Hasan Elahi was returning from an art exhibition abroad in the summer of 2002 when he said an FBI agent pulled him aside in the Detroit airport for questioning.
He recounted the experience in a Ted Talk and said that at first, the questions were fairly run of the mill. What were you doing? Who were you talking with? Why were you there? But then the agent asked where Elahi was on Sept 12 and, eventually, if he was storing any explosives.
The artist, now in his early 50s, said he answered “No” and walked the agent through months of iCal appointments that included several days of teaching classes, meeting graduate students and paying bills.
“That started a six-month long investigation by the FBI, where I had to justify every moment of my existence. So I figured, you know, why not help them out?” Elahi said, repeating the story in a gallery at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. “And I decided to monitor myself for the benefit of the FBI.”
Following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, the FBI increased its domestic surveillance operations. Years later, reporting and research would show that many people were targeted because of their race or religion.
His piece includes 150,000 photos showing the transit he took, the food he ate and where he conducted his business.
Today, that collection of photos might sound no different than the average Instagram feed, but he started taking these photos 20 years ago — roughly eight years before the now-famous app launched.
He would eventually turn these images into art, creating several different works in the years that followed. His latest, “Thousand Little Brothers v7,” was completed in 2022 and is making its museum debut at The Modern.
It spans an entire gallery wall and is just one of 60 works by 50 different artists in a new exhibit titled, “I’ll be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen” on view through April 23.
If you go
Event: I’ll Be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday; Saturday – Sunday
10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Friday
Closed – Monday
Date: Feb. 12 – April 23
Location: Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
3200 Darnell Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Tickets: Students $10 with ID. Military and first responders $12 with ID. Patrons 60+ $12. Adults $16.
Curator Alison Hearst started working on the exhibit during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when many people were isolated indoors and spending even more time looking at screens.
“When I was stuck at home, like all of us were, and having to do my job through my desktop and thinking about what does this mean?” she said.
The exhibit examines themes of surveillance, connectivity, digital abstraction and more.
Pieces in the show span from 1969 to today. The year 1969 was selected as one of the show’s bookends for two important reasons: the televised moon landing and the introduction of ARPANET — an early iteration of what we now call the internet.
At the other end of the timeline, three artists will debut never before seen works in addition to Elahi: Caitlin Cherry, Simon Denny, and Kahlil Robert Irving.
Multiple pieces in the exhibit are interactive — including a boxy beige computer housing images from Andy Warhol titled “Andy 2.”
Patrons can click through digital images made by the late artist in 1985. Forgotten for nearly 30 years, floppy disks storing the images were rediscovered in 2014.
“I hope that everyone that comes in brings their own unique perspective to it,” Hearst said. “Screen life brings up so many themes that touch all of us.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.