Transborder Immigrant Tool: A Mexico/U.S. Border Disturbance Art Project by Ricardo Dominguez, Brett Stalbaum, Micha Cárdenas and Jason Najarro.
The border between the U.S. and Mexico has moved between the virtual and the all too real since before the birth of the two nation-states. This has allowed a deep archive of suspect movement across this border to be traced and tagged - specifically anchored to immigrants bodies moving north, while immigrant bodies moving south much less so. The danger of moving north across this border is not a question of politics, but vertiginous geography. Hundreds of people have died crossing the U.S./Mexico border due to not being able to tell where they are in relation to where they have been and which direction they need to go to reach their destination safely. Now with the rise of multiple distributed geospatial information systems (such as the Goggle Earth Project for example), GPS (Global Positioning System) and the developing Virtual Hiker Algorithm by artist Brett Stalbaum it is now possible to develop a Transborder Tools for Immigrants to be implemented and distributed on cracked Nextel cell phones. This will allow a virtual geography to mark new trails and potentially safer routes across this desert of the real.
The technologies of Spatial Data Systems and GPS (Global Positioning System) have enabled an entirely new relationship with the landscape that takes form in applications for simulation, surveillance, resource allocation, management of cooperative networks and pre-movement pattern modeling (such as the Virtual Hiker Algorithm) an algorithm that maps out a potential or suggested trail for real a hiker/or hikers to follow. The Transborder Immigrant Tool would add a new layer of agency to this emerging virtual geography that would allow segments of global society that are usually outside of this emerging grid of hyper-geo-mapping-power to gain quick and simple access with to GPS system. The Transborder Immigrant Tool would not only offer access to this emerging total map economy - but, would add an intelligent agent algorithm that would parse out the best routes and trails on that day and hour for immigrants to cross this vertiginous landscape as safely as possible.
In the 1999 Headmap Manifesto, often mentioned as an earlier manifesto for locative media, Ben Russell describes an incipient new world where “real borders, boundaries, and space become plastic and malleable, statehood becomes fragmented, and global.” But in the present world borders between states are still present and patrolled. The U.S/Mexico border, for example, has the highest number of both legal and illegal crossings of any other land border. It is also very dangerous “hundreds of people died trying to cross it, due to the lack orientation that undermines the ability of reach their destination safely. With multiple and distributed geo-spatial information systems (like Goggle Earth), GPS (Global Positioning System) and the developing Virtual Hiker Algorithm by artist Brett Stalbaum, the Transborder Tool for Immigrants is born. It would allow a virtual geography to mark new paths and potentially safer routes across this desert of the real. The Transborder Tool, recently awarded the Transnational Communities Award, is being developed by Ricardo Dominguez, co-founder of The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) now researcher in the UCSD Calit2 lab, along with colleagues Brett Stalbaum, Micha Càrdenas and Jason Najarro. The device tries to reduce deaths along the border helping immigrants to locate important resources like water and safety beacons. The tool is built on a Motorola i455 mobile phone, a cheap one, easy to unlock and able to install new software, like the Staulbam’s Virtual Hiker.
The interface, actually a compass, has to be simple, visual (icon based) avoiding different languages confusing migrants, more often than not coming from indigenous communities and not necessarily speaking Spanish. The mobile phone also vibrates according near landmarks like water or a highway, letting the user focus on the environment instead of constantly looking at the screen. The project is a mix of art and activism, an example of ‘artivism’ as Dominguez would call it. Using the art context preventing the tool development to be stopped by authorities. The algorithm would suggest the most “aesthetic” crossing to the migrants, so the artivists identify the project as an experiment of “walking art.” Even if this context somehow a “frame,” could be also considered as a boundary, the essence of locative media offers a conceptual framework to examine technological assemblages and their potential social impacts. Unlike net art, produced by a tech class for an elite audience, locative media strives, at least rhetorically, to reach a mass audience, attempting to engage consumer technologies, and redirecting then their power. It is the electronic civil disobedience that brings methods of civil disobedience to virtual space. - Valentina Culatti