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Thursday, November 18, 2010

NYU professor to have camera surgically installed in back of his head

The tiny camera will take a photo every minute and transmit the images to monitors in a Qatar museum.

An anonymous eye watches through the lens of a camera.
Photo: Derek K. Miller/Flickr
Ever have someone ask what you did over the weekend, only to draw a blank? Next time that happens to NYU assistant professor and performance artist Wafaa Bilal, he’ll be able to check the footage from the camera attached to his head. Yes, you read that right: The Wall Street Journal reports that Bilal, who teaches in the photography and imaging department of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, plans to have a camera surgically implanted in the back of his head. The stunt, which has already sparked concerns about privacy, is part of a project being commissioned by a new Qatar museum.

Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art is set to open in Doha, Qatar, on Dec. 30, and aspires to “highlight and share contemporary art by Arabs and artists living in the Middle East.” The NYU professor's installation will be titled "The 3rd I."
According to Bilal’s NYU colleagues, the tiny camera will be secured to the artist’s head via a piercing-like attachment. Over the course of a year, photographs will be taken at one-minute intervals and fed directly to monitors in the museum. Assuming this occurs with some immediacy, much of the footage viewable during the museum’s open hours may be of Bilal sleeping. (Doha is eight hours ahead of New York City. If Bilal starts his day around 8 a.m., it will be 4 p.m. in Doha; likewise, if he sleeps for about eight hours each night, it will amount to something in the vicinity of 2,920 hours spent photographing his pillow.)
After a group of NYU faculty met to discuss the potential privacy infringement of his students, Bilal agreed to cover the camera with a black lens cap while on university property.
Despite the restrictions on campus and time spent sleeping, Bilal’s camera will capture thousands of hours worth of images that Mathaf museum curators hope will serve as "a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience.”
As CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk drolly noted, “It is, indeed, difficult to capture a memory of something you never see because it's behind you.” Check out the rest of the CNET story to learn more about the professor's curious history and his penchant for raising eyebrows.