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Nov-17-2010 18:26printcommentsVideo

Why an Art Professor Wants a Camera Installed in His Head

Known in the artistic field as a "participatory artist, Wafaa Bilal has caused uproars at NYU in the past...

Wafaa Bilal
Wafaa Bilal

(CHICAGO) - Some film and video enthusiasts have been accused of letting their passions go to their head. But their fanaticism pales when compared to New York University assistant-professor Wafaa Bilal.

The photography expert intends to have a camera implanted in the back of his head.

The project envisions the implanted camera shooting a stream of still photographs—about one a minute—and transmitting them to radio monitors on display at the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art. The museum is located in Qatar which commissioned the art project.

The video camera, describes as about the size of a thumbnail, will be attached to the good professor's skull with a permanent piercing. Surgery will implant the camera that will take candid shots 24/7 during the year that the bionic professor makes his rounds.

Student and colleagues of Bilal at the photography and imaging department of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts say that the Iraqi professor declines to talk directly to the media about his unusual artistic endeavor.

Those in the know say the implanted camera is part of an artistic statement on the nature and inability of time and memory to accurately depict an individual's daily life existence. Called "The 3rd I," the artistic work in progress is described in press materials made available by the Qatar museum.

Students and faculty at NYU have raised privacy issues about Bilal's brainstorm. Photographing people or events without participants' permission has become an issue of debate across the campus.

Fred Ritchin, the associate chairman of the department explained the problem to reporters. "Obviously you don't want students to be under the burden of constant surveillance," he said. "It's not a good teaching environment."

The department chairwoman, Deborah Willis, also has raised concerns about "The 3rd I" project. When Bilal received the museum commission to fund the artistic endeavor, he informed her of the project. Willis recalls responding, "I said, what if students are upset? What if you're documenting what they don't want you to see?"

According to NYU officials, the university is still discussing the parameters and restrictions on what Bilal's 'Big Brother" camera will be allowed to access, see and photograph.

Bilal, on the other hand, has let it be known he's more than willing to cap the lens of the camera while on university grounds.

Known in the artistic field as a "participatory artist, Bilal has caused uproars at NYU in the past, the most recent during June of 2010 when he had a tattoo artist create a map of Iraq on his back depicting American and Iraqi casualties of the ongoing conflict. He dubbed the work or art "...and Counting." The names of Iraqi cities were depicted with Arabic script.

A 2008 outrage resulted in world notoriety. Bilal found a way to express his artistic sentiments via a video game. After hacking into its program he inserted an image of himself as a suicide-bomber seeking to assassinate then President Bush.

Protests for and against the artwork swamped the university. The avatar exhibit was terminated.

A year earlier, saw Bilal confine himself to a Chicago art gallery where he invited people to visit a virtual website broadcasting his image and shoot at him. The clever title for that piece of participatory art was "Domestic Tension."

An unnamed colleague speaking off the record confided that Bilal is "very creative, but a little nuts."

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