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. ANGE

    it's not much different than all the cellphones snapping pictures out there, getting strangers in photos that go online.

    November 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tawny

    I'd love to get in on this guy's class...Finally it's not a drone! Professor's who think outside the box just rock : )

    November 17, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. dwighthuth

    Great here come the Borg.

    November 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Garnet

      Bwahahahahaha!!!!!! The Borg freak me out!

      November 17, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Sinter

    365.25 days in a year

    24 hours in a day

    60 minutes in an hour

    Does that mean 525960 pictures for people to review?

    November 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. trixen

    So what happens when this dude goes to take a dump? Do museum visitors get to watch that too? I just hope he isn't gay...

    November 17, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. oldshoshone

    Probably a Democrat trying to find our where he has been... or to help find his posterior with both hands.

    November 17, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RayRay

    Header of article has to be re-writen to: Nutty Professor install camera in back of his head

    November 17, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. pkfops

    Good idea if you ride a bike.

    November 17, 2010 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CaptainObvious

    So Arab Professor is going to take pictures of NYC to send to Arab Museum?

    November 17, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Garnet

    How would this be considered a violation in privacy when thousands of videos are up on youtube of public places? What about the things that Google catches for their Street View? Or perhaps all the video surveillance's that are up? Both Counties, Stores, and People have surveillance systems up, even though they're meant to catch others breaking the law we're all being monitored and recorded.

    November 17, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Frank Mondana

    OK kids, once more with feeling...
    If it has to be explained, it's not art.

    I think it's funny how anyone can now be an artist (except for me, I admit to no talent) provided you can spout a lot of elitist cliche's and/or be a "stand-up philosopher" (watch Mel Brooks, "The History of the World Pt. 1").

    November 17, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joke

    Who wants to take bets on when the first middle finger is displayed behind his back.

    November 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Your Real Dad

    I can't wait to see how he changes the film ...

    /no, I didnt RTFA
    //relax

    November 17, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. martin

    This is not a privacy issue. If this was a privacy issue, then Google should take down their street-view map application because they didn't solicit anyone's consent when they went around photographing city streets (naturally there were people inadvertently in those photos). Another example is all the security cameras you have everywhere – airports, public facilities, etc... Does the public get asked for their permission when security cameras flim un-suspecting people walking by?

    November 17, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • MassiveMarbles

      Martin, what if this man is summoned to court where cameras aren't allowed? Or goes to an airport? Or the back of his head is witness to a TOP SECRET Government asset? He's a threat to himself and to those around him, criminal or otherwise.

      November 17, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      I'm less worried about a government secret than papers related to grades of students on a desk... or something with a student's social security number on it... or some boy in a men's room. The point of this project is that he won't be able to use discretion concerning what pictures are transmitted and he could easily break NYU student privacy policy or laws to protect minors... and this is a risk a reasonable person could foresee so even if he doesn't intend the specific transmittal it is his responsibility because of the nature of the project he initiated and would be carrying out.

      November 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Julia

    That is just creepy... What happens if he goes to the bathroom? He could go to jail for privacy laws. What's he gonna do? Wear a beanie every time he goes in the bathroom? Goodness

    November 17, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
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