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Border Codes

Mark Marino, Author

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Introduction to the Transborder Immigrant Tool

The desert between California and Mexico is a hostile place made into a critical passageway by insular nation states and fundamental economic disparities.  Every year thousands attempt to cross it even in the most unbearable heat of summer.  The stories of those who cross have been written and rewritten both by the incendiary media of the right and by sympathetic portraits of the left.  This project approaches the border not through divisive rhetoric or even journalistic accounts but by means of an examination of a mobile phone application designed to help border crossers find water in the desert, the Transborder Immigrant Tool.  

The Transborder Immigrant Tool is part art project, part survival tool.  The website calls it a "US/Mexico Disturbance Art Project." It is an application that can be installed on inexpensive Nokia mobile phones. The tool uses GPS and a compass  interface to lead travelers to caches of water placed by humanitarian nonprofits.  However, the application not only brings the walkers to water, it also delivers guidance in the form of poetry, thus sustaining the body and the spirit. The tool was created by Micha C├írdenas, Amy Sara Carroll, Ricardo Dominguez, Elle Mehrmand , Jason Navarro, and Brett Stalbaum, an eclectic group of artists and activists who collaborate in the collectives, b.a.n.g. lab and Electronic Disturbance Theater. Though the group has written a theatrical performance in the form of Sustenance: The Play for All Trans [] Borders, their performances do not take place in great halls.  In their view, the mobile phone application is not only a tool it is part of a larger performance on the global stage that is meant to reframe the larger cultural debate about immigration.

In the pages that follow, you will encounter a series of borders, conceptual, geographical, electronic borders that rise like fences only to dissolve, borders that separate peoples, ideas, and worldviews.  The border between the performance and real life, the mythical border of political rhetoric, the border of the code.  For many cultural critics, the code of the digital object is a foreboding fence not to be crossed in their interpretive journey.   Implicating the cultural context in the code threatens regimes of knowledge.  Border Codes invites you to cross the code as a means of entering and crossing over these contested frontiers so to know them as geography rather than artificial boundaries.
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