It is interesting to note how in the above image, Hasan Elahi identifies himself and his presence with a downturned arrow pointer. It is as though through this simple icon, Elahi seems to rebel against conforming to convention. The same can be said of his works which go against the grain, in terms of how he ends up being both Hasan Elahi the Artist, and Hasan Elahi the Curator. His constant stream of meticulous documentation of his own private life becomes overwhelming, to the point where this stream becomes littered with both something and yet nothing at the same time. It is interesting to note how this notion of duality seems to be present.
Elahi’s efforts to track his own self border on the line of extreme and yet, they also poke fun at the idea of surveillance. His name being accidentally added to the FBI watch list as a suspected terrorist was the catalyst to his delving deeper into the whole process of self-surveillance and making the gathered data public. By making so much of this information public, he intentionally creates a glut of data which keeps surfacing and burying itself in a constant state of flux.
It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face … was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime …
– George Orwell
Perhaps it is no surprise that Elahi also refers to his Tracking Transience project as “The Orwell Project”. Tracking Transience embraces surveillance and the loss of privacy. Elahi’s whereabouts and images from the places where he has been to are readily broadcasted and archived on the website.
The artist becomes a hyperactive medium, who is continually active in interacting with his own body of work. In Elahi’s case, his penchant for tedious documentation, geo-tagging and archiving becomes a never ending process. Perhaps it is best to call Tracking Transience a continual work in progress where the documentation and it’s arrangement echoes the concerns of the artist. Organizing and curating these material become a form of controlled chaos for the artist, as one can only imagine just how much data one has to pour through in order to arrange them by date, location and so on just to make them presentable. The end result becomes a neatly archived record of everything and also nothing.
The average individual on the Internet would tend to provide details and descriptions of photos or videos he might have taken along with with tagging details of who he was with and where he was going. However, in Tracking Transience, these vital extraneous details are cut off. The occasional photo might pop up with a some letters and numbers placed in the centre of the image, which could possibly be some form of coordinates pointing to where Elahi was at the time the photo was taken. But other than that, the only thing a user ends up tracking on Tracking Transience is but a sparse detailing of the life of the artist and what he gets up to. This brings to mind the idea of inducing information paralysis by overwhelming one with information, similar to FriendsterFriday created by Ian Aleksander Adams.
The masterstroke in Elahi’s Tracking Transience is how he creates this illusion of giving you every single information about himself and also nothing at all. Fragmentation and unification of disjointed information seem to provide the perfect online camouflage for Elahi. His careful attention to detail in presenting this information to the public eye seems to mock “Big Brother”, effectively thumbing the eye of surveillance with gusto and showmanship. The artist therefore ends up donning two feathers in his hat, that of producer and curator of his own body of work. This can be seen in how Elahi uses his own documented material in his installation works , which extensively utilize monitors and cameras.
It is as though the artist is using the act of surveillance against itself, thereby effectively negating any palpable form of usable information which could be deciphered at the end. Elahi becomes almost like an icon of defiance in the face of government surveillance, which is something that has become an increasingly pressing issue as of late in the United States.
In an age where the boundaries of privacy become ever so faint, Elahi’s work raises concerns over just how aware are we of our own information trails we leave behind. Personal data and the person behind that data can effectively become distorted by technology and the mass media. To me, I find that Elahi’s Tracking Transience evokes this idea that people should take ownership of their own data and that a lack of privacy is still pretty much a problem in society today. At the same time, what about the possibility of being intentional in trying to break down the wall of privacy? What about those who willingly upload photos of what they eat and who they meet on Instagram and Facebook? Perhaps there are also those who relish in the lack of privacy, where entering their space in the digital sphere is very much the same as entering their home unannounced. Should this group of individuals be worried with what Big Brother does with their very public data? Or does it not matter in the end since they voluntarily put up their most private information on very public online portals? Elahi’s work thus continues to stimulate debate and raises more burning questions which are a pertinent critique of the superficiality of society. In the mean time, Hasan Elahi continues to hide in plain sight.