Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/16/wafaa_bilal_and_his_headcam/

Prof to drill camera into own skull

Al-Qaeda hacker set for third eye

By Rik Myslewski

Posted in Science, 16th November 2010 19:41 GMT

An assistant professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts will embed a digicam into the back of his head as part of a year-long art piece — and some of his fellow faculty aren't too happy about it.

The Iraqi-born American artist Wafaa Bilal has been commissioned by a new museum in Qatar to drill the camera into his head and have it take pictures at one-minute intervals for a year, with the images to be displayed in the museum — Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art — after it opens in Doha on December 30.

Bilal declined to comment on the project, entitled "The 3rd I", to The Wall Street Journal, which reported it on Tuesday,

In classic artspeak, the museum's promo materials describe "The 3rd I" as being "a comment on the inaccessibility of time, and the inability to capture memory and experience."

Some of the NYU faculty, however, describe having an active camera embedded in an active professor's skull as an invasion of students' privacy.

"Obviously you don't want students to be under the burden of constant surveillance; it's not a good teaching environment," associate chairman of Bilal's photography and imaging department Fred Ritchin told the WSJ.

The department chairwoman Deborah Willis says that when Bilal informed her of his planned headcam, she asked: "What if students are upset? What if you're documenting what they don't want you to see?"

The department is still mulling how to handle the matter. Suggestions include putting a lens cap over Bilal's all-seeing back of the head during teaching hours, or just turning the damn thing off when he's on the NYU campus.

Bilal's off-campus life is of no concern to the art faculty, athough Ritchen did note: "I guess anybody accepting a dinner invitation will have to realize that certain things will be going on."

Bilal is no stranger to controversy. After Al-Qaeda hacked the cheesy first-person shooter Quest for Saddam to replace the erstwhile Iraqi dictaor with George Bush, Bilal hacked the Al-Qaeda hack to insert an avatar of himself into the game as its chief protagonist.

Bilal's performance piece based on the hacked hack, "Virtual Jihadi", was shut down briefly after it opened at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, two weeks after the institute's College Republican blog had called the art department a "terrorist safehaven," a denunciation they later recanted. The FBI wouldn't say whether it was involved in the contretemps.

Perhaps Bilal's most famous work was "Domestic Tension", in which he lived in a gallery for one month, during which time anyone with internet access could either interact with him or shoot him with a web-operated paintball gun.

In another work, "Dog or Iraqi", Bilal asked his web audience to choose between whether he (the Iraqi) or a dog named Buddy should be "subjected to [a] popular interrogation technique in front of a live audience at an undisclosed New York location." Bilal lost, and was publicly waterboarded.

After being waterboarded, randomly shot at, and tattooed with Iraqi place names plus dots for each of 5,000 American and 100,000 Iraqi dead in a 24-hour performance entitled "...and Counting", it's understandable that Bilal can take a camera being drilled into his head in stride.

But let's not upset those art students, now, hmm? ®