Artist Hasan Elahi in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park




A Big Blend Radio conversation with Hasan Elahi, recent sousveillance artist-in-residence at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and Tanya Ortega – Founder of National Parks Arts Foundation (NPAF). Featured music is ‘Hi’ilawe’ by slack key guitarist Makana.


Hasan Elahi’s life changed in a fateful way, after Sept. 11, 2001. Returning from an exhibition in Amsterdam, he was pulled aside at a Detroit airport checkpoint and questioned for hours, and what would eventually turn out to be almost a year of FBI investigation. An erroneous tip called into law enforcement authorities in 2002 subjected Elahi to an intensive investigation by the FBI and after undergoing months of interrogations, he was finally cleared of suspicions. After this harrowing experience, Elahi conceived “Tracking Transience” and opened just about every aspect of his life to the public. This is a form of SOUSVEILLANCE, a subversive practice that changes the power dynamics of observer and observed in a fascinating way. Predating the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program by half a decade, the project questions the consequences of living under constant surveillance and continuously generates databases of imagery that tracks the artist and his points of transit in real-time. Although initially created for his FBI agent, the public can also monitor the artist’s communication records, banking transactions, and transportation logs along with various intelligence and government agencies who have been confirmed visiting his website.

This led Elahi to champion a philosophy termed radical transparency, which has a profound impact and reach. The internet, for example, is in effect a massive data harvesting operation, where human activity is minutely tracked and sold for economic advantage, all in the guise of ‘customer service.’ This ecosystem of information is based on the very human tendency to desire privacy, and in a way, to live in secret. But wonders Elahi, does it make sense to live this way in the global electronic village? “In considering surveillance we tend to think of it as a very 21st century concept, yet we’ve always been watched. We’ve had several thousands of years of being watched from above; G-d —all knowing— as the original surveillance camera. This might sound sarcastic, but there’s a very similar omniscience that a lot of these data companies have about us. I think we don’t consider many things as surveillance until it’s put in that context for us. Similarly, when you hyper aestheticize an image your brain no longer reads it as surveillance, but reads it as landscape and I think there’s something that also happens when you take that Google Street View image and you aestheticize it.,” says Elahi.

“I never associated my practice with a certain medium or particular discipline or technique and I’ve always looked at it as how can I find the most appropriate method for my idea and that’s how it came about.” And for this, his first project on the Island of Hawai’i, Elahi will be using satellite metrics and other technology to ‘recreate’ some of the famous early artwork done by 19th century landscape artists as an adjunct to the United States’ westward flow of Manifest Destiny, which particularly for the Hawaiian Islands and its people, became a contested and fraught imperialist and Colonial landscape.

More about Hasan at

The National Parks Arts Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to the promotion of the National Parks of the U.S. through creating dynamic opportunities for artworks that are based in our natural and historic heritage. This project is supported by the Friends of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Parks, and other generous benefactors. All NPAF programs are made possible through the philanthropic support of donors of all sorts ranging from corporate sponsors, small businesses, and art patrons and citizen-lovers of the parks. NPAF is always seeking new partners and donors for its wide-ranging artist-in-residence programs. If you are interested in supporting these programs, visit

National Parks Arts Foundation


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