Best of Luck with the Wall (variant)
Ireland/France, 2017 | Garrett Lynch and Frédérique Santune
From the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall, walls have been erected to divide communities under the pretense of national security. Contemporary uses of this strategy have become increasingly brutal, particularly as ethnocentric populisms overwhelm nationalism and redefine patriotism in aggressively militarized terms during elections. Described as apartheid or segregation walls by human-rights activists, separation walls throughout occupied Palestine are designed to divide its people, while in Hungary walls along its borders are an example of barrier walls, preventing refugees from entering the country.
The European Union (EU) is considered by some to be naturally protected from non-European victims of globalization by the moat of the Mediterranean Sea, just as the United Kingdom is considered by some to be protected by the English Channel. Nonetheless, rightwing groups in Britain and Hungary, among other EU member states, rally for an end to the free movement of people within the EU. By contrast, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, México, and the United States is open only to capital, raw materials, finished products, and services. It is closed to humans. As recent elections have demonstrated, voters tend to react to politicians’ sound bites rather than interact with their neighbors and encounter the real complexities of borders.
Garrett Lynch and Frédérique Santune’s Best of Luck with the Wall (variant) is a 34-hour video that asks users to slow down from the pace of media sound bites. It provides visuals of the border that bisects the Mexican American borderlands into discrete entities: México and the United States. By inviting users to experience movement along this border, the video disrupts the alarmist hyperbole of white nationalism in the United States and the under-acknowledged neoliberal policies that have exacerbated economic inequality between and within the two countries. Without obscuring the specificity of this particular border, it points to other such impulses to erect walls.
Marked by the Río Bravo (also known as the Rio Grande) for only a portion of its distance, the border between the United States and México has been selectively open to migrant labor, including unofficially recruited “illegals” (undocumented workers) before and after that the Bracero Program of 1942 to 1964 for officially sanctioned guest workers. Although this openness excludes the free movement of people, US politicians stoke citizens’ fears about the border and demonize people as “illegals.” As a result, NAFTA has actually achieved a symbolic wall against immigrants that Britain hopes to erect through Brexit.
Recognizing political rhetoric as opportunistic, divisive, and empty, artist Josh Begley saw that few people understood the scale of México’s northern border with the southwest of the United States. Not finding visual images of it, he produced a short video, Best of Luck with the Wall (United States, 2016), with images taken from Google Maps along the more than 3000 kilometer border that an estimated million people cross each day. His condensed a drive along the border to a six-minute video which reveals not only the length of the border and the variety of landscapes, but also the communities that would be divided by the proposed wall. It does so, however, in a way that obscures much of the border’s meaning.
In response, Lynch and Santune rework Begley’s video by slowing its pace to 34 hours, pointing out that our experience of a mediated journey along the border is “abstracted into a sound bite.” Their variation on this journey counters the erasures of sound bites. In addition to providing more time to observe detail in the imperfect images, Lynch and Santune's video allows audiences to contemplate the modes of production of the images, that is, the sheer number of surveillance cameras along the border that capture images later used for Google Maps.
Although the Mexican American borderlands are not presently divided by a unified physical wall to demarcate the border, it is heavily monitored, and whenever a body crosses it, the border becomes visible. Lynch and Santune’s video is a defiant challenge to both our acculturation to sound bites and click bait as well as to contemporary ethno-nationalist impulses. In slowing the pace of Begley’s video, Lynch and Santune also slow the pace of the musical score until it becomes a disquieting, atonal, and almost haunting murmur, as though ghosts of the past are agonizing over the continued violence from the US dating from the invasion of 1848 through the imposition of NAFTA in 1994 into whatever is next.