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The Region of the Transborder Trousers (La región de los pantalones transfronterizos), 2004-2005

Technologies: 3D Studio Max, data projector, GPS, MaxScript

Keywords: data visualization, installation, locative, surveillance

At the turn of the twenty-first century, artists began to experiment with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices that track, via satellite, our movements in physical space. In The Region of the Transborder Trousers (La región de los pantalones transfronterizos), Torolab, a Tijuana-based collective of architects, artists, designers, and musicians led by Raúl Cárdenas Osuna, use GPS transmitters to explore the logistics of daily life in the twin border cities of Tijuana and San Diego. This project not only makes visible the transnational mobility of the region's inhabitants, but also demonstrates the artistic potential of locative technologies.

For a period of five days, members of the collective carried GPS transmitters, wore Torolab-designed garments including a skirt, a vest, two pairs of pants, and sleeve that could be worn with t-shirts, each with a hidden pocket for a Mexican passport. They also kept records of their cars' fuel consumption. The GPS and fuel data was then fed into a computer and visualized (using software reprogrammed by Torolab) as an animated map. Each tracked Torolab member appeared as a colored dot on an urban grid surrounded by a circle whose diameter indicated the amount of fuel left in his or her tank. In 2005, The Region of the Transborder Trousers was presented as an installation at ARCO, a contemporary art fair in Madrid. The installation featured a large, floor-mounted topographical relief map of the Tijuana/San Diego area, onto which the animated map was projected from above. The animation compressed several days' worth of locative data into an eight minute loop (about 900 times faster than real time), tracking each member as he or she navigated the area's vast urban sprawl.

With more than 100,000 daily crossings, the Tijuana/San Diego border is one of the busiest in the world. Like Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon's BorderXing (2002), an online guide to secretly crossing international boundaries for those lacking the requisite papers, The Region of the Transborder Trousers exploits the border, with its endless traffic jams and humiliating searches as an opportunity for creative experimentation. The Region of the Transborder Trousers, however, seizes the border primarily as an opportunity for aesthetic experience rather than overt political critique. In a similar vein, Torolab's Vertex Project (1995-2000) is a proposal for a fiberglass-and-steel pedestrian bridge that would span the Tijuana/San Diego border and function as a giant multimedia display. Participants would submit images and texts via an on-site computer for projection onto the bridge's two billboard-size screens, transforming the bridge into a grassroots artistic spectacle.

Torolab was founded by Cárdenas Osuna in 1995 as a "socially engaged workshop committed to examining and elevating the quality of life for residents of Tijuana and the trans-border region through a culture of ideologically advanced design." Torolab's "utopian quest for the 'sublime in the quotidian'" brings to mind the work of such Russian Constructivist artists as Vladimir Tatlin, who in the 1920s experimented with architecture and clothing design under the slogan "art into life."


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