Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos

John Craig Freeman

Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos is an augmented reality public art project and memorial, dedicated to the thousands of migrant workers who have died along the U.S./Mexico border in recent years trying to cross the desert southwest in search of work and a better life.

Lukeville_1.jpgBorder Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos, Lukeville border crossing, Arizona, 2012.

Built for smart phone mobile devices, this project allows people to visualize the scope of the loss of life by marking each location where human remains have been recovered with a virtual object or augmentation. The public can simply download and launch a mobile application and aim their devices’ cameras at the landscape along the border and the surrounding desert. The application uses geolocation software to superimpose individual augments at the precise GPS coordinates of each recorded death, enabling the public to see the objects integrated into the physical location as if they existed in the real world.

This visualization in Google Earth indicates the GPS data points where remains have been recovered.


To view the work on location in Southern Arizona, with any late model iPhone, iPad or Android:

  • Install the free Layar Augmented Reality Browser,
  • Scan this code


  • Consult the map for a location near you

Based on a traditional form of wood-carving from Oaxaca, the virtual augmentation objects consist of life sized, three dimensional geometric models of a skeleton effigy or calaca which begins to rotate and float off into the sky when viewed with a mobile device. Calacas are used in commemoration of lost loved ones during the Mexican Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead festivals. Tracing their origins from Aztec imagery and ushered into the modern era at the turn of the twentieth century by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, calacas are generally depicted as joyous rather than mournful. According to Aztec belief, despite the tragedy, death should always be celebrated. In the tradition of Día de los Muertos, the Border Memorial project is designed to honor, celebrate and remember those who have died and to vault this issue into public consciousness and American political debate. The project is intended to provide a kind of lasting conceptual presence in an otherwise ephemeral physical environment and cultural discourse.

Border_Memorial_Sequence.jpgScreenshots of Border Memorial: Frontera de los Muertos, 2012.


John Craig Freeman is a public artist with over twenty-five years of experience using emergent technologies to produce large-scale public work at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. His work seeks to expand the notion of public by exploring how digital networked technology is transforming our sense of place. Freeman is a founding member of the international artists collective Manifest.AR and he has produced work and exhibited around the world including at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, FACT Liverpool, Kunsthallen Nikolaj Copenhagen, Triennale di Milano, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Beijing. In 2015, he was the recipient of a commission from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Technology program. In 2016 he will travel to Wuhan China as part of the American Arts Incubator program administered by ZERO1. He has also had work commissioned by and and he was awarded one of the last Individual Artist Fellowships by the NEA in 1992. His work has been reviewed in The New York Times, El Pais, Liberation, Wired News, Artforum, Ten-8, Z Magazine, Afterimage, Photo Metro, New Art Examiner, Time, Harper’s and Der Spiegel. Christiane Paul cites Freeman’s work in her book Digital Art, as does Lucy Lippard in the Lure of the Local, and Margot Lovejoy in Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age. His writing has been published in Rhizomes, Leonardo, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Exposure. Freeman received a Bachelor of Art degree from the University of California, San Diego in 1986 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1990. He is currently a Professor of New Media Art at Emerson College in Boston.Advisory Board:

Advisory Board:

Dr. Cher Krause Knight is an art historian who specializes in public art, including memorials and the earthworks of the Southwest. She is the author of Public Art: Theory, Practice and Populism (Blackwell, 2008), was founding co-chair of Public Art Dialogue (a professional organization), and is founding and current co-editor of the first peer-reviewed journal on public art, also titled Public Art Dialogue (published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis).

Christina Marin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Performing Arts at Emerson College, where she taught courses in Applied Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed. Her primary research interests examine the intersection of theater as pedagogy and human rights education, as well as the use of Theatre of the Oppressed techniques as arts-based qualitative research methodologies.

Salvador Olguin is a writer and researcher and the founder of Borderline Projects. He holds a MA in Humanities and Social Thought by New York University. He has studied representations of Death extensively, and has worked with Mexican cultural artifacts from the late nineteen and twentieth century. He was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Highway 286, South Sasabe Road in Arizona with orange marker, March 7, 2016.

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