Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos
The “Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos,” is an augmented reality public art project and memorial, dedicated to the thousands of migrant workers who have died along the U.S./Mexico border in recent years, trying to cross the desert southwest in search of work and a better life. This project allows people to visualize the scope of the loss of life by marking each location where human remains have been recovered along the border and the surrounding desert. “Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos” by John Craig Freeman, augmented reality public art, near the Lukeville, Arizona border crossing in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, 2012. Based on a traditional form of woodcarving from Oaxaca, the virtual object used to mark each of over 3,000 individual locations in Arizona alone, consists of life sized, three-dimensional geometric model of a skeleton effigy or calaca. Calacas are used in commemoration of lost loved ones during the Mexican Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead festivals. The “Border Memorial” derives inspiration from public monuments and memorials such as Maya Lin’s “Vietnam Veterans Memorial.” In the Identity episode of the PBS program “Art 21,” Lin’s memorial work was described as “tactile experiences of sight, sound, and touch. They activate a full-bodied response on the part of the viewer, connecting us with the material aspects of their construction as well as with the private memories and thoughts that transform past events into awakenings in the present.” The Vietnam Veterans Memorial helped to shape national identity on an individual level with the intimate, one-on-one encounter embodied in the touch of a single name. People experience a similar intimate one-on-one encounter as the calaca appears on the screen of their mobile device. In a sense, they hold a memory of that individual in the palm of their hand. Additionally, the project draws on a rich tradition of large-scale public art in the form of the earthwork and land art of the twentieth century and the experience of this work through a contemporary form of secular pilgrimage. Perhaps this project might one day be regarded as the twenty-first century successor to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, James Turrell’s Roden Crater, Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field, Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, and other seminal artworks of the American desert southwest.