Out of all the interviews we have participated in so far, I would say that Hasan Elahi’s generated the most engaging and thought-provoking dialogue. Elahi is a media artist whose work focuses on the implications of contemporary technology and media. His long-term project began when he was (mistakenly) placed on the FBI watch list and to show his whereabouts, Elahi posted images of his entire life.

“It’s all like, hey, FBI agent, I’m not doing [anything] shady, I’m just here.”

Tracking Transience

A key aspect of his work examines how commonplace self-surveillance has become. To show how this technology is now embedded in our brain and thus our daily habits, Elahi had us take out our iPhones to show us how they track us. They know the dates and times and exactly how many many minutes are at each of these places. When you look at the map settings, it knows not only the places that you go regularly, it knows all the places you’re not even supposed to be. Our device is always attached to us and never further than an arm’s reach away. 

Another way in which we are compliant with “self-surveillance”, is through the dissemination of images and videos on these online sites. While it was once uncommon to take pictures of food and upload them to Facebook or Instagram, it is now the norm. For me, I never considered this to be “self-surveillance”. I naively believed that this was just another convenience that came with owning an iPhone or that you had “privacy” when your account is set to private. Our discussion with Elahi was extremely eye-opening for me and in instances such as these, I think it is crucial that artists hold a mirror to society. 

“They constantly look at their world and represent it back to us.”

In Elahi’s case, he is offering a different perspective that showed me how the boundary between art and surveillance are now blurred. The proliferation of digital platforms has turned everyone into intercultural producers. Historically art has been very skewed as there were a limited number of producers and a massive number of consumers. However, the opposite is true today and the number of producers are almost as high as the number of consumers. Elahi notes that we now have a situation where every consumer is also a producer or can be a producer.

Looking back to our discussion with Saisha Grayson, I felt there were several parallels between her job as a digital media curator and Elahi’s work as a digital media creator. When we take away the bracket of art, we look at digital media every day; I take photos on my phone and send them to my friends through Facebook and Snapchat. We are all media content creators, consumers, and critics in this regard, leading me to question: When everybody is a cultural producer is there a point where it’s no longer even considered something special? 

“At what point does art become so embedded in the daily lives of everyone that we don’t even consider to be art?”