Hiding in Plain Sight - A Solo Exhibition by Hasan Elahi
March 2 – April 23, 2011
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
Hiding in Plain Sight, the first exhibition of multimedia artist Hasan Elahi’s work in San Francisco, is the latest installment of a much larger project, Tracking Transience, which began in 2004 and continues today. Essentially a self-surveillance project that publicly presents the artist’s exact location, activities, bank records, and other personal data, the project demonstrates how forfeiting your privacy can potentially become a new form of protecting your identity. In a social media saturated era where data and information are produced at a copious rate, it becomes increasingly important how we analyze such large amounts of data and information. Taking a cue from economic theory, Elahi asks what value does information retain if there is an overabundance of it? What narratives can be drawn out from this mountain of data and information? In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and beyond, how much can you know about the people you are connected to? Equal parts artistic project, identity management mechanism, and survival strategy, this work raises powerful, undeniable questions about privacy and concerns about who is watching us, when, and where.
Tracking Transience began as a practical matter. In 2002, Elahi was detained at Detroit Metro Airport after returning from an exhibition overseas. Falsely accused of involvement in the 9/11 terrorist plot, he became the subject of an intensive investigation by the F.B.I. After months of interrogations of himself, family, friends, and employers, culminating in nine back-to-back lie detector tests, he was cleared of suspicion. Since he was never formally accused, there was no official letter of exculpation from the F.B.I.; from the government's perspective, these interrogations never took place. Following this harrowing experience and wanting to avoid future scrutiny, Elahi, an artist who works internationally and travels frequently, contacted the F.B.I. regularly to inform them of his travel plans. After a few months, he had an idea: “Why not share this information with everyone?,” subsequently launching his Tracking Transience project. Authorities would never have to wonder where he was, who he was calling, or what he bought with recent credit card transactions. They could just look it up online. As a matter of fact, since the project’s inception seven years ago, Elahi’s server logs show multiple hits from the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense, and Executive Office of the President.
In this exhibition, monitors stream material drawn from a database of tens of thousands of images that Elahi took with his cell phone and uploaded to his server. Although the daily images of places visited, food eaten, and money spent can be seen as mundane details of contemporary life, for Elahi the subject matter becomes evidence of his life and actions, establishing a voluntary and perpetual digital alibi against future accusations. For many artists the dissolution between art and life is a theoretical practice, yet for Elahi it is a permanent routine that brings the viewer a record of life as citizen and working artist. The result is an aggregated self-portrait in which the artist is omnipresent, yet entirely elusive.
- Kevin B. Chen