Border Crossing Beta 2.0
The exhibit space at the Arts Incubator Gallery is surrounded by a chain-link fence. In the middle of the room are cinder-blocks stacked two high in a small square. Inside the small area created by these blocks, the floor is filled with sand. In one corner sits a flat-screen TV, one corner of it partially buried in the sand. On the TV screen is a game featuring a desert-- initially a simple scene with a cactus and a small campfire surrounded with large stones. In the corner of this scene is a large boom box, the piece of technology jarring against the barrenness of the desert. The scene is controlled via a small wireless keyboard and a trackpad mounted on a small cinder-block podium where the visitor can easily control the movement on the TV by dragging their fingers around the pad and using the arrows to change perspective.
The experience Alfredo Salazar-Caro has created on the screen begins with a first-person simulation walking in the desert, the shrubs and undulating layers of sand passing swiftly underneath. In the distance the sky is hazy. Large cliffs and boulders are barely seen beneath all the heat in the air. The earth is cracked and thirsty. The imagery on the screen is not photorealistic. Strange-looking goats flee from the viewer. The grass is oversaturated for a desert landscape and its swaying is choppy. There is no variation in the flames of the fire. What is different and entirely realistic is the music coming from the boom box--a traditional Mariachi tune that immediately orients the listener, informing them they are somewhere in Mexico. Later in the simulation, Salazar-Caro tells us we may find other pieces of technology, say a tape recorder or old video camera, that contain real-life interviews with immigrants who had made this trip to cross the border. The crackle of the fire and the high whistle of the desert breezes tossing the sand around mix with the music. As the visitor scrolls their fingers over the touchpad a giant wall begins to come into view on the right side of the screen. American flags wave continuously in the wind; it is clearly the border between Mexico and the United States. To create this world, Salazar-Caro looked at satellite images of the US-Mexico border then using 3D modeling programs like Blender and Maya, he replicated the environment and integrated it into his simulator using a video game engine. If one scrolls higher, into the clouds above the wall, a disembodied, clear glass, rotating skull hovers ominously in midair. Drones dart quickly in and around the skull. Panning fingers across the trackpad, the visitor can see a large, dark, wooden sculpture, a detailed and elaborate carved figure with three lion heads seen clearly--their eyes wide and round, their teeth long and sharp. Two face to the left and the right while at the apex stands one bold and foreboding head facing outward.
This work was created in 2015 when Donald Trump was promising to build a wall between Mexico and the US as part of his presidential campaign. This put a great amount of attention on immigrants, illegal or otherwise, and helped shape a narrative of immigrants as lazy, criminal, and uneducated. The rhetoric was that the US border was wide open and anyone could just saunter over whenever they wanted. Border Crossing Beta 2.0 presents a different reality. From the Mexican side, the travel to the US border is a brutal and life-threatening trek through dry desserts and imposing landscapes and traveling there with one’s family takes preparation, endurance, and desperation.
Seeking to cross the border is a last-resort, a final attempt for asylum or to be reunited with family in the United States. Leaving behind one’s heritage and culture in order to start over from the ground up in a foreign country is not a light choice. In Border Crossing Beta 2.0 once one makes it to the wall, they are confronted with a huge wall, drones darting through the air, imposing statues, and the image of a skull to remind the travelers that they are not welcome here. There are no luxuries to be had in this wasteland. The border is not something you can easily cross and lives have been lost in the attempt.
Immigrants are not anonymous in Border Crossing Beta 2.0. By creating this experience as a first-person simulation, Salazar-Caro has made this personal and removed a level of detachment from the player. This is happening to you, the experience seems to convey. When the player stumbles upon the interviews with immigrants found on old pieces of technology in the desert, this helps provide a heightened sense of connection for the player. The stories and interviews are emotional--journeys of struggle, fear, and loss. These are the real immigrant stories, not just a narrative imposed on them by an unfriendly country.
Another artist exploring the fraught struggle faced by the immigrant looking to cross the US-Mexico border is Rafael Fajardo. In his simple 8-bit color video game titled Crosser created in the year 2000, Fajardo has created a player named Carlos Moreno, a Mexican immigrant that needs to try to attain his visa without coming into contact with anything or anyone. The game is pixelated and colorful, based on the game Frogger, deceiving the player into thinking this a fun, childish single-player adventure The game is quick and intense; helicopters fly overhead, police cars drive up and down the road, floating debris in the water can take Carlos out of the running, and getting caught by la migra will mean he must start over. There are even drowning cats that must be avoided. This game was created in partnership with SWEAT, an ongoing collaborative project, which focuses on making culturally investigative games. Fajardo created Crosser to illustrate the struggles immigrants must face even to obtain the adequate documentation to enter the US legally. Like with Border Crossing Beta 2.0, Crosser puts the player in the shoes of the immigrant, the frustration, and difficulty of trying to help Carlos Moreno cross the border working to drive home the plight faced by the Mexican immigrant.
As US-Mexico relations have been in the crosshairs of the current political administration, some artists have begun to explore the symbols of this division. One of these artists is Ana Teresa Fernández. In her 2016 performance art piece titled Borrando La Frontera, Fernández paints a part of the border wall separating Playas de Tijuana from San Diego’s Border Field State park a bright sky blue. After she is done painting this section of the wall looks as if it is missing, a large gap just wide open. In Borrando La Frontera, one is presented with the utopian dream of a world free from borders, a place where divisions are done away with. The viewer is shown a glimpse of the beautiful view, both literally and figuratively, that is possible if the wall ceased to exist. Families would be able to reconnect. The beach scene would not be marred by a high black wall.
While Border Crossing Beta 2.0 looks to represent reality and the hardships faced by immigrants at the border, Borrando La Frontera looks towards an imagined future where fear and death do not lurk at the borders, giant skulls and drones guarding the entrances. Instead, Fernández tries to provide a moment of optimism, of hope, of reunion, and a respite from the hardships immigrants face every day
Mentioned locations Border Crossing 2.0 has been displayed:
- Arts Incubator Gallery
- DiMoDa (just the simulation part, not the sand/cinder block setup)
Border Crossing Beta 2.0
Borrando La Frontera