A Cross-border Artistic Collaboration with Rafael Lozano Hemmer
November 2019 at the US-Mexico Border in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua
Border Tuner is a large-scale, participatory art installation by Mexican-born, Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano Hemmer. It is designed to interconnect El Paso and Ciudad Juárez and to highlight the complex and long-standing collaboration that exists between the two cities and two countries, providing a powerful and positive counter-narrative to current rhetoric about the border. The piece will be installed between Mexico and the United States where powerful robotic searchlights make bridges of light that open live sound channels for communication across the border. The piece creates a fluid canopy of light visible for up to 10 miles. The lights can be modified by visitors to six interactive stations, three placed at Juarez’s Chamizal Park and three at El Paso’s Bowie High School. Each of the interactive stations features a custom-made lectern with a microphone, a speaker and a large knob or dial. As a participant turns the dial; three nearby searchlights create an arm of light that follows the movement of the dial, automatically scanning the horizon. When two such arms of light meet in the sky and intersect, a channel of sound is opened between the people at the two remote stations. As they speak and hear each other, the brightness of the light bridge modulates in sync, —a glimmer like a Morse code scintillation. Every interactive station can tune any other, so for example a participant in Mexico can connect to the three US-based stations or to the other two in Mexico, as they wish.
The work will be installed at the US-Mexico Border for 17 nights in November of 2019. At the start of the project each night, prior to opening the microphones to the general-public, a variety of special guests on both sides will take control of the system. One evening it might be poets, another jazz musicians, beat boxers, seniors, first nations speakers, maker/hackers, choirs, historians, feminists, sports fans, and so on; during these opening remarks the piece will be set to a special mode where all the lights intersect and all six stations can hear each other. When no one is participating, the searchlights for each station form an inverted tetrahedron, —a flower formation—, and modulate their intensity reacting to pre-recorded content. This content is curated in conjunction with communities on both sides of the border and is meant to animate the piece permanently with diverse voices that represent the region. Border Tuner is not only designed to create new interconnections between the communities on both sides of the border, but to make visible the relationships that are already in place: magnifying existing connections, conversations and culture that are already shared. The piece is intended as a visible switchboard of communication where people can self-represent. The piece seeks to provide a platform for a wide-range of local voices and an opportunity to draw international attention to the complicity and interdependence between the sister cities that create the largest bi-national metropolitan area in the western hemisphere.