Border Tuner Lets Strangers Connect Across The Rio Grande Searchlights illuminate the sky between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, but they have nothing to do with border enforcement. They're part of a large-scale binational art installation.
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Interactive Art Installation Lets Strangers Talk To Each Other Across The Border

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Interactive Art Installation Lets Strangers Talk To Each Other Across The Border

Interactive Art Installation Lets Strangers Talk To Each Other Across The Border

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Lately, these large searchlights light up the sky on the U.S.-Mexico border between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. They don't have anything to do with stepped-up border enforcement. They are part of a binational art installation - one that tries to connect people on both sides of the Rio Grande. KERA's Mallory Falk takes us there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: It's called Border Tuner, as in the dial you use to tune into a radio station. Here's how it works - you step up to a microphone and turn a small wheel that controls a set of searchlights. Someone at another station just across the border does the same. When your lights intersect in the sky, you can start a conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

FALK: That's a woman in Juarez speaking to a young boy in El Paso. They can't see each other's faces, but they can hear each other's voices, booming from loudspeakers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

FALK: This project was two years in the making, the brainchild of artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. He's originally from Mexico City and based in Montreal now.

Lozano-Hemmer's created interactive sound and light installations all over the world. And he's been drawn to the U.S.-Mexico border, especially since President Trump's election. He says artists here are tired of the same narratives surrounding this place - about divisiveness and racism and militarizing the border.

RAFAEL LOZANO-HEMMER: And while all of this is true, there's so many other narratives that are being missed, you know, about interdependence and coexistence and about the fact that connections between, at least, El Paso and Ciudad Juarez go deep.

FALK: So he designed a project to highlight those narratives.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FALK: The installation runs through Sunday. Each night starts with a half-hour performance by local musicians, activists, historians. But the most intimate moments come when two strangers connect.

ERICA ROSALES-NIGAGLIONI: So yeah, I help people seeking asylum.

FALK: Erica Rosales-Nigaglioni, an attorney who often works with asylum-seekers, is talking with a middle school art teacher in Juarez. They thank each other for doing such important work.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yeah, you should be very proud.

ROSALES-NIGAGLIONI: You should, too.

FALK: Erica says she was overcome by the experience.

ROSALES-NIGAGLIONI: Seeing the lights and seeing how they flicker with the voices was just very emotional and just to think about - sorry, just, you know, we're not separated by much.

FALK: The two sites are divided by a border wall. The searchlights form a sort of bridge above the barrier. Again, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

LOZANO-HEMMER: The idea that the artwork takes place above that wall to me is symbolically important because it's almost like you're trying to ignore it. You know, you're trying to say we still share the atmosphere.

FALK: At the microphones, two women are also sharing their love of music.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Singing in Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: (Singing in Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

FALK: For NPR News, I'm Mallory Falk on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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