Category: Borders

We cross the Mexican border wall, talk lines on a map, and find out what is and isn’t allowed in pornography.

Walled Garden

With Kwangmyong, North Korea has built its very own version of the internet. A carbon copy, physically sequestered.

You have heard about the “Great Firewall of China”, that epitome of modern censorship: Thanks to an intricate system of digital blockades, great swathes of the internet cannot be accessed from the Peoples’ Republic – and entire social networks are known vanish from the Chinese internet, if the censors deem them sensitive.
It’s such a curious case because it manages to be modern and anachronistic at the same time, a medium made up of connections, with digital barriers between them. And as fitting as its nickname is, the image of a wall doesn’t actually hold up: Both the Chinese and foreign visitors keep circumventing the blockade. When artist and prominent dissident Ai Weiwei was under house arrest, he quietly maintained Twitter and Instagram accounts – never mind that both platforms had long been blocked by censors. It turns out that maintaining a virtual border is just as difficult as preventing people from crossing a physical one.
In North Korea, the world’s most isolated country, the approach to information purity is even more drastic – and chances are that you haven’t heard of it. Since 2000, the hermit kingdom has been maintaining its very own version of the internet: Kwangmyong. Roughly translated as “Walled Garden”, it is a network entirely disconnected from the World Wide Web and accessible only from the country itself. As opposed to the Chinese internet, it doesn’t even feign connectedness – this is the DPRK’s own, personal net, a derivative existing in a vacuum.
To be fair, the idea of an internal network isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Most large corporations use so-called intranets for internal communications and for sharing information not meant for the public eye. But Kwangmyong exceeds them all in ambition: This is an intranet on national scale, one that includes all popular forms of communication in a coherent, politically-cleansed whole. There are web pages, there is e-mail, a social network and a “digital library”. But not only is it an imitation of the real thing, its content is often straight-up copied from the real net, after having been filtered and scrubbed off its offending content. A clean, wholesome propaganda machine.

Borders can be erected digitally just as well as physically

Due to the air gap between Kwangmyong and the real net, we have no way of seeing it. But those who have, come down with a drastic verdict: The blog describes it as looking like the internet from the early 90s. And the few screenshots that exist make you wonder whether to laugh about its clumsiness or cry about the fact that this is all that’s available to a population of 40 million.
Since 2013, foreigners have been able to use a mobile broadband network in the country. It has resulted in an outpouring of images from North Korea (with #everydaydprk being a popular hashtag on Instagram), but hasn’t changed anything for North Koreans: They remain cut off from the global net and have to rely on Kwangmyong – if it is even available to them. North Korea, where the majority of the population works in the military or agriculture, is a far cry from its geographic neighbor, the highly technical South, which has one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world.
Along the 38th parallel snakes the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a 250km long and 4km wide border between the two countries. Long one of the tensest frontiers between countries, it remains one of the most fortified borders in the world, with large troop continents on both sides. It is the most physical reminder that the 20th century war between the two Koreas never formally ended. But in considering Kwangmyong, one is equally reminded that in the 21st century, borders can be erected digitally just as well as physically. The “Walled Garde”, then, turns from yet another nutty story about North Korea and the breathtaking extend of its dictatorship into a pertinent tale: If modern borders are digital, the dream of a truly global network remains just that – a dream. And while other governments hardly go as far as the DPRK, the idea of digital censorship remains uncanny.
To see where it leads, you don’t even have to go back to China: South Korea, technically developed as it may be, not only blocks propaganda from the North but also internet pornography.

"A line can turn into a horrifyingly rigid reality."

What was there first, the border or the division? We spoke with artist and cartographer Denis Wood about the connection between maps and control.

Do maps still serve their purpose?
Absolutely. But it depends on what you think their purpose it.
What do you think?
Maps are mediators between human beings. They link the territory to what comes with it – which is to say all of the desires, needs, and aspirations humans bring to them.
In your book, “The Power of Maps”, you write that maps present an argument…
Maps have an essential deep purpose: The protection of private property and the protection of nation state governments that support the property.
…because they delineate a certain territory by putting a line around it?
Exactly. The lines show what part of the territory is mine and what is not mine.

Photo: Still from the movie "Unmappable" by Diane Hudson and Jasmine Luoma.

Denis Wood is an artist, author, cartographer and a former professor of Design at North Carolina State University. He is the author of the book “The Power of Maps”. Visit his website at Photo: Still from the movie “Unmappable” by Diane
Hudson and Jasmine Luoma.

Today, we tend to think of maps as instruments for navigation.
The oldest maps we have – which are Babylonian maps of property – are for purposes of control and taxation. There are property maps from 7th century Japan, showing patty fields, who owns them, and who is responsible for raising rice in a particular space. But maps have never, until very recently, been important for navigation. We sailed the oceans without maps for centuries. We got along fine without them, both on the sea and the ground. Today, everybody knows they can find a restaurant on Google, follow the instructions on their map and get there. But before there were those kinds of readily-accessible maps, anytime before the invention of lithography, maps could hardly be for finding our way…

“If you think you can back to where you started, you are never really lost.”

Has our dependency on maps destroyed our intrinsic sense of orientation?
Maps have certainly become crutches we lean on and that we lean on with increasing frequency. People used to get around cities just fine, now they can’t imagine getting to the next corner. The problems is that most people with cellphone have a map right there in their hand, so why not make life more convenient?
Because of that, people tend to no longer get lost, which can be a very insightful experience.
People have always had to work to get lost. It isn’t something that comes easily to human beings. We have very good sense of direction and orientation and usually know where we are when we come into consciousness. It is by no means impossible to get lost, but even when we were navigating across the Atlantic ocean in the 15th century, we thought we knew where we were. And that is what matters – feeling comfortable without knowing where you are. If you think you can back to where you started, you are never really lost.
Maybe the modern definition of being lost is to no longer be able to find ourselves on a map.
(laughs) Could be! But I have noticed, for many years, that human beings are very anxious about knowing where they are: They want to know where they are in space and they want to know where they are in time. Inventions like watches are an indication of that. People look at their watches all the time to see what time it is.
Do you?
I don’t even own a watch. And I don’t own a cellphone.
How do you get around?
I have no trouble getting around! When I was traveling through the West Bank, I discovered that when I needed to know where a certain place was, all I had to do was ask the cab drivers. They would tell me – and offer to take me there. You can always find somebody with a cellphone who will lend it to you if you need it. But you really don’t need it very often.
Being a cartographer, we assumed you would embrace the map in the pocket?
I sometimes carry a paper map. But people got cellphones to not miss any messages. This all started in the 1970s with pagers. For the twenty years prior to that, people had got along fine in their businesses, but then they suddenly needed a pager to be in touch constantly. It gradually turned into the early cellphone, which has now turned into the computer in the pocket. I don’t want a computer in my pocket.
What you are describing reflects the remark about the human desire to know where we are in space and time.
It’s also visible in the physical environment. Streets didn’t use to have street names. House numbers are only 300 years old and only became universal in the last 100 years. People had no trouble getting around – they would give directions, follow them, and if they got disoriented en route, you could ask someone and they would tell you. People still do that, actually!

“What makes a map a map is its self-declared mastery of objective reality.”

Why do we map even the remotest locations, then?
Once you get the idea that you need to know where things are, you need to know where everything is. That has been a guiding principle of Western and Eastern civilizations. You don’t want holes on your map, you don’t want terra incognita. But the important maps in the world today aren’t Google Maps but the ones down in your register of deeds: They connect a piece of ground with somebody who owes money to pay taxes on it or somebody who owns it so that they can sell it. And in the case of lunatics: Places they can protect with their guns.
Is it a mistake to think of maps only in geographic terms? There are, for instance, maps that show the world according to wealth distribution. On it, the spatially large Africa is suddenly tiny.
That is the whole point of my atlas “Everything Things”: I mapped my neighborhood in all possible dimensions – to show what we don’t ordinarily map. And to show the complete poverty in terms of information on most maps. Most of them are not terribly informative: They look informative, pretend to be, but are not.
…because everything that comes as a map automatically looks informative?
Of course! What makes a map a map is its self-declared mastery of objective reality.
You have said that maps are about control – and in the case of borders, which are no more than lines on the map, it becomes obvious what you mean.
Exactly. Maps demarcate where I have authority and where I don’t. And they become guarantees of it as well. Once there is a border on a map… well then the border is there. Wars are fought over it. And the law is a machine to support them.
Here in Europe, we had stopped noticing borders, until the migrant crisis popped up…
…and the borders popped up! They became a big deal algain. The Schengen Agreement has become a curiosity of the past. I have no idea what the borders are going to look like a few years from now.
Cartography then means: Someone draws a line on a piece of paper, and a couple hundred years later, a wall gets built or a border dispute breaks out.
Of course it’s not the cartographers who decide where borders are but yes: they draw a line and it can turn into a horrifyingly rigid reality. There are many troubled borders: Think about Kashmir, or China and India – much of their border is in contest. The border between Iraq and Turkey… these are borders that have become an immense deal. And yet there is no border between most of Turkey and Greece, no matter how many lines get drawn on the map.

“Some people have zero respect for borders.”

What border do you find particularly interesting?
I have gone to Mexico many times and that border is too stupid to be believed. But the border that continues to fascinate me and that I read about every single morning is the border between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It is a dramatic instance of what borders can become.
What, then, is your understanding of a border?
I don’t think borders are very well theorized. We really haven’t come to grips with what we think a border is. We know what it means in terms of responsibility and authority, but not much more. Which is why phenomena that have no respect for borders elude us.
What do you mean?
I am thinking of wildlife or diseases. Then there are also people who don’t really have borders – like gypsies. They don’t have much of an acceptance of borders, only appreciating that they have to cross them with some frequency. Or the youth in Europe that just floats around the continent for amusement purposes. These people really have zero respect or interest in borders
If borders can be ignored in many parts of the world, why do we still have them?
Well, those lines are often taken to mean more than they actually do which is why they still matter. Think about France or Spain. There are national borders that have changed with insane fluidity over the past 500 years, as they ceased being kingdoms. When the nation state begins to emerge out of those earlier formations, there is endless fluidity. In a place like France or Spain, you have all of these remnant populations that only 150 years ago couldn’t have been assumed to speak the language. They didn’t. They were very different places not fully integrated into a proud nation state. We delude ourselves into imaging they have always been like that. That’s nonsense.
So when looking at borders, should we stop assuming their authority?
I think so, yes. But that’s maybe the anarchist in me speaking. But remember: To ignore borders is, in essence, to ignore property lines. They are the same thing, really. The nation state is a defense of private property. 500 years ago, humans didn’t own their property, everything belonged to the king or other level of the feudal system. Ownership, came with the nation state and the map, all in a mutually supportive nexus of power. And it isn’t old. People think the world has always been like it is. But no, it hasn’t. The world we live in is pretty new, post-WWII or at least post-WWI. And it clearly isn’t going to stay this way forever.

"Mainstream porn is quite insane"

Erika Lust has shifted the boundaries of the porn genre. Small dicks are welcome in her movies, sexist abuse is not.

You call porn a “discourse about sexuality”. Is that discourse held in an appropriate manner?
Well, pornography is a discourse in the way that it’s a way of talking about sex, and it’s a way of sending out certain messages about sex. So in my view, the majority of porn says things about sex like “sex is something that men do to women, and something that women do for men” and I’m sure the people who make those films believe that they are telling some sort of “truth” about sex. But likewise you can make explicit films that say other things about sex, like “both men and women have the right to sexual pleasure” and “sex is something you do together” – and those are the films I’m making.

Film still courtesy of Erika Lust. Used with permission.

Film still courtesy of Erika Lust. Used with permission.

Sex and domination often go hand in hand. How do you make sure that you include this fantasy without it turning into an oppressive practice? Some people like to be dominated in bed but it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be oppressed.
Yes that’s exactly right. A lot of porn is misogynistic – and proud of it. It’s crazy to see how many films show women being beaten, slapped, spat on, without any hint of consent being given for that. And that it’s presented as mainstream and normal and expected to appeal to a male audience is just … quite insane.
But yeah, like you say, just because some people like to be dominated doesn’t mean they want to be oppressed. It’s ok to have kinks and to like powerplay and BDSM, but I think it’s so important as a film-maker to make sure the consent and the communication comes through when you depict something like that. Otherwise it just feeds into some warped ideas about sex that ultimately reflects and reinforces rape culture. That goes for Fifty Shades of Grey too, and not just proudly misogynistic porn.
Erika Lust

Erika Lust is an award-winning Swedish erotic film director, screenwriter and producer.

The most exciting or even shocking thing in the adult movie business is when someone like you shifts the borders and makes erotic movies that are not misogynous but still classify as porn. Does that surprise you?
I think the fact that people get shocked just shows how severe the imbalance is within the porn genre. I am considered the odd one out for showing sex where both men and women experience pleasure, for showing people kissing and embracing, for showing people as complex beings that deserve to be respected even when they’re naked. That makes me an oddity? That says a lot about the mainstream porn industry if you ask me.
Do you think there are boundaries as to what classifies as porn and what is merely a sex scene or erotica?
It’s a tough question. Some people think something is porn as soon as you see explicit sex, i.e if you can see actual genitals. Then some people think things like female nipples are pornographic, so they get banned on Facebook. It’s really hard to draw the line. I don’t identify with the mainstream porn industry just because I show sex in my films, so I often refer to my films as Independent Adult Cinema.

Film still courtesy of Erika Lust. Used with permission.

The overwhelming majority of porn caters to the desires of men and neglects the desires of women. How difficult is it to make feminist porn that also arouses a male audience?
It’s not difficult at all. Half of my audience are men. I get great feedback from them. There’s plenty of sexually intelligent men out there who like to see modern adult films, and would rather see a woman have a real orgasm than to watch a woman scream loudly in fake orgasms. Not all men want to see cheap, sexist porn, having no idea if the woman in the film is enjoying herself. My movies are not some fluffy, romantic nonsense, they contain real exciting sex. So of course they appeal to men too!
Can you tell the difference between male and female fantasies? How do they differ?
Are female desires and fantasies more “male-friendly” than the other way around and if yes, why?
Yes, in general men are taught by society to disrespect women and to treat them like objects, whereas women are taught to be more agreeable and to serve the man. But I can’t speak of all the fantasies of women and men, the beauty of fantasies are that they are incredibly varied and different. I receive all sorts of fantasies to my site from both men and women who like all sorts of stuff. There’s both men and women who submit everything from vanilla, softcore, sweet love stuff, poetry entries, hardcore, BDSM, fetish, secret crushes, public sex… everything you could think of and few things you have definitely not thought of!

Film still courtesy of Erika Lust. Used with permission.

For your project “X-Confessions”, you shoot movies based on confessions or fantasies that normal people send in. Having received so many confessions over time: what is the ultimate sexual fantasy?
There is no ultimate fantasy. The point of the XConfessions project is to show a wide, diverse range of fantasies, it’s not a competition for the “best” fantasy or anything like that!
Were there “X-Confessions” that you considered doing at first but then decided that it is too much? If so, what was it?
We’ve been able to make a lot of seemingly impossible things happen. Like featuring a merman in “Ibiza Splash Crush” and flying in a plane in “Come Fly With Me”…after those kind of things, nothing feels impossible! But sure, there are some confessions that are amazing but too “out there” to be put on film.
When we think about morals in terms of porn, we mostly think about physical acts that might be demeaning. But would a fantasy like cheating on somebody behind their backs – which also relates to our sense of morality – be something you would feature?
Yes, I’ve done plenty of those. I have no problem with depicting infidelity on screen. I would never depict things like rape, coercion or anything illegal. But infidelity is a common fantasy and it doesn’t hurt anyone to stage it, and I’m not afraid to send out “immoral” signals by depicting it as a fantasy. It is okay to fantasize about it as long as you don’t hurt someone’s feelings in real life.

Film still courtesy of Erika Lust. Used with permission.

You feature a lot of women in your movies that might not qualify for regular porn because they might be considered chubby or because their breasts are too small. Do you also pay attention to feature men with regular or even smaller-sized penises that cannot go on for hours, although the opposite might be a female fantasy?
To be honest, it’s more about how the person is and if he or she is right for the film, than what certain parts of their body look like. If someone who is chubby or has small breasts is cast in my films, it is not because I think “hmm her breasts are small, so she will do.” I don’t want to fetishize actors because of bodyparts. So I don’t just cast a man because he has a small penis. He has to be the right person for the film and also be smart, sex-positive and interesting. His penis is the least of my worries really. And no one has to go on for hours in my films. No sex robots required! They can go on for as long as they’re happy with, and do what works best for them.

The Crossing

On the brittleness of beliefs when fiction borders reality. An account.

She came to me, her arms outstretched with their sharp coldness, reminiscent of industry. I touched the shine of her steel, mesmerized by the reflection of the light. I was falling again, tantalized by all that she represented and all that she promised. She had picked me up at the end of the previous level, telling me to follow her. I didn’t really have a choice. There was a strange beauty in her lifeless metal ambiguity, a hint of sensuality in her insensate sterility. “I will absolve you from death”, she whispered in my ear, her lack of breath sending the sensation of cold shivers down my spine. I repeated those words over and over until it eventually dawned on me that those words had never been said, that the promise had never been uttered. Moments like these destroyed me. My imagination was playing tricks on me again, torturing me with all that I desired. I just wanted eternity like everybody else.
I walked through the cityscape a few steps behind her, partly out of respect, partly out of fear. The slums were just as I remembered them from previous levels, piles and piles of neon shop signs, their lights still bright with their cold cathodes. One light still hung off a broken chain next to a portal: EXIT THIS WAY. I noted the sign’s location for future reference.
I had promised myself I wouldn’t give up as easily this time. She had called me a coward at the end of the previous level and she was right. I wanted to push my mind to the limits this time, to test the boundary of my endurance. I had naively said this at the start of every level. I’d been entering Games right since the CKGN, the meta-universe which hosted these worlds, had dropped their price point to where young programmers like myself could afford to transfer to a world of their choice. My mother had begged me to stay, her repetitive drawl warning me of the empty promises of the Cokaygne. She always insisted on referring to it by it’s full name as if it were a naughty child.
‘You want to join those blasphemous hackers with their promises of sweet milks?’
Yeah. I did. The finality of the molecular world was destroying me. At the moment of waking, I would notice the new marks on my skin, the birth of a new line on my face, some sort of cut still slowly healing. I would watch my own stark decay each morning in the mirror. The whole thing disgusted me. This fleshy prison that had sentenced me to death.
I had to get out.
Since the CKGN had made other worlds more easily accessible, the people who chose to stay behind had become more determined and dogmatic in their protests. Taking to the cities in their droves, holding placards calling for the redemption of Earth and ‘LOVE’. I had no empathy for their poorly defined memes, even less for their decision to stick with this terminal disease they called life. My mother was one of them, ensuring that for the first 21st years of my life I was deprived of any awareness that the CKGN even existed. But there were people on the other side who had carefully left easter eggs for those like me who were trapped behind. It took 3 prompts for me to discover the CKGN. My mother didn’t understand enough about programming computronium to stop me from finding them. It was CKGN code of conduct that once a user was curious enough to accept and follow an easter egg, he swore confidentiality on the pain of death. All I knew when I saw the code was that even though I had no idea where I was going, I knew I was definitely never coming back. I was home. I was here.
There was an intense heat.
These were unusual sensations for a CKGN game. What level was this? I looked ahead, hoping she would have acknowledged that I might need reassurance, but she was marching onwards unfazed in her determined steel. She wasn’t looking back at me. I looked around and behind me, suddenly aware of how in my own head I had been. Wasting my game time on meaningless memories. To the right of me were generators, working to their maximum. To the left of me was an endless landscape of racks, racks upon racks upon racks, unrecognizable hardware that the generators were cooling, racks that were processing something. Processing something within a game? Or just a feature? I hadn’t seen this in previous levels. I wanted to touch them. Were they cooling qubits? There was no hardware behind CKGN anymore, the rapid development of programmable matter had meant that entire new worlds could be created out of anything. The entire stack of computation had dissolved with the development of computronium in 2150. We had coded ourselves the Midas touch, except our hands could turn single atoms into entire universes. Anything could be everything and everything was ours.
I chased up alongside her and pointed to the racks in a questioning fashion. What are these? I said with my eyes. She said nothing but somehow I had heard her say many things. My mind put those words there to test my own beliefs. I was my own worst enemy, no longer able to decipher truth from what I wanted to believe. They were racks of encrypted data.
“Encrypted data for what?”
For earth.
For the people still behind.

“Their data?”
Their existence.
“Their lives?”
Their DNA.
“They exist here too?”
There are no boundaries.
Just false beliefs. Just fanciful dreams.

Had she said it or had I? I wasn’t sure. The heat intensified.
It didn’t matter. All I knew was that I had to keep pushing forward.


How an ancient council turned lines into borders.

Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.
-Lincoln Steffens

In the beginning, there was a dot. The dot went for a walk, and formed a line. The line evolved, multiplied, diversified. Soon the earth was covered with all types of lines.
Not long after, there came man. Man went for a walk, and formed another man. They too evolved, multiplied, diversified, and soon the earth was filled with all types of men.
Now somewhere along one of these walks, man and line met. This was disconcerting to man, as he had never seen a line. Unsure of what to do with it, or even what it was, he captured and pocketed it, and summoned all the other men of the earth to a grand meeting. Between them all, he hoped, they would define this strange phenomenon and lay the issue to rest.
The historian was the oldest amongst the men, so naturally he went first. He called the line a time line, and tossed it like a fishing net across the others’ memories. He recorded names, ordered events, set precedents, drew parallels. He tied the line into a loop, so it would repeat itself, and tainted it in different shades from different angles and sides.
The merchant glimpsed an opportunity, so he went next. He called the line a trade line, and promptly stretched it over land and sea. He then set off along it, transporting silk and spices, gold and silver, ivory and salt. He carried chessboards in one direction, religious texts the other. Apples West, chocolates East. Exchanged knowledge for sugar, wine for rice, art for oil and coal.
The scientists were less hasty. They needed structure; a definition based on data, methodology. The mathematician placed the line on a graph, a plane, a chart. He then presented it to the others, who recorded precisely what they saw. The astronomer observed a spectral line. The geologist, a fault line. The chemist, a bond line. The physicist, a field line. None could prove the others false; they would need more experiments, more tests, more time.
The artists were experimental too, but of a more spontaneous kind. They got creative with the line, to everyone’s delight. They made it thick, they made it thin. Long, short, straight, and curved. The Romantic’s line was delicate and fine. The Realist’s, accurate and neat. The Impressionist blurred it in a colorful haze, from which the Cubist made it reappear in a jagged, frenzied daze.
The writer unfolded a story line, to the tune of the pianist’s melody line. The comedian delivered a punch line, which the athletes then took for a finish line. Some ran, some swam across it. Jumped over, crawled under it. Swung high above the ground from it, walked deft and precariously along it.
This meeting had turned into great, loud, fun. All the men were clapping and cheering. All the men but one.
The politician awoke grumpy from his nap and frowned as he looked around. The meeting had clearly gotten out of hand. It was time to take it into his own.
He cleared his throat and silence fell as he took the floor. He looked down at the offending line that had cost him his sleep, then around to address his fellow men.
“This line is a dividing one that has spurred enough controversy and debate. As guarantor of mankind’s safety, and to preserve the peace, I hereby declare it a border line and banish it to the edge of the map.”
His advisors nodded in approval. The council agreed. And man immediately set to work, enforcing the party line. The cartographers drew, the engineers designed, the workers built. The following morning, when man awoke, the headlines read:

Dividing Line Now Border Line.

No one really knows just how the devolution of mankind began, but it happened somewhere, sometime along those lines. Man’s own strategy turned on him; falsely accused and put to wrong use, all the lines united and became border lines. Those within them feared those without them, and suddenly everyone was obsessed with crossing them.
Once demarcation turned to separation, nothing, it seemed, could stop the lines gone rogue. History could recall no precedent. Trade could find no route. Science ran out of experiments, and art ran dry. For once, even the politician could find nothing to say. The border lines had turned to enemy lines, front lines, dead lines.
Then something remarkable happened. It took the whole world by surprise. One sunny day, one little child and his brand new box of crayons happened to pass a border line. He stopped to examine it, looked around cheekily, pulled all his crayons out of the box… and colored all over it.

"What the fuck is that doing here?"

Ignacio Evangelista has portrayed the reality of the border between the United States and Mexico. A conversation about Trump, fear, and the line in the sand.

You have photographed borders in Europe, as well as the one between the United States and Mexico. What makes you so interested in them?
In my photographic work, I am interested in situations and places where the natural and the artificial stand in conflict. Situations where something seems out of place. Some borders are natural, like mountains or borders. But others stand for an idea.
What does that mean?
Look at the border between the U.S. and Mexico: A part of that is natural – the Rio Grande, known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico – and the rest is artificial: There is a fence, a wall in the middle of nature, just separating two countries. I got fascinated with that a few years ago, when I discovered it online: It seemed like a modern Great Wall of China, crossing the territory. The wall is 1000km long. Built by people, just to prevent others from crossing a line in the sand. It seemed crazy, like something you wouldn’t find in the 21st century.

Ignacio Evangelista is a Spanish photographer based in Madrid. Check out his website at <a href="”></a>

Ignacio Evangelista is a Spanish photographer based in Madrid. Check out his other work at

On your website you wrote: “Touching the fence felt like touching the line on the map.”
When I was a child, I was very fascinated with maps. I remember looking at the map and feeling like a god: With a child’s imagination, you can travel across it. For me, it was very interesting that some of the lines were very straight, and others weren’t. I thought “African people are much smarter than Europeans to plan their borders that way.” Of course, I had no idea about Colonialism yet. I still remember that sensation today when I look at the map between the US and Mexico, as I am doing right now. You can see that there’s a straight line in the west…
…from Tijuana, all the way to El Paso.
Exactly. And then the river begins. The line from Tijuana to El Paso is the wall. Effectively, the wall is the line – and when you touch the one, you touch the other. When I was visiting borders in Europe, I would sometimes play a game, just from one side to the other and think “Now I am in Austria. Now in the Czech Republic.” A part of taking pictures is the feeling you have. I did the same with the fence: I would touch it and think: “Now I am touching the line on the map.”

“If you put your feet on the sand, an alarm goes off somewhere”

What side did you take these photos from?
It depends: It can be difficult to approach the border. In Mexico, the most interesting motifs are often in the outskirts of the cities, poorer parts. Those are often dangerous, so I went there with locals. But on the American side, there is the  border patrol, with its cars and helicopters. I would be asked what I was doing, what the pictures were for, etc. That’s why I have fewer pictures from the American side.

"Nogales" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Nogales” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

On your picture from Nogales, the Mexican side is full of houses, people are clearly living there. On the U.S. side, however, there are just towers and lights.
In a picture from Tijuana, you can see a white car, the border patrol. There is a secure area on the American side with very open roads. I took another picture in the ocean in Tijuana, and wondered why people risk their life climbing the fence in the desert when they can just swim around this one. But my friends explained that there were always helicopters in the sky and the sand was full of sensors to detect movement and temperature. If you put your feet on the sand, an alarm goes off somewhere and within 30 seconds, the border patrol will be there.

"Tijuana" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Tijuana” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

That means the border isn’t just a wall: The line on the map has a virtual component.
I am not sure how this was twenty years ago, but I know that George W. Bush increased the investment in modern alarm systems. You know, if Donald Trump becomes president, he wants to finish the wall…
It was Trump’s first policy proposal: To complete build a wall on the border with Mexico. But he made it sound as if no wall existed…
I suppose he means completing the 2000km from El Paso to the east, but since he wants the Mexican government to pay for it, I don’t know how it would happen. Interestingly, many people living close to the wall no longer see it. For them, it is just so familiar. Like if you live in the alps and no longer notice the mountains. That’s why it surprised many people that I was taking pictures of the wall instead of the beautiful landscape or the beach: They have lived with the wall for so long, they are used to it.
The difference between you and them is that you have a Spanish passport and can cross the border without a problem.
Some people living close to the border have a special permit to pass, but only twenty kilometers into the United States. As a European, I had no problem, but the people I went with often couldn’t pass. It made it very obvious that we were coming from different worlds.
…which brings us back to the artificial nature of borders: You able to cross the wall in their backyards because you are coming from far away. That is absurd.
True. I speak the same language as the Mexicans. There is the assumption that Latin Americans and Spaniards are very similar, due to the language and history. But it’s not exactly true. In many senses, the Spanish society is more similar to French or German ones than the Mexican one. The values shared between a Spanish and a French are sometimes closer than those of a Spanish and a Mexican, although in some other aspects we are very close.

“A wall creates fear”

The language eradicates that border?
Many call Spain “la madre patria”, which gives us a strange feeling, considering how the Spanish killed and raped a lot of natives there, they were the worst people there.

"Tecate" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Tecate” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

There is an interesting relationship between borders and fear: These divisions are artificial lines, but right now, in Europe as well as the US, many people are afraid of anything beyond those lines.
Ironically, a wall creates that kind of fear. It makes everything beyond it seem dangerous. And it endangers people who want to cross it: They use the mafia, people who lead them through the desert and frequently leave them there after taking their money. Each year, many people die crossing the border.
You don’t show any people in the pictures – even though the walls influence primarily them.
I didn’t want this to be photojournalistic work, and introducing people into the image would make it that. I was more interested in how the border relates to the territory, how the artificialness of the world mixes with it.
On your website, you say that the images seem contradictory and disturbing. What makes them that?
Look at Nogales: It is a city in two parts, Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona. And the Mexican city Tijuana borders the American San Diego. Both are as as though somebody had taken a pencil, drawn a line and built a wall. That is a very strange thing! In the desert, you see a beautiful, mountainous landscape, and in the middle of the nature suddenly appears a wall. I find that disturbing. In much of my personal work, I am interested in situations and places that makes you think “What the fuck is that doing here?”

"Aqua Prieta" – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.

“Aqua Prieta” – Copyright by Ignacio Evangelista. Shown with permission.