New York, 11 February 2011, Art Media Agency (AMA).
There has been much scepticism about Wafaa Bilal’s project to have a camera grafted onto the back of his head. Not only was the entire project seen as risky, but students at New York University, where Bilal teaches, have criticised the fact that the camera automatically uploads images from wherever the artist is, hereby infringing on the privacy of others. However, the most virulent criticism seems to be coming from the artist’s own body, which has rejected the implant.
The original operation took place in a tattoo parlour in Los Angeles, where a titanium base was inserted between the artist’s skin and skull. The camera was then mounted onto three posts, which also rooted the base to the skull. The artist’s body has rejected one of the metal posts and although he was prescribed antibiotics and steroids for the infection, the pain became so excruciating that Bilal had the device removed.
The project was entitled 3rdI and was part of an exhibition at the new MATHAF museum in Doha, which opened in December with an installation presenting live updates of images from Bilal’s camera. Although Bilal’s project seems shocking, it is part of a rich tradition of modifying the body in the name of art, although these operations are often dangerous. Stelarc, an artist that focuses on extending the capabilities of the human body, had an ear grafted onto his forearm.
Despite the setback, Bilal remains committed to the performance and has stated that he would like to repeat the experiment with a lighter camera.
New York, 24 November 2010. AMA.
Artist Wafaa Bilal installed a camera in the back of his head, all in the name of art.
Bilal will keep it for a year. It measures five centimetres and is less than twenty-five millimetres thick. According to the artist, the project should raise social, aesthetic, political, technological and artistic issues. For now, he refuses to reveal when the device was implanted or any other details.
He placed it at the back of his head as a symbol of what we can not see and what we prefer to leave behind. The camera captures the artist’s daily activities every minute, 24 hours a day, and the videos are subsequently transmitted to a museum.
The artist declared that his work will place the spotlight on groups that play with Arab stereotypes, like the video-game Quest Saddam.
In a recent performance entitled …and Counting, Bilal tattooed a map of Iraq on his back with no frontiers and a spot for each Iraqi and American victim. Bilal’s brother was killed by a missile at a check-point in Iraq in 2004 and he consequently decided to use his work to underline the lack of American interest in Iraqi victims. Spots symbolising Iraqis are made of an ultra-violet green ink, only visible under black light, while the Americans are represented by permanent ink.
Wafaa Bilal taught art at NYU. He is renowned for his interactive works and performances. The implant was commissioned by the new museum in Doha, Qatar. Entitled The 3rd I, it is part of the twenty-three works commissioned for the inauguration of the Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art on 30 December. The exhibition is called “Told/Untold/Retold”.