[-empyre-] Transborder Tool

Claudia Costa Pederson ccp9 at cornell.edu
Sun Apr 25 05:50:30 EST 2010

Thank you Renate and Tim for the invitation. I would like to extend my
support to Ricardo Dominguez and the research undertaken at the b.a.n.g.
lab. Que les vay bien.

A little partial background on my current work: I'm wrapping up a thesis
on electronic games by artists using the medium for political ends,
elaborating thereby on the notion of play as social relation. I'm looking
at this from parallel  activist perspectives of tactical media and indie
games in response to the commodification of play in the creative economies
of today, and drawing from historic avantgardes in which play and games
were central for critiquing existing forms of organization from which
innovative forms of artistic and activist practices emerged.

I'm familiar with Dominguez' work in terms of my research and teaching at
the History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell. The network disturbances
of EDT are a standard work in the writing seminar on Tactical Media that I
been teaching. It is a difficult work to discuss with students born around
the time that the Zapatista uprisings were taking place.  That said
students were dismayed at the recent developments relating to the
transborder tool, which they see relating to the events around CAE's
bioterrorist case. To their mind these works are not so much about
producing working tools, but interventions in the border politics of
immigration and the interdisciplinary turn of the university. I should say
that most of these students are in the sciences. Their immediate concern
is whether the Transborder tool works as a practical aid to immigrants
crossing, and if not, they see the reaction of the USD managers as
excessive.  Technical research, as they see it in general ought to be
subject to equal standards.

I'm equally worried but not surprised.  As other guests on this list, Rita
Riley and Nick Knouf, among them, have said the university as an
institution is conservative. But to such a degree as to re-track tenure?
especially if tenure was given on the basis of the same research? We are
all precarious workers, I explained to my students. The university has
traditionally been a precarious environment for activists and artists. The
university was founded on the model of the monastery.

It can be argued that the transborder tool fits within the monastic
tradition of hospitality and humanism, however. The tool as Micha explains
is conceived in the service of the oppressed as a form of humanitarian
aid. It challenges the Transcendentalism enmeshed with the American
tradition of conflating technological and social progress. In the process
it ends up revealing the contradictions of   research. The tool is
designed on the processual principles of performance art, and poetic
traditions connected with the act of walking.  How does it work?

It is an ambitious project. It seeks to combine GPS data, and API 
(application programming interface) and an authoring layer that allows for
editing, with poetry, and transborder solidarity.  The team is still
working on encryption in order to prevent militias from finding aiding
sites like the water deposits left by border angels for immigrants braving
the desert. They are also working on translation interfaces to include
indigenous languages, English, and Spanish.  There are also issues about
power usage related to the length of the journey, as well as reception
because of the weakness of GPS signals.  It is no good to deal with a "out
of service" in the heat of the desert. In any case, GPS enabled
technologies are used by border patrol and smugglers already.

In the broader public context, the attacks on the work of Dominguez and
CAE relate to the fears of contamination emerging in conjunction with the
celebratory discourses of hybrid economies. In the context of the
university, it is the issue of funding that is at stake. In meager times
artistic and humanist research is always the first to go, given that
applied science continues to be framed as the motor of social progress,
the equivalent of economic prosperity, and the means to peace and
stability. This is in a nutshell the neo-liberal argument. Now, a tool
designed to safely navigate unaccounted-for 'others' through the borders
between Mexico and the US, seems to poke a big hole in our guiding

Claudia Costa Pederson

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