i See You: Wafaa Bilal’s 3rdi

Although news about Wafaa Bilal’s camera implantation first came out in the beginning of December last year, January is as good a time as any to revisit his transformation.

The multidisciplinary artist and NYU professor’s latest project examines issues of surveillance, of seeing and of being seen. As with all of his performance pieces (see his project “Domestic Tension”), Bilal uses his body as the primary vehicle of communication. Technology serves as the catalyst for most of his projects, and the “3rdi” is no exception. In order to investigate the act of surveillance, Bilal has implanted a small, digital camera into the back of his head for a year.

The camera takes still pictures of Bilal’s whereabouts every minute of every day. Bilal and his crew then upload these pictures to a website, and archive them on a daily basis. Similar to his previous projects, we can access this catalogue of images on his website (http://wafaabilal.com/). We become the surveyors of Bilal’s day.

I am drawn to these collection of images. Perhaps the most captivating ones are the partial images, the ones that speak of fragmented stories. I keep returning to the pictures of blank walls, to images that are blurred and indistinguishable. I have sat with them, wondering what and where.

Bilal’s 3rdi interacts with memory, that which is in constant motion. Indeed, all memory is fiction; as we do, we forget. I read these rapid successions of images as an attempt to remember, to salvage the day.

On the one hand, this project addresses the ease at which society monitors our actions. Cameras exist in many places. By placing a camera on the back of his head, Bilal alludes to this mostly forgotten fact. His project reminds us that we are constantly subject to the gaze. In an age when cameras and recording devices can be found on the freeways and in items of clothing (via the use of radio-frequency identification), our sense to privacy is relative. Bilal visually reminds us of this fact with the blatant location of his camera.

On the other hand, Bilal’s implant addresses a more personal project: an act of reclamation. As an immigrant, Bilal reflects upon the images, people, and memories he has left behind in Iraq. Within the context of remembering, capturing moments, whether they are blank walls, blurred or clear scenery, Bilal is able to document and remember.

It is important to note that despite these relevant goals, the media’s reaction to the project, perhaps not unsurprisingly, does not focus on Bilal’s reasoning, but instead on the project’s oddity. The following clip from CNN is painfully clear:

The reporter’s constant grimace as she touches the camera and speaks to Bilal quickly serves to call the validity of his project into question. This report positions Bilal and his project as freakery. The questions about when the camera will be on (note that the reporter is specifically interested about whether or not Bilal will leave his camera on during sex or when he is in the shower) point to sensationalism, an act which overlooks Bilal’s project entirely.

I invite you to look through Bilal’s archives for yourself : http://www.3rdi.me/. See how he captures the everyday, making even the most mundane image valuable.

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5 Responses to i See You: Wafaa Bilal’s 3rdi

  1. marina says:

    Great post. Was wondering the status of Bilal’s most recent venture. Looks good. Too bad the reporter didn’t really want to hear his reasoning. You did a good job of remedying that however. Thanks for continuing the blog!

  2. Thanks for the comment Marina! CNN did a sloppy job, but if you go to youtube, the Associated Press has a really great report (I think I typed Bilal 3rdi). Contrary to CNN’s clip, Bilal does most of the talking. Happy new year!

  3. Kivi says:

    It is interesting that there are permissive standards of creativity and art. For the most part in Western society “art” is defined as outside of the experience of the artist’s body. Extreme or radical artists incorporate themselves into their art and to discount the impact of their expression mainstream society and media need to push these expressions to the fringe by describing them as freakish or sick. Value judgments to distance and mute the validity of the artist’s expression demonstrate the disconnect between individuals and their bodies in this society. Those seeking to actually experience their bodies are denigrated as hedonists while those who can exploit the skills of their bodies coordination are raised to hero status while selling their chiseled acceptable forms like common prostitutes. I wonder how the media would approach this art piece if it were presented by an athlete like Kobe Bryant or Tom Brady.

  4. I understand the fact that these extreme art projects are meant to open a discussion about important issues, but what kind of change do they actually incite?

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