At dawn on February 2, 2019, United States Army troops parked their convoy at the intersection of East International Street and Nelson Street in Nogales, Arizona, and began mounting concertina wire on the Mexico–US border wall. By dusk, they had installed six rows, one atop another until there was no room left. Nogales had been identified as a “high-risk urban area,” and the Department of Homeland Security requested fortification to prevent smugglers from making the 2,593 foot climb. The concertina wire itself traveled 36,000,000 feet and across a half-dozen borders to get here. The steel was mined in Mariana, Brazil, processed in Shijiazhuang City, China, and shipped by tanker across the Pacific to a port in California.
What happens when we see a border as not one line, but many? Extending up and down and out; crisscrossing, colliding, burrowing. Once Upon a Line is a digital essay that traces the material life of concertina wire and unpacks its social, political, economic, ecological, and technological histories as they converge on the international border between the United States and Mexico. Through this multimedia narrative, our ambition is to propose a new and grounded way of revealing the material complexity of borders, and to demonstrate the extensive global collaboration required to keep us apart.
* Collaborative project by Yu Yan, Isabella Frontado, Robert Morris Levine, Hyunmyung Yang, 2020