American Hospitality


Image courtesy of Ricardo Dominguez.

By Gaby Cepeda, Jun 04, 2018

“This article accompanies the inclusion of Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0 and b.a.n.g. labs’ Transborder Immigrant Tool in the online exhibition Net Art Anthology.

The Transborder Immigrant Tool, developed by the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) 2.0/B.A.N.G. Lab at UC San Diego between 2007 and 2012, is a straightforward app: it’s simple, equal parts code and poetry integrated into cheap Motorola burner phones that are meant to provide border-crossers, at any given border but particularly the Sonora-Arizona desert, with direction and sustenance in the form of locations of nearby water caches, first aid kits or law enforcement. The water caches are placed there by various volunteer organizations, and anyone can adapt the open source code with coordinates applicable to their own hellscape border-localities, but the artists, theorist and poets behind the tool collaborated directly with Border Angels, a non-profit organization based in San Diego working for migrant rights and prevention of immigrant deaths at the border.”


“The poems want to be welcoming rather than distracting, “to enact a place of hospitality”.6 They try to alleviate some of the hostility surrounding the traveler by conveying information with a tone that is both encouraging and soothing: “The desert catches water in unlikely places that it resists divulging. Do not expend all your energies searching for its secret stashes, but likewise do not assume that its pockets of moisture are nonexistent.” The poems offer advice on water sources (“Walk in the footprints of coyote or fox to the freshest water available”), desert storms (“Sand becomes sandpaper against the skin. Turn your back to the wind.”), rattlesnakes (“Diamondbacks, too, are creatures of habit, returning to rest stops.”) and edible cacti (“Consume the fruit of prickly pear, saguaro, organ pipe, yucca, or cholla for their mosure alone.”)7; useful and possibly life-saving words sprinkled with lyrical and kind gestures. They exist mid-way between the aesthetics of instruction manuals and folk knowledge,8 the kind of tips that only long-time desert-commuters like the people indigenous to those areas would have. The Tool is meant to be both effective and affective, an aesthetic intervention into the political and material realities of the border.

As deadly as the journey they are willing to embark on is, the mostly Mexican and Central American would-be border-crossers have it worse at their places of origin. Mexico and many other localities in Central and South America are immersed in what Sayak Valencia has defined as Gore Capitalism, for a few decades now. Invoking “gore” as in graphic violence, the term refers to the “explicit and unjustified spilling of blood, the high percentages of entrails and dismemberings frequently mixed with economic precarity, organized crime, the binary construction of gender and the predatory uses of bodies, all through the most explicit violence as a tool of necro-empowering.”9 Valencia paints this picture of life in Mexico to make  clear the consequences of a detonated nation-state that mutated into a narco-state, a description that can also apply to nearby countries like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Necro-empowering indicates “the processes that transform contexts or situations of vulnerability and subalternity into the possibility of action and self-power, reconfigured in dystopian practices and perverse self-affirmation achieved through a type of violence that is profitable within the logic of capitalism.”10 

See more on here.

Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab, Transborder Immigrant Tool (2007; photo courtesy 319 Scholes)

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