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The City Paper's Bret McCabe on art professor Hasan Elahi's submission for the Sondheim Prize.

By Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper


Hasan Elahi’s multimedia art may be the most contemporary (in the sense of being about right now) ever to appear in the Sondheim’s finalist exhibition. That may be why it feels so distressingly depressing. Elahi’s five wall-installed pieces conspire to create a high-tech, antiseptic environment. Six monitors are placed eye-level on two walls, while large-format Chromogenc prints dominate the others. The result is like an exclusive hotel’s security control room.

The idea of surveillance has run through Bangladeshi-born, American-raised Elahi’s work ever since he was added to a watch list following Sept. 11. The technology and process of monitoring informed his long-running project, a web portal where Elahi cataloged pretty much everything he did, so the government could know exactly what he was up to. It’s an overkill of overkill, a civil defense lawyer flooding his opposition with so much information that the plaintiff gets lost.

What Elahi does at the BMA is much more subtle and effective. He’s recast the subjects of visual art through the constant vigilance of our National Terror Alert era. “Changi” and “Hawkeye” are large composite photos of otherwise banal objects: an airplane queuing for takeoff on the runway in the former and a modern office building in the latter. The vantage point these objects are seen from is what’s curious: seemingly from the nose of an aircraft behind the one captured in “Changi,” and perhaps from a public security cam in the “Hawkeye.”


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