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“Border Tuner” is a large-scale, participatory art installation designed to interconnect the cities of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. Powerful searchlights make “bridges of light” that open live sound channels for communication across the US-Mexico border. The piece creates a fluid canopy of light that can be modified by visitors to six interactive stations, three placed in El Paso and three in Juárez. 

Each of the interactive “Border Tuner” stations features a microphone, a speaker and a large wheel or dial. As a participant turns the dial, three nearby searchlights create an “arm” of light that follows the movement of the dial, automatically scanning the horizon. When two such “arms of light” meet in the sky and intersect, automatically a bidirectional channel of sound is opened between the people at the two remote stations. As they speak and hear each other, the brightness of the “light bridge” modulates in sync, —a glimmer similar to a Morse code scintillation. Every interactive station can tune any other, so for example a participant in Mexico can connect to the three US-based stations or to the other two in Mexico, as they wish.

The work will launch on Wednesday, November 13, and be open every night from Nov 14 to 24, between 6:30pm to 11:00pm. 

At the beginning of each evening, prior to opening the microphones to the general public, special guests will be invited to take control of the system for 30 minutes of curated programming. These including poets, musicians, beat boxers, seniors, first nations speakers, maker/hackers, historians, and so on. During these “opening remarks” the piece will be set to a special mode where all the lights  intersect and all six stations can hear each other. These conversations have been curated through a series of public meetings over the course of the past year and include a diverse cross section of participants. Community leaders selected to coordinate various topics have committed to reaching out to their existing networks on both sides of the border for these topic-specific conversations in addition to the spontaneous conversations generated by the general public each night.

“Border Tuner” is not only designed to create new connections between the communities on both sides of the border, but to make visible the relationships that are already in place: magnifying existing relationships, conversations and culture. The piece is intended as a visible “switchboard” of communication where people can self-represent. The project seeks to provide a platform for a wide-range of local voices and an opportunity to draw international attention to the co-existence and interdependence between the sister cities that create the largest bi-national metropolitan area in the western hemisphere.


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Project Details

Year of creation — 2019


Technique — Xenon 7kW robotic searchlights, dials with digital encoders, webcams, GPS, speakers, microphones, custom-software.


Dimensions — Interactive area 300 × 300 yards (275 x 275 meters), visibility 10 mile (15 Km) radius depending on atmospheric conditions.

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