WHY I CHOSE HIM AND THE ARTWORK:
Tracking Transience 2.0
Hasan Elahi is a Bangladeshi-born American artist who plays with the concept of identity and privacy in the technological filled 21st century. He uses this concept and manipulates art and technology in a distinctive way that has gotten me in awe. Hasan Elahi shows us how to use technology, which often overexposes our digital identity, in a way that ensures him more privacy.
He commented that “As artists, we try to create experiences. The end result of Tracking Transience is the experience of going through the information and realising the reversal that’s taken place. By telling you everything, I’m really telling you nothing.”
In 2002, Elahi was mistakenly associated with terrorist activities. He was returning from one of his frequent trips abroad when he was detained in the airport. The FBI opened an investigation on him, which they pursued for the next six months. Instead of panicking or resisting, he decided to collaborate by starting Tracking Transience, what he calls “a project in self-surveillance.” He documents the locations and minute details of his day-to-day activities, then makes them available to the public and the FBI on his website and in his final art piece. Not only does Elahi gives visual and textual information but there is an independent third party, his bank, which verifies his location and time where these point cross-reference through his purchases. Thus, Tracking Transience was a response to a case of mistaken identity. An innovative art that can be created from someone else’s mistake, but then again in this modern day, what is the underlining of what art is or what has the meaning of art turn to?
Social Broadcasting: An Unfinished Communications Revolution
Gene Youngblood is a media, arts and politics theorist that holds the belief that media itself needs to be democratic. The publication of his book, Expanded Cinema, in 1970 led to the impact of communication technologies on the democratic process and the capacity to participate. Youngblood announced the need for a “communication revolution” in which the media must be liberated; a site for the freedom to express and perform. He suggested that in order for the democracy to flourish in the 21st century, individuals must claim the “power to define the context that establishes the reality in which we want to live.”
This reminded me of the report on “Digital Identity,” where Elahi performed Tracking Transcience 2.0. He brings a point where we have become a global society of surveillance. Giving excess information to everyone and sharing everything which devalues private information. This links to the study of social broadcasting as we can see how far the internet has evolved. The way society has manipulated and used it to their own benefits and rights. Despite the increase of freedom the public has, it will still be forever monitored by someone even though it is more decentralised. This ties in to the exploration of social broadcasting as an unfinished communication revolution through the Art of the Networked Practice Online Symposium. It unites local and global speakers and audiences into the third space through adobe connect. This brings an active international telematic arts community that rises above the geographical distances to Singapore. The symposium highlights how networked space can be used as a platform for live performances and online artistic works; stimulating dialogue, and encourages an online global open discussion through the chat room.
On the first day of the symposium (29th May), it highlighted the idea of being connected in telematic space by embracing the new internet work based on online social play. Maria Chatzichristodoulou (also known as MariaX) presented on “The Promise of Internationalism”. During Chatzichristodoulou’s keynote, she mentioned the ideation of FLUX. Flux is defined as a movement of continuous changes, constantly changing. She referred this idea back to the actions and happenings in the culture of art, specifically telematic art. She talked about how internationalism has grown over the past years into a global democratic culture to demonstrate how artist from different location can meet and perform together via the internet, creating digital collaborative art.
Chatzichristodoulou first referenced Galloway and Rabinowitz artworks and how they overcame the use of technology to create collaborative art in real time and virtual communication. Their first aim was to identify new genres and hybrid practises. This led to the creation of Hole in Space (1980) to exhibit bandwidth communication showing rich emotions through the third space. It showed the beauty of people coming together in another space. Another important artist that embraces telematic arts as mentioned is Paul Sermon. His art piece Telematic dreaming was a set up environment of two bed, one in different location. The bed becomes a place of encounters and the ability to access the users space anytime through the ‘sense of touch’ in the context of the bed and screen via telematic space. Furthermore, she talked about Annie Abraham and how her art pieces are filled with tentativeness and interconnectivity — embracing the messy and malleable. Abrahams embraces the liveness, miscommunication and network failure. She highlights the idea of the engagement in complexities and poignancies in everyday life as a fundamental to break down and blur the line between performer and viewer.
Chatzichristodoulou ended her keynote by talking about Rabih Mroue. He pointed out how media has manipulated a particular image of reality. Mroué brings forth the idea where the use of digital technology is so manipulated that reality is somehow depicted in cinematic ways: staged and seen through lenses or screens. In The Pixelated Revolution (2012), the viewers can compare the videos of Syrian protesters with the avant-garde filmmaking movement Dogme 95 manifesto. He compares frames and footages from mobile phones of protestors in Syria and the government. It shows the contrast of a raw and shaky film to a clear and framed footage by the government. In the film, the protestor is documenting his own death, which brings the idea of someone using technology to broadcast towards the community to make judgements and writing history.
“Digital material is full of surprises. Sometimes it is broken and you see only half of it, in other cases, it freezes or it simply disappears. It is something virtual that you cannot grasp. It is fragile, rootless and lies somewhere in the cables.”
This reflected how the digital world can be so manipulated that there is a blur line of what is real and what is not. In relation to social broadcasting, who knows if what is shown is curated and framed. Who is to tell what is real and what is fake? How do we know if information being fed to us now is also real?
After Chatzichristodoulou’s keynote, Annie Abraham performed an online ensemble, Entanglement intraining (2018), along with her collaborators Antye Greie, Helen Varley Jamieson, Soyung Lee, Hương Ngô, Daniel Pinheiro, and Igor Stromajer. This piece displayed Annie Abraham’s approach in creating a space where her co-performers can discuss ideas together to achieve a performance contributed by others and not just one where it is carefully curated. Abraham mentioned that the entanglement between machines and how people can make things happen.
“It has to be something new. A real training with something unknown — creating a performance with new artists that you have no control upon and try to harmonise. This is how we embrace the mess.”
Day 2 (30th May) of the symposium, Matt Adams presented on Blast Theory, which is one of the most controversial works from the late 1990. It consists of a group of artists based in Brighton, UK led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj – collaborating with the mixed reality lab at the University of Nottingham. Matt Adams talked about different art statements from Kidnap, Uncle Roy All Around You, I’d Hide You, My Neck of the Woods and many others. It all transforms real life into a burst of virtual realm, ‘contaminating’ it with its unexpected, messy and often paradoxical essence.
Kidnap, portrays a fictional world of myth by story making and interconnectedness. Spectators paid £10 to enter a lottery to experience the stimuli of being kidnapped. 10 people were chosen at random. It reflected a classic exposé on the participatory act of losing the power of control, simultaneously, being in control. Another example is Uncle Roy All Around You, where online and street players collaborate to find ‘Uncle Roy’ before being invited to make a commitment to a stranger. Web users help search for Uncle Roy through a digital map of the area and sends messages to the street players to help find Uncle Roy. The street players were set out to find Uncle Roy with a small tablet given under 60 min to find him. Near the end of the game, players were asked if they would help a stranger in crisis and help comfort them? This connects the street players and online players together to the people who answered yes. However, questions were raised as to what extent should they treat it seriously or if it was just for the game. The whole point of Blast Theory was to find the idea of connecting people across the internet, shortening the distance which can create a type of revolution. However there is a danger through the idea of utopian where everything is possible can become nothing is possible as discussed.
To conclude, the techniques and technologies of social broadcasting today are universal and constantly developing. By looking back at the history of media artists and activists, we have unfolded and exposed the use of network and social media into a collaborative platform for creative invention and social broadcasting. Social broadcasting has revolutionised the way society communicates, where the control of media and narrative has shaped our lives in taking the control of manipulating our identity to an identity that we now embrace through the norm. We have evolved from a centralised individual streaming to a collaborative telematic performance through global peer-to-peer interaction from both artists and audience. We have created something new and unexpected whilst embracing the mess. What intrigued me the most out of this whole experience was the interactivity and volume the participants hold in the chatroom. The discussion that took place can go so much in depth yet wide in terms of topics being discussed. This shows the true meaning of being interconnected in the third space with strangers by sharing our own thoughts and perspective; stretching the idea far beyond the expected that could go on and on. An unfinished communication revolution.
Wittkower’s article, “A Reply to Facebook Critics,“has made me reflect upon the living digital era and how users of Facebook has moulded their own individual digital identity. Facebook, an online social platform was created to allow the society to reach out, connect with others and voice our own opinions and views across the globe. However, we have turned it into something more, something real yet superficial in our lives. It acts as a mirror, reflecting our social behaviour and existence, revealing our likes and dislikes in the community. Moreover, the article brings out an important statement where being friends online has no meaning, as it may be that you are not friends in real life. I am sure all of us have those online friends where not necessarily we know each other in real life. This reflects the curiosity built within human beings, where we are all curious about each other. Surveilling ourselves, as well as each other. The lives we display in the digital world and online friends. Our lives are just like empty pages, everyday we are creating and documenting to fill up the book.
Another interesting point that Wittkower brought up was that one thing could mean thousands of different things or it could mean nothing to someone. Each of us see value in a variety of aspects. Who is what to say what is right and what is wrong. The norm in society just sets a standard where society could follow and share similarities with others in order to connect and feel ‘belongness’. Following on the psychology principle of socio-cultural, all human beings are social animals and has a need to belong. It may not necessarily apply to you as you could think otherwise. Living in a harsh and judgemental society whom may not be brave enough to voice out, this could lead to a creation of identity that may not be even true. Everything that is out there is not what it may seem. Just like Facebook, we post what we want to post to let others see and hide the things we do not want to show. We shape our profile in a certain way to be accepted in society. Or is it that the Facebook generation has shaped the way we are, what we want to share or hide, what we want our lives to look like in a profile page. Have we lost our true selves while creating a digital identity in a reflection of who we want to be but not necessarily who we are.
“The indeterminacy allows us users plenty of space to make things mean what we want them to. If there’s anything humans are good at, it’s creating meaning through social interactions.”
In 2002, Bangladeshi-born American Elahi was mistakenly associated with terrorist activities. He was returning from one of his frequent trips abroad when he was detained in the airport. The FBI opened an investigation on him, which they pursued for the next six months. Instead of panicking or resisting, he decided to collaborate by starting Tracking Transience, what he calls “a project in self-surveillance.” He documents the locations and minute details of his day-to-day activities, then makes them available to the public and the FBI on his website and in his art. Not only is Elahi giving visual and textual information but there is an independent third party, his bank, which verifies his location and time where these point cross-reference through his purchases.
In the interview between Hasan Elahi and Randall Packer, he states that what he post may not be what it seems.
“As artists, we try to create experiences. The end result of Tracking Transience is the experience of going through the information and realising the reversal that’s taken place. By telling you everything, I’m really telling you nothing. I actually live a private and anonymous life and that you know very little about me. Telling you one part of my story.”
This says everything; how we choose the side we want to show that may tell you nothing but just the surface. Elahi also questions that is the project still considered art if everyone, the billion people out there did it. He views art as a creative problem solving between the digital world and society. Tracking Transience 2.0,was to make a point, a conceptual work where the motivation sets it apart. He did not feel exposed as he was just like a spy agency spying on himself, and through this, watching became apart of entertainment. He also commented that artists has a responsibility of being a chronicler of what is happening immediately around their society.
After watching a TED talk by Hasan Elahi, Hasan Elahi vs. the FBI: The Art of Self-Surveillance, Elahi mentions that uploading and posting is not a big deal, it is something we all do in our daily lives, creating our own archives. To give someone information directly, it gives a different identity.
Through this project, Elahi brings a point where we have become a global society of surveillance and he has tapped into this phenomenon by giving up his data willingly and profusely on a daily basis by merging art and his daily life. Giving excess information to everyone and sharing everything which devalues private information. However, he is also able to access the logs of who is viewing him on his website. So who is watching who? As Elahi mentioned, has watching unconsciously become apart of entertainment in our lives? Is that why we ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ each other on social platforms, even though we might not know or have met each other in real life? Do we unconsciously compare and shape ourselves to fit within the digital norm in the need of belongness? Creating a digital identity that might not be what it reflects.
Introduced to the world of Adobe Connect, it was the first time I have heard and experienced this application. In class, we experimented and immersed ourselves into the Third space as a team.
We talked about emotional bandwidth expanded over the years, from simple texting, to calling, to Facetime and social broadcasting. Through the development of this, we are able to view the expression the other party holds and the movement they display through the video, fully engaging in the conversation and response. As a class, we were all in one place (first space), and stepped into the virtual world of third space. We played and interacted with different type of movements and objects through the third space, connecting us together.
Here are some of the things we did through screenshots:
As a class we worked together as a team through connection, negotiation and compromising each other in order to achieve these masterpieces shown above. We were all involved and crossing the borders of our screen in order to connect with one another. This is an absolute example of DIWO (Do It With Others)! I had an incredible time playing in the third space with my class and this experiment. It is definitely an important skill and realisation to have in the future where we have to interact and work with clients across the border, TOGETHER.
Sherry Rabinowitz & Kit Galloway, Hole in Space, 1980.
On November 1980, Sherry Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway had set up a live sized two way broadcast connecting the East and West coast through a satellite, called “Hole in Space”. It was unannounced, with no signs, no credits nor explanation to what it is. This installation ran for three days located at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, New York City and the other in an open air shopping center, «The Broadway» in Century City, Los Angles.
Spectators who passed by and who were ‘pulled’ in by the installation eventually became part of it. It was a never-before-seen live interaction in the real time, opening a new space in this universe.
First, they were puzzled and unsure of what was happening. In the documentation, we get to see different reactions, emotions and thoughts on the interactive artwork through different individuals. Conversations among the spectators chattered on, some thought that the live display were young actors on television before they found out that they were people living in the other side of America. When they found out, people were surprised by the live interaction where they could see and hear the people in live size display, in the real time. Word spread through the media as more people came to spectate the installation.
At one part of the documentation, at 22:06 to be exact, a woman was interviewed and mentioned that her daughter lived in Manhattan, New York City while she is in Los Angeles. Her daughter called her in the morning and told her to meet her at Century City where she could say hi to her. This highlights the idea of the third space, where people at different places can meet at one place at the same time.
Through the documentary of “Hole in Space,” we can see the celebratory of people through the laughter and joy. Not only did the installation deepened the bond between the two coast, it also reunites friends and family who are living in the different coast. It has redefined and shortened what space was between the East and the West coast of America.
Sherrie Rabinowitz and Kit Galloway has created “Hole in Space” to exhibit that size and bandwidth communicate emotion through the third space. It portrayed human interaction filled with rich emotions through the third space. It showed the beauty of people coming together in another space.
“There was the evening of discovery, followed by the evening of intentional word-of-mouth rendezvous, followed by a mass migration of families and trans–continental loved ones, some of which had not seen each other for over twenty years.”
This quote emphasises the breakthrough of the live broadcast and the reconnection of people living at different places, meeting at a space where emotions and memories can be newly formed, known as the third space.
Considering it was 1980, we could almost assume that it was the first few experimental breakthrough of the third space. Where it all began.
Living in this millennial age, instant communication over vast distances is easily accessible and intertwined into our daily lives compared to before. It became something so granted and reachable that it is hard to believe to what life was before when the third space was still yet to be discovered. Emotions could not be shown orinstant delivered through a call or mail delivery. However, we could say that almost all of us are submerged into a life of the third space that we are busy connecting with others online rather than real life. Has our world dived into the third space where we forget what reality is, becoming more dependable towards the virtual world?