[This is a guest post by Elisabetta Fanelli*, about her infographic project ‘Blurred Lines‘]
The interest on borders is for me of a very elementary nature, where by border it is intended the notion of that (usually) infinitesimal space that divides two different entities. My attention has always been drawn to the interferences that such later and more abrupt (than nature) interventions can cause to the two spaces of divergence taken into account, at any scale: from the threshold, to the neighborhood, to the urban, regional and transnational boundaries, there are dynamics that are triggered by the intervention and division of space by the hand of man that have a common core.
Of course, at different scales, the border phenomena manifest themselves in different ways, with a smaller of bigger reverberation and interference, and that is why I found it interesting, in this context, to analyze borderlands at a bigger scale. I believe that the larger the scale of study, the wider range of dynamics can be analyzed and compared: transnational borders generate very wide areas of ambiguity, which are often regulated by a shared set of ‘iura non scripta’ – rather than by the written laws of any one of the two sides – and that represent zones of extreme richness under many different aspects.
The original and least contaminated concept of space as the ‘infinite extension of the three dimensional region in which all matter exists’ finds a way more realistic meaning only in the shift between being one, indefinite area and its conception as the fragmented manifold of zones and realms to which the presence of man gives entity. It is just in the moment when man establishes a relationship with the natural environment that space acquires many of those characteristics that make it so significant, such as identity, sense of community, structure, etc…
In time, the succession of coexisting heterogeneous populations subsequent to spatial subdivision has brought man to learn how to relate to diversity, and how to deal with the potential threats that this diversity could bring along. These are the premises from which the need to physically mark the spatial area of influence of a group of people has arisen, and this necessity has often been fulfilled all along the history of civilizations through the establishment of borders.
A border can be traditionally envisioned as a piece of physical geography, a natural impediment to movement that separates places and identities. But, with the passing of time, borders have become more often political than physical, the result of wars and treaties that establish a formal division of territories whose definition lies in the temporal framework of history. Borders have been built in history in a wide variety of methods with the two main purposes of distinction and protection between two spaces of divergence.
Blurred Lines is a project based upon the idea that borders have much more to say than their linear materiality. It is a study that intends to focus on the effect that the presence of boundaries has on space, time and societies. The whole graphic work you can see in this post has first been topic of a thorough research of sources and data, which have later been elaborated and channeled into a personal point of view and a structured outline. As to me, while attending my Master in Architecture, I started to get interested in graphic design and data visualization in particular, and I have always tried to make this aspect fit to some extent into my architectural projects and layouts since
Officially, the backbone of this project was supposed to be – and has actually been, until a certain point of my Master’s last semester – the written, theoretical part: in the ending weeks of the thesis semester, though, once done with my writing and down to the redaction of my final presentation, I decided I was going to take a big risk with my thesis supervisors and the outcome of my project and to go a bit further with my final slides that the average Power Point presentation.
That’s how the infographics for Blurred Lines came together: I already had all the data I needed but, in order to come up with interesting and easily understandable graphics, I needed to narrow down relevant subtopics, to synthesize and prioritize them. Once decided, I started developing color themes, icons, organizing the information in each art board by importance and placing it accordingly. The three infographics are very different from one another, and this depends on the very specific stories and messages that I intended to get through with each one of them.
The first layout is dedicated to a historical analysis of borders, where the aim is to show how globally diffused and remote in its origin the phenomenon of dividing space in civilized societies is.
The attention wants to be drawn to the shared nature of the establishment of many transnational boundaries in the world, to their comparability in terms of concrete elements (their length in kilometers, materials used for their construction, etc…), regardless of the time period they date.
While the first art board can be considered an introduction to the subject, where a time-space civilization frame is set, in the second one the main topic is brought into focus and the attention is drawn to the specific case of the U.S.-Mexican Border.
The purpose here is to give as much relevant information about the border area as possible, in the most legible and logic way. The upper portion is dedicated to show individually which American and Mexican States are touched by the border, thus giving a segmented view of the issue, in which lays the intent of having the reader understand the great spatial scale of the phenomenon and, at the same time, of having him perceive it as a fragmented reality, just like authorities want us all to.
Border patrol and security statistics in time are then complemented by a “naked map” – the only geographic element of which is the border line itself – that becomes, at the same time, a space divider for the artboard and a percentage diagram of fenced border over total border length.
Further information is given on the presence of U.S.-Mexican sister cities all along the border, with relevant demographic data, in order to convey how vibrant and alive the border presents itself to be as an area, not just as a line.
The bottom stripe of the layout contains diagrammatic elevations of the actual appearance of the border fence in the different portions of the boundary. This representation proves itself to be very significant when we think that this differentiation is often related to a variation in landscape: the U.S.-Mexican fence cuts through beautiful portions of land, thus generating various issues in terms of environmental impact, damage to animal species, waste of resources, etc…
The third and last artboard is meant to give a final, more specific, insight on the spatial dynamics and evolution in time that have contributed to make the border what it is today.
The change in time is analyzed through the use of Stewart Brand’s six paces of change layers (from fastest to slowest to change: fashion, commerce, infrastructure, governance, culture and nature), that are then shifted into a timeline – in the bottom stripe of the page – starting when the U.S.- Mexican Border was first established (1848) and ending today.
As to the more specific spatial frame, a different method of visualization was chosen here, in order to tell a different story: the 100+100 kilometers border area between Mexico and the United States was schematized into an axonometric view showing the more or less tangible – both legal and illegal – exchanges between the who nations. This information was further broken down into four spatial categories (coastline, border line with fence, institutional border pass and border line with no fence) that are meant to help the reader understand how complex these dynamics are and how deeply interesting it is to discover their different facets just by small shifts in space.
Blurred Lines is finally a project with a heart and a substance, that touches subjects that are very dear to me and that I believe to be often represented in a way that is not really legible and easy to understand neither for the people involved nor for the organizations that can help them improve their condition. It is ultimately a project that wants to celebrate the height and richness of intangible exchanges and interferences, be it between the two sides of the border or the two hemispheres of my brain.
*I am supposed to be an architect, but I actually find myself better depicted in the words “full-time gypsy” and “graphic designer wannabe”. Southern Italian and based nowhere in particular at the moment, I was born in 1991 and I recently graduated from my Master in Architecture at the DIA Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany (with a semester exchange at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris). Before that, a high school diploma in a little town by the “heel of the boot”, with a one-year detour in Lake Zurich, Illinois and a Bachelor Degree in Construction Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano – with another one-year Erasmus Mundus detour in Mexico City. Contrasts, potential difference, passion, attention to details and beauty in every possible form are what I look for and live for.
You can connect with Elisabetta on Behance.