The Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos, is an augmented reality public art project and memorial, dedicated to the thousands of migrant workers who have died along the U.S./Mexico border in recent years trying to cross the desert southwest in search of work and a better life.
Built for smart phone mobile devices, this project allows people to visualize the scope of the loss of life by marking each location where human remains have been recovered with a virtual object or augmentation. The public can simply download and launch a mobile application and aim their device’s cameras at the landscape along the border and the surrounding desert. The application uses geolocation software to superimpose individual augments at the precise GPS coordinates of each recorded death, enabling public to see the objects integrated into the physical location as if they existed in the real world.
Based on a traditional form of wood-carving from Oaxaca, The virtual augmentation objects consist of life sized, three dimensional geometric models of a skeleton effigy or calaca. Calacas are used in commemoration of lost loved ones during the Mexican Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead festivals. Tracing their origins from Aztec imagery and ushered into the modern era at the turn of the twentieth century by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, calacas are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful. According to Aztec belief, despite the tragedy, death should always be a joyous occasion. In the tradition of Día de los Muertos, the Border Memorial project is designed to honor, celebrate and remember those who have died and to vault this issue into public consciousness and American political debate. The project will provide a kind of lasting conceptual presence in an otherwise ephemeral physical environment and cultural discourse.
In the past twenty years we have witnessed the migration of the public sphere from the physical realm, the National Mall for instance, to the virtual realm, the Internet. In effect, the location of public discourse and the site of national identity formation has been extended from the town square into the virtual world. Augmented reality allows us to overlay the virtual public sphere onto our experience of the physical world.
Although thousands of people have died trying to cross the harsh desert landscape since security was ramped up in the border cities during the 1990’s, this issue has yet to even surface in the public consciousness. Everyone has an opinion about immigration, but few are even aware of, or simply choose not to acknowledge how many have died. In his book Electronic Monuments, Gregory Ulmer writes about how successful monuments act as a public acknowledgement of loss on behalf of a shared value. If the United States chooses to value cheep strawberries, live-in childcare and every other value that migrant labor provides for our economy, it is time that we either acknowledge the cost of that value or change it.
The project derives inspiration from public monuments and memorials such as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In the Identity episode of the PBS program “Art 21,” Lin’s memorial work was described as “tactile experiences of sight, sound, and touch. They activate a full-bodied response on the part of the viewer, connecting us with the material aspects of their construction as well as with the private memories and thoughts that transform past events into awakenings in the present.” The Vietnam Veterans Memorial helped to shape national identity on an individual level with the intimate, one-on-one encounter embodied in the touch of a single name. People experience a similar intimate one-on-one encounter as the calaca appears on the screen of their mobile device. In a sense, they hold a memory of that individual in the palm of their hand. Additionally, the project draws on a rich tradition of large-scale public art in the form of the earthwork and land art of the twentieth century. Perhaps this project might one day be regarded as the twenty-first century successor to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, James Turrell’s Roden Crater, Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, and other seminal artworks of the American desert southwest.
The Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos is a gesture of remembrance of those who have passed and condolence and respect to those directly affected. However, the primary audience for this work is the whole of the American people on both sides of the border. Although, it can be assumed that individuals will go out and experience the work first hand, the project should produce its true impact as it reverberates across the national media. Given the hyperbole and vitriolic punditry surrounding the politics of border security and immigration, it should not take to long for this project intervene in the public discourse.
Tiananmen SquARed is a two part augmented reality public art project and memorial, dedicated human rights and democracy worldwide. The project includes virtual replicas of the Goddess of Democracy and Tank Man from the 1989 student uprising in Tiananmen Square.
The Goddess of Democracy was a 10-meter-tall statue created by students of the Central Academy of Fine Arts during the Tiananmen Square protest. The statue was constructed in only four days out of foam, papier-mâché and plaster over a metal armature. The students decided to make the statue as large as possible so the government would have to destroy it, an action, which would potentially fuel further criticism of its policies.
Tank Man is the nickname of the anonymous man who stood in front of a column of Chinese tanks near Tiananmen Square on Chang’an Avenue the morning after the Chinese military forcibly removed protesters from Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The man achieved widespread international recognition due to the videotape and photographs taken of the incident.
Both augmentations will be placed in Beijing at the precise GPS coordinates where the original incidents took place.
Peace Doors is a site-specific augmented reality public art project located at multiple locations around the world near contested borders, checkpoints and other war torn or conflict ridden locations. The project superimpose a computer generated 3D graphic of a doorway at such places as the Bridge of No Return at the DMZ in Korea, at nine locations along the Peace Line in West Belfast, and at the Palestinian/Israeli Wall.