Smart Fence

 

In recent years, more and more fences have been erected on the outer borders of the European Union. These fences, designed to stop ‘illegal immigrants’, are often described as advanced technologies: they are supposedly high-tech or even smart. However, in reality they consist mainly of hardened steel razor wire, and their electronic components merely perform a very basic interaction: if you touch the fence an alarm is activated. The use of high-tech terminology and the focus on electronic systems attached to the fences in official state communication and media reports obscure the physical violence that is enacted on humans and non-human animals with these so-called ‘passive safety’ structures. Moreover, their framing as supposedly clean and precise technologies is symptomatic of a broader cultural practice that uses narratives of technologization to justify means of violence (e.g. ‘smart bombs’ and drones).

Border Operation (2018)

Digital video, 3’

In December 2018, I travelled to the Serbian-Hungarian border where I stole a piece of razor wire from the border fence. The alarm was triggered and the border police arrived about one minute after. Since 2015, damaging the border fence has been a criminal offence under Hungarian law.

Sensitive barrier (2019)

Interactive object (barbed wire stolen from EU border, electric winch, motion sensor, micro controller)

Like the Hungarian border fence, this interactive object uses a basic digital sensor setup to respond to people approaching it. However, instead of deterring and blocking passage, the response of this razor wire object is seemingly futile. Stretching out in an upward direction it displays its violent material potential, but in a way that allows for close contemplation.

 

European Studies #1 (2019)

C-type contact prints from 6x6cm negative film

Despite the use of some contemporary electronic detection technologies, the border fence erected between Hungary and Serbia is mainly reminiscent of the iron curtain that separated Europe during the Cold War-era. A sensor installation on the border fence near Subotica in Serbia was documented with a mid-format consumer camera from the 1960s.

European Studies #2 (2019)

screen print (60x40cm) and Augmented Reality app

Developing the notion ‘smart fence’ in a different direction, a smartphone app augments a screen print of a razor wire fragment that was part of the material stolen from the Hungarian border fence. Users control a digital close-up view of the wire’s rusty patches and sharp edges, which offer a starting point for reflection on the very low-tech violence that is implied by this material aspect of the European Union’s outer borders.

The AR app was developed in collaboration with the AURORA project at the University of Applied Sciences Berlin with support from the European Union.