Never question the resolve of an artist. First off, they are crazy enough to do anything. More importantly, some of them are secretly cyborgs. NYU Professor Wafaa Bilal announced his intent to install a camera on the back of his head earlier this season, and, true to his word, he is now walking around with the device surgically implanted. Bilal, an Iraq-born artist, has a history of controversial projects aimed at getting audiences to explore the limits and boundaries of society. Now, his backwards facing camera will stream the part of the world he never sees to visitors at the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar. The art project, entitled “The 3rd I” will go live on December 15th and continue for a year. Take a look at the cybernetic camera and listen to Bilal explain his work in the video from the Associated Press below. Two hours of surgery with nothing but local anesthesia – well, no one said becoming a cyborg (or an artist) was easy.
As we discussed in our earlier coverage, Bilal’s artistic venture into lifelogging is about more than getting an extra set of eyes in the back of his head. It’s also about exploring how society excepts the changing mores about recording what’s around you. NYU administrators have required Bilal to cover the camera while on campus to preserve the privacy of their students. Students who in all likelihood take pictures of each other all the time and share intimate details about hookups on Facebook. To NYU, there’s still a difference between choosing to be recorded, and having someone record you without your knowledge. Could that change? The upcoming generation is being raised in a culture that’s far more open than the previous one. How long until they expect every part of their lives to be captured on video? Bilal’s previous artworks have explored American angst about terrorism, global racism, and war. “The 3rd I” seems less dramatic in comparison, but I think the issues it raises could become more important in the years ahead than anyone expects.