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Op Ed by EDT/bang.lab in Union Tribune, San Diego

SUNDAY, MARCH 7, 2010 AT 12:04 A.M.

Accurate body counts prove difficult to attain, but, for argument’s sake, we’ll stake our claims on the Customs and Border Protection Agency’s most recent end-of-the-fiscal year report: There were 416 border-crossing-related deaths from January to October 2009 (add that to 390 in 2008 and 398 in 2007). Described by many – regardless of their political persuasion – as a “humanitarian crisis,” the death toll on the Mexico-U.S. border continues to rise.

Because the promise of disentangling the ideological from the ethical in this American dream-turned-nightmare shimmers like a mirage on the horizon, we of Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab (a UCSD and University of Michigan artist-based research group), have opted instead to create a poetic gesture and safety device, equipped to identify water caches on the U.S. side of the border.

Housed on a GPS-enabled cell phone platform, the Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT) will be distributed by Mexican nongovernmental organizations and churches who daily deal with individuals contemplating the Mexico-U.S. border trek.

Not intended to resolve the long histories of fear, prejudice and misunderstanding on both sides of the border, TBT – beholden to the often-overlapping traditions of transcendental and nature writing, earthworks, conceptual art, performance, border art, locative media, visual and concrete poetries – represents both a “conversation piece,” a reminder that people are dying, and an ethical intervention, a hand extended to those who are lost and dehydrated. In what follows, we wish to act as first-responders to four questions frequently asked about our work-in-progress.
• Is TBT really art and what constitutes sustenance?

The question animates TBT’s attempts to address the border’s life-threatening vicissitudes, but also prompts our belief that the aesthetic, too, sustains. We aspire to create art that sounds beyond museums, chat rooms, lecture halls and laboratories. We began this project under the assumption that the border, as a literal and imaginative geography, exceeds panic-driven binaries (including Hollywood visions of Terminator-inflected drone border wars and virtual walls) in routinely recycled transnational discussions of security and immigration.

We seek to echo-relocate beacons of hospitality the likes of, “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

While poems will be included on the tool, we invite you, our readers, to suspend disbelief, to approach TBT in its entirety as poetry-in-motion.

• Is TBT legal?

It is illegal neither to tell someone where he or she can find water, nor to leave that very water. But, entertaining – in the hypothetical – our critics who persist in dismissing the tool as illegal, we appeal to the higher laws of conscience, of civil disobedience, and of due diligence with the counter-query: Is it moral or ethical to turn the other way in this extenuated “season of dying”?

• Is TBT effective?

Phase 1: It already is, or, you would not be reading this.

Phase 2: If the tool succeeds in leading one person to water, then, this question recedes onto the aforementioned horizon of the rhetorical.

• Isn’t TBT a waste of taxpayers’ dollars?

Compare the escalating economic costs of waging two wars and upgrading a border wall ($65 billion) to those of saving lives and exercising freedom of expression. We submit that the latter two options are “priceless”; but, we’re open to competing cost-benefit analyses and nonviolent dialogue about the project.

Cárdenas is a lecturer at UCSD, Carroll is a professor at the University of Michigan, Dominguez is a professor at UCSD and Stalbaum is a senior lecturer at UCSD.

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