In 2002, artist Hasan Elahi was apprehended by the FBI in Detroit after stepping off a plane coming from the Netherlands. Elahi was detained on suspicion of terrorism. While today it is clear that the accusations in question were misguided, the Bangladeshi-born American still remains on the terrorist watch list.
An avid traveler, Elahi anticipated that his new relationship with airports would be less than ideal. In order to avoid further detainment or miscommunication, Elahi made a point of contacting the FBI to alert them of his traveling schedules. What started out as simple phone calls soon turned into detailed emails of flight numbers, flight times, specific locations and plans.
“Why just tell FBI agents when I can tell everyone?” This question, as posed by Elahi in his Thursday, Oct. 27, lecture in Maxey Auditorium, sparked Elahi’s project “Tracking Transience,” a website that not only tracks Elahi’s current location, but also includes a collection of over 20,000 images extending back three years, along with records of his bank, phone, airport and grocery store activity.
Elahi elaborated on his motivations in an email correspondence with The Pioneer.
“Artists are problem solvers, and unlike in other professions, instead of finding the most direct solution to the problem and moving onto the next one, we tend to come up with the most intricate way to solve the problem,” said Elahi. “Sometimes we choose to solve that problem over and over, and each time the solution is different.”
Elahi solved his own problem in an exquisitely complex fashion. He actively watches himself better than any FBI agent ever could, through the means of an expansive and detailed cyber account of his daily activities. Elahi’s brilliant and insouciant response to the indignity of profiling left the audience of Whitman students chuckling as the artist presented his recent works and Tracking Transience website on a projector.
“The project is ongoing,” Elahi explained. “I don’t really think about it. It’s become as commonplace as checking my email, voicemail or my facebook page. Documenting my life is something that I have internalized to the point where I don’t even know I’m doing it.”