As powerful and impressive as technology has become, sometimes it just gets things wrong. Sometimes the physical world and that of information technology just don’t match up—and it’s this discrepancy between these two worlds that Julian Oliver plays with in his latest project Border Bumping, commissioned by the Abandon Normal Devices Festival.
Called a “work of dislocative media” it takes cell phone data as a marker to redefine national borders. If you’ve ever been to a foreign land then you’ll know that on your travels your cell phone changes network to accommodate you in different countries. Sometimes when it does this it can jump network before or after you’ve crossed the border, so your phone is in one place while your body is in another. In Oliver’s project an app on your phone collects cell tower and location data when you cross a border, noting when there are discrepancies between where you are and where your network says you are.
The mobile cartography bureau
These discrepancies are collected and rendered to create an “ever evolving record of infrastructurally antagonised territory, a tele-cartography”—a map that shows national borders redrawn by the whims of the mobile telecommunications infrastructure. The project even has its own touring caravan or “mobile cartography bureau” where you can see the ever-evolving map, or take a look at it online.
The project also aims to highlight the unseen telecommunication infrastructure that surrounds us, exposing the undocumented cell towers that enable us to tweet in far flung locales. For this there is the Stealth Cell Tower Archive which people can access and contribute to, to help build up a database of these hidden towers.