Lifelogging: Hasan Elahi at the Science Gallery

“It’s easy to incriminate someone if you really want to.”

In 2002, Hasan Elahi’s name was mistakenly added to the FBI’s watch list. Elahi, a media artist was returning from an exhibition abroad when he was stopped by security at Detroit airport. After being escorted to Immigration and Naturalization Services, Elahi was approached by an FBI agent for questioning.

From there on, the artist endured six months of similar sessions and polygraph tests. The FBI quickly discovered that Elahi was not in fact the terrorist they had thought, but the end was far from over. As a media artist, traveling is an integral part of Elahi’s vocation. The FBI instructed Elahi to keep them updated on his traveling endeavours to prevent similar interrogation from occurring again. Elahi did just that. In fact from that day on, he left nothing to the imagination.

As part of the Lifelogging exhibition at the Science Gallery, Elahi gave a talk on his experiences and art on February 19th. In order to keep the FBI fully informed of his whereabouts, for the past twelve years Elahi has photographed every location he’s been to, every meal eaten, every bed slept in, and even every toilet used. Today he has taken 28 photographs but determines he could take double that, “depending on the day.”

In addition to sharing all of his whereabouts with his investigators, he has also broadcasts them to the public. Anyone in the world can view his location at his website elahi.umd.edu. On initial impression it seems that Elahi has disregarded the notion of privacy altogether, such that is voiced by an audience member. Elahi, however has a different opinion on his actions stating, “In order to regain my privacy, I’ve decided to make everything open.”

Elahi figures that his photos while considered spamming are “generic and boring” only holding personal “value.” He’s giving the FBI what they want: “information, but not interpretation.” Elahi brings up the point that this information is obtainable for almost everyone with geotagging, credit cards, etc.

“As we go through the transition from analog to digital, we’re also having a cultural transition – I think it’s a romantic idea – going off the grid – but I don’t think it’s technologically or socially possible” he comments. Although Elahi’s experiences are certainly not applicable to many, his words voice several universal concepts of the information age and will no doubt make anyone think twice about their granted “privacy” rights.

The Lifelogging exhibition will run until April 17th, 2015.

Scout Mitchell

Image: Irish Times

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