“WHAT WE ARE SEEING IS JUST THE MONSTER’S TAIL, AND THERE IS SOMETHING TERRIFYING ABOUT SEEING THE TAIL OF A BEAST WHOSE FULL CONTOURS AND CAPACITY AND DISPOSITION WE DO NOT YET KNOW.” *
--Wall Disease: The Psychological Toll of Living Up Against a Border, by Jessica Wapner
AR Border Wall, Tanya Aguiniga, 2022 Oaxaca City, MX via 4th Wall app
Introduction to the AR Border Wall Project, Tanya Aguiñiga and 4th Wall
“The U.S./Mexico border corrodes our responsibility to each other. I’ve witnessed the death, destruction, torment it causes with my own eyes as a child, as a teenage girl and as a mother. It enshrines white supremacist violence against brown bodies, cultivates misogyny, and escalates capitalist abuses of land and people.
The U.S./Mexico border is a people, a place, an idea, a physical thing.
As a transnational U.S. citizen, I probe the complicity of all the communities I represent in maintaining this systemic oppression and how the border is used to dehumanize in all its ways.
All forms of our border are constantly in flux, changing in response to national/state/local politics in the U.S./Mexico, current conditions in the counties of origin where people are forced to migrate from, as well as global warming and violence. Causing further harm to people who are experiencing hardship should never be a choice we make.
We must work together and center the narratives of the most vulnerable folx in the borderlands, people seeking safety. If they are safe, we are all safe.
The physical border wall causes death, family separation, mental health issues, increases violence, promotes human trafficking and ravages the environment.”
– Tanya Aguiñiga, 2022
Tanya conceived of the The AR Border Wall Project as an invitation for viewers to confront the physical border wall in augmented reality in the environment of their choosing. In doing so, she hopes it will allow viewers to imagine the border wall at scale invading their sacred space, keeping them from that and whom they value and love. In her words, “To feel what millions of us feel, being in proximity to it… being separated, bifurcated, reminded, excluded, othered, murdered.”
The artist’s daughter, pictured on the other side of the AR Border Wall
“I grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, blocks away from the US/Mexico Border Wall. From childhood to adulthood, my family and I have lived with the wall and witnessed how it has physically changed as US policies have become more hostile towards Mexico and immigrants. During my lifetime, the wall has gone from a chain link fence to a brutal structure that strategically kills migrants by forcing them to cross through the Sonoran Desert (Operation Gatekeeper). Recently, it has been made even more dangerous through its increased height of 30 feet, making a drop from the top of it a lethal danger that did not previously exist. In some locations, the wall has been doubled, creating a deadly corral to ensure entrapment.
My art practice has been indelibly shaped by growing up in proximity to the wall and witnessing the suffering it causes in my community. The AR Border Wall Project came out of my desire to show people who may have never seen the actual border wall, what it is like to stand in front of our current 30 foot tall US/Mexico Border Wall.
It’s our responsibility to hold each other accountable. Walls exist all around us, some are visible, some are inside us, and some are belief systems. In all the walls we build, whether physical or invisible, we must learn to be kind, respectful and responsible to one another and acknowledge our profound interdependence.”
– Tanya Aguiñiga, 2022
What it means….
“During my 25 years of participating in border art and related activism, I have spent much of that time explaining to people in both the U.S. and Mexico what the physical border looks like, what life is like at the border, and for many years, having to confirm the existence of an actual wall. While in reality, millions of people live right up to the border wall on both the US and Mexican sides, the border wall exists mostly out of view of Americans’ backyards. In most images we see of the wall in the media, it occupies an empty desert landscape or inhabitable mountainous area. This visual distance from the wall --whether real, imagined, or staged-- creates psychological distance from the people it harms, allows us to dehumanize the border region and fosters false narratives in our mind of who and how people are affected by the wall.” – Tanya Aguiñiga, 2022
To create the most realistic experience possible, artists Tanya Aguiniga and Nancy Baker Cahill went to Tijuana multiple times to accurately measure and scan the newest border walls. Baker Cahill’s team at Shaking Earth Digital built a digital model based on the data the artists collected and integrated it into the 4th Wall app platform where it is now accessible to anyone who downloads the free app (more information below). The 4th Wall app provides an invaluable collaborative tool for being able to share the embodied and emotional experience of standing at the foot of the current border wall, in any geographic location, with people for whom the border is physically and psychologically distant. In this way, the AR Border Project builds greater understanding of our borderland realities and invites deeper examination of our relationship to maintaining these oppressive systems.
The wall itself causes death and separation of migrant families, mental health issues for those living in proximity to it, and environmental damage to flora and fauna. The AR Border Wall project places the wall within arm’s reach, bringing its presence immediately and intimately into our daily experience. By directly confronting the wall’s materiality (our last wall was made of jet landing mats used in the Vietnam and Persian Gulf Wars), its scale, and looking through the wall, the project asks; are we better able to imagine ourselves in the shoes of those affected by the wall? Do we feel any differently about how we as humans treat each other or the earth?
How to use the app
To experience this project, you need to first download the 4th Wall App from the App store or Google Play using wifi (wifi is not required after initial download). In order to take pictures and record videos within the app, you will need to allow all permissions; no user data is collected by the app.
Once inside the 4th Wall App, follow these steps:
Tap “AR Artworks”
Tap “Guest AR Artworks”
Tap “Tanya Aguiñiga- Border Wall”
Tap the phone screen to place the border wall somewhere important to you.
-You can then touch the wall to move it, twist to rotate it, pinch to scale it’s width
-It is best experienced on flat ground, without obstacles in its way.
Once you have placed the wall in a place that is important to you, you can take a picture by tapping on the camera icon, or you can record a video by tapping the video recorder icon.
Consider sharing your collaboration on the project by tagging @tanyaaguiniga @4thwallapp @nancybakercahill on Instagram so we can share your captures widely
Suggestions of where to use it
You will get the best experience if you use the app on a flat surface and are outside. It may be overwhelming to see yourself separated from things you love, so try to first place the border wall in a more neutral place, to get used to how it looks and feels, and to practice scaling the wall up or down and making it look realistic. If using it as a performance tool is inspiring to you, please do so.
- Look up, around, walk through the wall.
-Try having another person on the other side of the wall. How does it feel to be separated from them?
-Try placing the wall in a place that looks very different from the border wall images we see in the media, like a very populated or important place in your town. How does seeing the border in combination with an American town or with people going just about their day change your idea of living with a border?
Things to think about when using it
How does it make you feel?
How did seeing the actual wall and spending time with it feel different with and without other people in it?
How did experiencing a separation from people and things that you care about make you feel about the border, and those who are affected by it?
About Tanya Aguiñiga
Tanya Aguiñiga was born in 1978 in San Diego, California, and raised in Tijuana, Mexico. An artist, designer, and craftsperson, Aguiñiga works with traditional craft materials like natural fibers and collaborates with other artists and activists to create sculptures, installations, performances, and community-based art projects. Drawing on her upbringing as a binational citizen, who crossed the border daily from Tijuana to San Diego for school, Aguiñiga’s work speaks of the artist’s experience of her divided identity and aspires to tell the larger and often invisible stories of the transnational community.
About 4th Wall / Nancy Baker Cahill
Nancy Baker Cahill is a new media artist who examines systemic power, selfhood, and embodied consciousness through drawing and shared immersive space. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of 4th Wall, a free Augmented Reality (AR) art platform exploring resistance and inclusive creative expression.
Special thanks to the team at Shaking Earth Digital for their creation of the AR asset.
App Developer and creative tech team: Shaking Earth Digital