17 December, 2010

Eye In The Back Of His Head

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those only of the author and may only coincidentally reflect those of Mystic Metals, its employees, or associates. All responses should be posted as comments here, or mailed directly to the author, A. Robert Basile, at ihatebasile@gmail.com. Mail sent directly to Mystic Metals will not be read.

Eye In The Back Of His Head


I love the little hooks that news sites use to get you to click on the entire story. While reading some news today, like I do everyday, I saw these two headlines on the webpage. “Police find alligator in car during traffic stop.” And the other was, “Barbie could be used for child porn.” I laughed at them both here in the bookstore. Running my eyes over the two headlines quickly, I mentally combined the two into “Police find Barbie, child porn, and alligator in car.” I like that headline better. It gives me a visual of a Barbie doll giving a handjob in the parking lot to a baby alligator. Except she really doesn’t have thumbs, does she.

How about something that defies explanation. There’s a college called New York University. NYU to its friends. It lives in a far away land named New York, which totally kicks old York’s ass. York is so 95 AD. In New York, this University stands tall and proud as another stupidly liberal effigy of higher education. There’s a professor there at NYU named Wafa Bilal. And though that sounds like some brunch menu item at a pretentious scene kid cafe, he is actually a professor of photography. This cat has taken his study and profession to an interesting degree recently when he had a titanium plate implanted into the back of his skull. This doesn’t seen too terribly strange since tons of people are walking around with hardware holding their skulls in place. I myself have several pins and brackets keeping my jaw from falling out of my head. But this dude didn’t get the plate to fix a broken skull. Rather, this guy got the plate put in so he could attach a camera to the back of his head. You can’t make this shit up.

A digital camera magnetically attache to the implanted plate in Wafa Bilal’s head faces behind him, and takes a photo every minute. This will continue for a year, and the photos are sent live to the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar. As a refugee from the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, Mr. Bilal is artistically interested in, “things I leave behind.” The cat that implanted the steel plate in Mr. Bilal’s head is a body mod artist, and used local anesthetic during the implantation. You’re telling me you couldn’t find a doctor to do this? I’m shocked.

This is an interesting mod story. I’m sure that the procedure wasn’t terribly fun, and I imagine that it was a ‘play it by ear’ situation (or ‘play it by head’) since I don’t think anyone else has ever had a camera put into his skull. It is also an interesting choice to use the talents of a body mod artist rather than a surgeon or other such degree holding dickhead. (P.S. I don’t like doctors.) There are a couple of things here. Let’s start with the mod artist thing.

Going to someone with the experience of manipulating the body in a more unconventional way is a choice that speaks to several ideas. One is that this guy with the camera head either asked a medical profession to do it and he said no, or he went right to the mod artist. If he went right to the mod artist, then I applaud his foresight and his confidence in the qualified individuals of unconventional manipulation of the body. This isn’t a modification like a labret or even a pocket or sub-dermal implant. This is borderline Dr. Frankenstein shit. To go to a modification artist for this task speaks to Mr. Bilal’s trust in our art form, and more so, in the abilities of the artist who performed the mod (a person whom the article I read didn’t name).

Let’s talk about the mod itself. This is a little too “Blade Runner” or Skynet for me to swallow. Or even “Jason X.” Anyone see that big ol’ piece of crap? In it, there are these tiny little robots that reconstruct the flesh of dead things. That’s how Jason gets into space. Yes, space. But blending machines with the body isn’t a terribly foreign idea, so oughtn’t I be cool with this too? Is this any stranger than a machine to replace one’s heart? Or the mechanical, James Cameron like artificial hip? Or even those sufferers of cancers in the gastrointestinal regions; often, they have their entire food intake systems replaced. But these aren’t accurate examples, are they. These are examples of machines and body working together to preserve life. The camera in the back of the dome isn’t necessary for this cat to live. It’s more akin to something like stapling the stomach to lose weight, or blasting your eyes with lasers to see more clearly. It’s unnecessary. OK, you people who were going to die from your fatness and needed the stomach bullshit or else. I get it. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about unnecessary, surgical and quasi-surgical procedures. And though I hate to use ‘quasi’ as a prefix, there is a certain disgusting excess to things like this. I suppose that all of our mods are in that same category. So is it a display of absurd excess, or is it the modification prerogative of each of us to manipulate our carbon meat bags the way we want to?

I’m not going to answer that last question and just move on. Well, maybe I’ll answer it later. Now, let’s talk about modern art. My tolerance for those who do a stupid thing and get a pass by calling it art is extremely low. I’m not saying that the camera thing is stupid, but the phrase ‘modern art’ is such a large and eclectic bumbershoot if anyone wants to deflect criticism or attract attention, he just throws the word art on it. Like performance art. There’s a funny Mr. Show sketch with a guy named Spank who is a performance artist and tries to shit on the flag in the name of performance art. The absurdity of someone acting like an idiot and then mocking his criticizers by claiming that they themselves don’t understand what the art means is preposterous and an outlandish and cleverly disguised myopia. This dude with the camera is creating an art with the concept of what’s behind him. Great. Wonderful. You survived Iraq. We’re all very proud. And at the risk of sounding callous, I really don’t care much. A photo every minute for a year will be beamed to this museum so that onlookers can marvel at its originality. I’m sure the pillow at three in the morning will be terribly interesting, as well as the ceiling for hours as the cat hunkers over his desk grading research papers. Cynical? Yeah, I am a little bit.

I’m not entirely opposed to art for the sake of art. It’s just that most of it rubs me in an inappropriate way. Yes, that way. Creepy. I reluctantly call myself an artist because of the inferences of association to people who create like this cat. I don’t begrudge his artistic creation. In a way, I applaud it. But at the end of the day, what this guy is doing, what I am doing as well, is unnecessary. The implant of a camera in the dude’s head is pretty boss from a purely mod point of view. But if this guy were just some dirty artist living on the couch of his more successful and wrapped tighter friend, would it have gotten such a positive news reception? Likely, the deadbeat artist would be just another deadbeat artist who isn’t providing to the country what is necessary, like tax dollars and employment. The crux of the story is that this guy fled from Iraq, so his assholian art project takes on many more layers because we have some sort of apologetic kinship to what’s going on in the middle east. Wow, how did this get so angry? Let me try to deescalate.

The world doesn’t need artists, and in a way, it does. Art is culture and a portion of the society’s gray matter that ought to be stimulated. I have a very love-hate relationship with art. Sometimes I knee jerk so hard that I smack the balls of whom I perceive as a useless artist so hard that he’s tasting metal for a month. (Anyone who’s been hit in the balls knows that sensation.) Then other times, I defend art and its creation just for the sake of its creation as if it were some anorexic damsel sadly and forcefully sequestered to a tower. Art is a strange mistress. I got way off topic here, but I don’t care. This shit is free, after all. Let me know what you kids think of art. Is what this guy doing art, or is it weird for the sake of weird? And if it is the latter, is that a bad thing? Stay beautiful, kids.


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