Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi-born artist and assistant professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has developed a name for himself with his provocative experiments in body modification as a means of expression. In March, for example, to remind people of the death of his brother Haji and others, both Iraqi and American, in Iraq, he staged a performance piece in which he had his back tattooed with a map of Iraq, which depicted each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they died. (The dead American soldiers were represented by dots of red ink, while the Iraqis were symbolized by 100,000 dots of green UV ink, visible only under black light.)
Now, Bilal reportedly has embarked upon a new, even more outre project–3rdI.me, for which Bilal has had a digital camera embedded in the back of his head. Images from the camera will be streamed to a computer database and then displayed on screens in a museum gallery in Doha, Qatar. The work is one of 23 pieces commissioned for the opening of the new Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art on Dec. 30.
Although some news coverage has described the camera as being “surgically implanted,” CNN reports that Bilal had the camera attached at a body-piercing salon. A TechNewsWorld article further explains that the 10-megapixel color digital camera was screwed onto posts on three titanium plates implanted under Bilal’s skin. The digital images will be transmitted to a server via a mobile phone on Bilal’s body.
Because of NYU’s concerns about protecting the privacy of staff and students, Bilal has agreed to cover the camera lens when he is on campus, TechNewsWorld reports. During those stretches, the camera will relay blank images tagged with the time, date and GPS location.
The project has overtones of the transhumanist movement’s futuristic concept of turning humans into cyborgs by enhancing the body with electronic sensors and “smart skin.”
Bilal, however, seems more interested in making an artistic statement, rather than actually gaining the ability to see what is behind him. According to CNN, he said the camera’s purpose is to “expose the unspoken conditions we face. A project like this is meant to establish a dialogue about surveillance.”
We caution readers: Don’t try this at home. And now for the news.