Border Ecologies Network

An Elusive Viewshed

Author: Tara Plath
Region: Sonora-Arizona Borderlands/Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge/Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument
Image: Example of a rescue beacon in southwest Arizona as seen on satellite image, accessed via Google Earth.

This body of research interrogates the spatial conditions of a decades-long missing persons crisis unfolding in the Arizona-Sonora borderlands. The fulcrum of the research is a rescue beacon, a rudimentary infrastructure installed by the US Border Patrol and intended for migrants in need of aid or rescue on federally managed conservation land in Arizona. The beacon, as a symbol and as an object is intended to communicate a message to those within its viewshed, and is operationalised across various registers including the visual, political, and legal. Most integral to the research was a labor-intensive study of satellite imagery in an attempt to geolocate all fifty-six beacons in the state in support of a forthcoming human rights report to be published by humanitarian organisations No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos. Through this process, the research became a process of studying the landscape to better understand the relations of power embedded within and inscribed upon it, which revealed what Yves Winter describes as the “discursive limits of legibility” in relation to available mortality data sets; the entanglements of military, conservation, and humanitarian interventions within the space; weather patterns; human and nonhuman mobilities; and Indigenous histories and present-day struggles.