaid over the camera) while teaching.

    November 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Buster Bloodvessel

    Can we make him president of Iraq? Unless this cam shows nothing but pictures of hair falling over a camera lens, in which case make him president of Iran.

    November 17, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. TonyParker

    Obviously he wants to see his boyfriend's O face

    November 17, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • anna

      best reply on here!! (what happened to the 'like' button?)

      November 17, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Vip

    Wow! You call this art and creative!? Sounds like just trying to get attention.

    November 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. V Saxena

    Now he'll know who put the 'GEEK' sign on his back, ;-).

    November 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. speedle

    Does he "beep" when he backs up?

    November 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. B

    This guy planting a camera in the back of his head is no different than a bus driver having a mirror to look back into the bus. It's not about privacy. If a HS teacher installed a mirror in his/her classroom, nobody would care. It is no different BUT he is not even doing it to spy on anybody. The privacy concern is dumb.

    November 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      It is different in that the image is being captured and broadcast. It would be more analogous to a security camera. However, this camera is (according to the CNN description of the project) broadcasting live to a public display in another country without review. It is also mobile and potentially hidden with the ability to go into places where it would be illegal to take a picture and broadcast it, especially without the consent of the person whose photo is being taken for profit (which the museum is presumably doing unless it is completely free and doesn't use this exhibit in any effort to solicit donations).

      In terms of potential legal repercussions, certain types of photographs involving minors are definitely not protected under the 1st amendment. Given that he is willingly undergoing this procedure with the intention of broadcasting random pictures, he is responsible for any inappropriate and illegal content that he unintentionally captures since he knows that is a potential risk. Hopefully he plans on avoiding all men's rooms or locker rooms, for example, for the duration or he is courting serious jail time.

      November 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Melissa

    Its a potential violation of privacy, but more than that, its just plain creepy.

    November 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. looknclick

    We need to requre a camera with microphone atached in the same way to the forehead of every member of congress. And, of course, all the lobbists too. And have an independent monitoring of their interactions. That would be the ultimate Patriotic Act.

    November 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. kaw

    For this to be "a comment on the inaccessibility of time and the inability to capture memory and experience," wouldn't one need to "see" what his actual eyes see in order to give context to what his "3rdi" sees?

    As for the art or not art question. As another poster indicated, I think this is more of a social experiment than an artistic expression. Even though the experiences are unique to each of us, our brains do in fact capture memory and experience.

    November 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Melissa

    Again, I kinda like this guy. Why do you always block my comments CNN?! I am always pc and don't use bad language. I see so many inappropriate comments, yet mine are never posted!

    November 17, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Fred L. Fraud

    Does this mean we'll be seeing a video of his colon on the internet?

    November 17, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. a slozomby

    as soon as he steps onto someone private property w/o consent he is immediately guilty of violating state and federal wiretapping laws.

    November 17, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Annunaki

      Do you even know what wiretapping is? It's audio. This is video. If you fail to understand the difference, have another Four LOKO.

      November 17, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • a slozomby

      try reading the wiretapping laws. they include provisions for video.

      November 17, 2010 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
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