Photo & Video

Hasan Elahi

(New York) Artist-in-Residence August & September Residency Year: 2017


Do you ever feel like you are being watched? This feeling was very real for artist Hasan Elahi, when in 2002, an erroneous tip accusing him of terrorist activities led to a six-month investigation by the FBI. Elahi reacted to this by creating a long-term project. “Tracking Transience,” which resulted in him being watched by millions more people on The Colbert Report, as well as CNN, CBS, Al Jazeera, and Fox News. His work throughout the last twenty years has straddled the worlds of art and science, and this life event fused the two. Already he was investigating interactions between public spaces and private information, engaging questions of surveillance, privacy, ownership of information, citizenship, borders, as well as physical and virtual space. Being investigated by the FBI just had him turn that lens on himself.

Elahi came to Boise from Berlin after he closed a show at the Museum für Fotografie titled “Watching You Watching Me.” He used his time at Surel’s Place to create a framework for his ideas that he developed into works that could appear all over the world in subsequent years. “I have been thinking about this new body of work on the idea of ‘Manifest Destiny,’” explained Elahi. “It is only appropriate for me to undertake part of my studio practice in the location where many historic American paintings of the western landscape were created.” While a resident at Surel’s Place, he turned the camera on Boise.

He created a body of photographic and video work on the relationship between landscape and surveillance. He used Boise as a base to re-create historic American landscape paintings from the 19th century, using modern day consumer technologies that have grown out of military developments. Paintings only created before Idaho became a state were used, as the work also questioned what the genre of landscape means today in a political context.

Hasan Elahi’s workshop was focused on surveillance. Participants mapped and interacted with surveillance cameras throughout Boise. The workshop addressed numerous issues about surveillance including whether the cameras should be hidden or overt, who should have access to what the camera is seeing, and how artists and designers engage with this ever-pervasive element of contemporary life. They didn’t have to look far from Surel’s Place to find a camera in this workshop – the Boise Whitewater Park Webcam is just down the path.