Razor Wire Modem
Activist technology project, conceptual artwork, country border intervention, 2016
Razor Wire Modem is an artistic technology project to create cheap universal digital/digital modems in an attempt to subvert existing defensive architecture (such as razor wire fences) to become pre-installed network infrastructure.
The modems, which are based on Arduino-compatible microcontrollers, follow in the tradition of barbed wire phone lines, which were used in rural areas of the United States around 1900 and were a cheap and sometimes the only alternative to company-operated telephone networks in these areas.
Intended to be used at contemporary razor-wire fenced country borders, Barbed Wire Modem devices are re-appropriating the fence (installed to exclude one group from another) to become a medium of knowledge and information freedom and dissemination.
With the data line connected to the fence and a reference line connected to the soil, in optimal conditions the modems can achieve a theoretical throughput rate of 921Kbaud.
In late 2015, the Slovenian government decided to install a 150km "technical barrier" at their border to its fellow EU member state Croatia. Croatia has not yet implemented the Schengen contract, which makes Slovenia's border to Croatia a Schengen border.
In Slovenian municipality Lastnic flows the Sotla river, which marks the physical border between the two states. The border fence, consisting of three rounds of military-grade barbed wire, is located on the Slovenian side of the river.
Since its erection, not a single asylum seeker has been reported passing the border in or near Lastnic.
Barbed wire is not only a physical barrier, but also a mental one. Their sharp blades can cut deep into the skin and cause severe harm - not only to humans, but also to wildlife.
However, barbed wire is also a very potent electric conductor.
This project is investigating how a country border fence can be understood as pre-installed electronic networking infrastructure. For that purpose, special devices have been built which act as transmitters or as modems and allow to send data as electronic impulses over the fence.
The transmitters are microcontrollers equipped with amplifiers that send data as digital impulses (TTL) over the fence wire, while the soil on the ground acts as a ground return. This method has been around since the early ages of telegraphy.
In early October 2016, I installed the Razor Wire Modem at the Schengen border between Slovenia and Croatia as a temporary intervention to show the uselessness and harmfulness of a razor wire fence as a means of border protection in the countryside, where, since its erection, not a single refugee has been reported to attempt crossing the border.
For the intervention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been transmitted to the barbed wire fence.
Barbed Wire Modems are a starting point for discussion about re-appropriation of defensive architecture through technology.
All outcomes of this project, including technical specifications, will be made available to the public and will be free to use and share.
This project has been created as artist-in-residence at Guestroom Maribor, Slovenia in September/October 2016.