Workshop 5: CASA SEGURA by Robert Ransick


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Robert Ransick (Media Artist and Professor of Digital Arts, Bennington College)
Casa Segura / Safe House

Robert’s project highlights various issues dealing with immigration, border control, those who cross the US/Mexico border and those who live near the border. His work  can be seen on his casasegura blog and is currently exhibited at the LAND WARS exhibition at the Te Tuhi centre for the arts in Southern Auckland.

Cross disciplinary practices are his interest: he is an artist and designer and currently the Professor of Digital Arts at Bennington College,Vermont USA . He visits various design classes and positions his work in visual and fine art context. Borrows from strategies of design. Gets students to read social science documentation. He is very sensitive to the ideas that Dunne + Raby address in their work.

Addressing Fear Neuroscience institute visit, spent time to meet neuroscientists. Trying to match up with their disciplines. Learnt about the amygdala. Part of the brain that dictates fear and response. Preconscious. Amygdala remembers the pain from when you get a bee sting, next time you see a bee you fear the bee and the heart rate goes up, adrenalin, you flee. Fear is a terrific motivator and controller.Government encourages this fear to allow emails to be read, pursue surveillance policies etc. Politics of fear: powerful in relation to how our brain works. The subject of Immigration is now mixed with and correlates to Osama bin Laden to immigrants crossing the border and the fear of another catastrophic disaster. The US and Mexicio border in the South West runs along California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas. Interested in the illegal immigrants, crossing the border, the property owners and the larger populous and how we learn about migrants and border control. Robert concentrates on how we try to help the populous to think about these things.

Casa Segura: why interested in these topic. Has been travelling to this area and he frequently visits there and his partners family. Noticed dramatic shifts in change in border control and activity. Used to be peaceful but now helicopters with flash lights, border patrol that stop people.In 1994: gatekeeper initiative, southern Arizona. Building larger fences, border patrol, agents. Urban centres of crossing were shut down! Created desolate terrain and little resources near the border, difficult and extreme climates. 100 degrees to freezing.

All migrants pay individuals to get the across: “cayotes”. Those who cross the border are not really prepared for what you need to to cross the desert. They carry insufficient quantity of water, food etc and replace with caffeine drinks.Robert presents a diagram that illustrates the rate of skeletal remains of humans found near the border. Tucson sector of deaths and juries highest. 205 remains human found.

His friends bought some land, had their home broken into. Migrants had broken in, stole food, clothing, shoes and water. Triggered questions of security and safety for the property owners and the migrants. Teh border patrol suggested using larger fences, guns, patrol, etc more protections. Brought up issues of safety but not what the property owners felt comfortable with, made the issues of immigration immediate. How do you make you home safe but prevent other persons from death and keep them safe?
Join militia groups, wear military clothing, to protect yourself.  Minuteman Border Fence: language of fear and used as hotpoints during election time. Used media to their advantage. Humane Borders provide food and water, documenting deaths at the border. Provide locations of water stations. Have distributed them to the south of the border. Try to arm the migrant with info to explain how long it takes to get to certain areas near the borders.


What is Case Segura? Can’t provide location as will affect their security and will become targets of attacks and criticism! Who is it for? The migrants, The property owners, The populous: awareness from media, political rhetoric, direct contact

From creative perspective: Issues and challenges
How to keep migrants safe and keep house safe and how to shift focus to humanitarian issues.Find a way to acknowledge each others presence. To provide space. Can I make sth that would provide new entry points, perspective? How can you dance with the law and legally position this? How can you deal with this grey area?

Designed the casa segura as a collaboration with home owner. Allowed for discussion and exchange. A garden shed, small not living space, place for storage, comfortable and feel safe. A place to feel ok. 6 month residency: collaborated with 2 architects. Wrote a programme of what he wanted: self sustaining, moveable and compact and modular and easy to break down. Inside needed water, medical supplies, bandages, clothing, food: nutrition bars high protein.

Information about the rules of three. 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food
Inside has a screen, and his work contains some sort of media/tech intervention. Wanted to have sth less invisible, nothing that could affect anonymity of migrant was ruled out. Not real time. Created an interface. Markmaking leaves a record of a moment. Watering hole has a stopping place and graffiti of peoples passing through. Writing on the walls. Mini paintings on tin, saint related or help someone through traumatic events. Found border related imagery.Not what we do know but what our grandmothers did.

How to provide sth similar that was not too involving. Collaborated with Mexican artists who do mural art and familiar with border related issues. Who is crossing? And how do you design stuff that is simple but recognisable?Created figures, film stars, religious peoples, comic books, revolutionary figures, artist frida carlo, guardian angel saints and folk heroes.Body cards are made from Mexican style of bingo. Select votive candles, offering to the saint, and apply character to protect you. Hope was to help people identify and create inspiration.Provided touch screen and art pallets, keypad, submit to wireless website of casa segura. Some pieces were created and were used for an exhibition.


The interior of the space had a map created by Mexicans, ancient ideogram, describing the development of the Mexican civilisation. Painted on hermetic paper, used by ancient Indians. Tree bark, hammered into sheets. Used Aztec symbols, where the rivers is, mountains are, dangers etc. All based on Aztec and earlier symbology. On the ceiling is of an aztec image of the sun and the moon. Issues relating to Mexicans crossing the border: Offers info abut how to participate and take on your own casa segura. Info about advocacy groups, blueprints, academic links, surviving the desert. Further reading and other works.

Do people have access to the website and do they look at the website?
Yes they do. Most migrants have no interest in staying to US for long. 6 months to 2 years, then go home. Make money. Have to go back with clothes, music and cultural difference. Take back ipods, internet. And therefore larger groups of people that have been and gone, have an internet café, local bodega. One migrant that Robert knows of crossed with mother and brother and got lost in the mountains and found food tied to a tree that someone had left behind. This helped discuss tech and literacy issues. You don’t know where this person is coming from, maybe poor and uneducated but not stupid, but they want to make a decent wage and will go to the state for that. Not for the American dream.

Does this structure provide fear as it contains all that a migrant would need to cross the border and an interface?
Not installed yet and waiting for funding to put it out there. No more deaths group: they man a station on southern border and is the place where people are dumped by US buses. They work to help the emigrants to get back, phonecalls, food etc Concerned about how it will affect the local people, the coyotes (militia), and wondering how it will affect the area.

Will there be more traffic at this site and what will happen?
Robert does not want to put it out there without funding, and ideally not want it to be non permanent otherwise groups may rely on it. It would need constant responsibility and maintenance.

The Casa Segura is a personal response from Robert and a complex issues that it engages with and does not attempt to deal with solving the overarching theme of immigration. He provides opps. for individual actions, creative exchange and dialogue.

How much of the border is private property? Public vs private prop.Art design boundary relationship. If it was a design project, consider how mass produce these units and provide for all home owners.
Art + design issues MP is not critical to certain designers pratice, eg Fiona Raby, D + R dance with the arts. Artist and designers get mad with them and Robert borrows from this approach as a fine arts. His design perspective is the open source aspect, provide the info, instructions, will even come to etc He will provide the interface. If the border police suspect anything, they can enter the property. Public right of passage, this is your private property, but this is the limit as the public must cross. What are the counter minutemen people, I have the right to let anyone to walk through this property. But the government. has a right to interfere, because the law is being broken. But they do not have to know. Border patrol, there would be more deaths if they sat and camped out at the water holes, they do not want anyone to die, it is just illegal to let migrants through the border. Border patrol will help those who are critical, they are not evil.

How does interior affect the immigrants, why is it like that?
Thinking about the experience that person will go through, how to make familiarity more comfortable, aesthetic is a long shot but those choices were made by the designer part of Robert. Art of the social change.

Robert is pragmatic about how his intervention affects the social goal. His goal is to talk to people, think small, act global. Uses internet to raise issues and lead someone to make their thinking change. Not fighting for policy issues directly. His hope is to small local, touch a few physically, but announce it on a much larger context may cause people to pause. He abdicates, as a citizen, he votes, he writes letters, abdicates for policy change but not necessarily what the project is about. About human crossing border, being misunderstood, don’t deserve to die, people who live their have different connections, we only ever hear from the minutmen and not the other side of the story.

Success would be that we would not have this problem, policy would change. But there is room for failure, maybe no one will ever find out, maybe it is damaged or destroyed. There is a level of success currently, because he can talk about the project on various places. Gets to exhibit the project. Widely. School children learn about immigration and migration and hope to have some small impacts. Creating a place for exchange and integration and conversation, multi points of contact.

Amanda Newall sees this in a performance context. More about the conditional and framework and distribution of ideas. The tech enablse the dissemination for the idea. Brings attention to the subject. Amanda thinks that it is more about public awareness and create discussion, not so possible for mass produced. Especially interesting to enable identity via drawing and self production via the interface.The intimacy of the process is the most interesting; there is power in how to use visual tools to create our identities. Provides opportunities for self-expression to those that are normally anonymous.

Imogen Tyler believes it should exist as it is between art and activism. The material facilitates political agency amongst citizens, the activist can make alliances with those that are invisible. To enable those to speak. She believes it has to exist to enable a migrant to leave a mark and have some agency in interacting and introducing themselves, not just in a gallery. But make it happen for real.

Robert then said that until it goes to the desert, it won’t be successful. Once it is out there, there is a “user” relationship and multiple complexities and power structures.

Who do you think is the audience for this? Would the money raised would have been more valuable of it had been given to the resources? Who is it for, are u just using the migrants for your own use?

Has not risen much funding? £5000 But could he have used it to be direct.But he is an artist and he wants to make things, to raise political and social issues. He is not an activist and it is his practice. He does support charities.

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