The Marching Ants series

Filed under: 2016, 2017

The marching ants effect, also known as marquee selection, is the animated border of dashed lines often used in computer graphics programs where the dashes seem to move slowly sideways and up and down, as ants marching in line. It is the visible sign of a potentially immediate transformation within the surface of the screened image. The cut, removal or replacement of a fragment of a digital surface need first the outline of a distinguished area, bordered, separated from the rest of the image.

"Edges are used to mark objects off from one another. Perceptually, an edge is not a thing but a way of distinguishing between things, a way of ordering the chaos of perception. The edge marks difference, and in that sense it is nothing, the nonexistence that interposes itself between everything that, by the principle of difference, is given an identity." (Cubitt 74)

Considered however from the point of view of aerially-aided landscape operations such as parceling, ordering or leveling land, the Marching Ants entail additionally the "interaction between imaging technologies and mathematical, topographical, geographical, and governmental knowledge" characteristic of cultural techniques (Siegert 98). They are creatures of the screen that belong to a chain of operations which ends up digging, revolving or performing any other actions related to the practices on the soil carried on by infrastructural, building, mining or agricultural works.

Photo courtesy of Jane Birkin
Photo courtesy of Jane Birkin

Los Merinales

In a first elaboration of the series during a week long studio workshop that took place in the Winchester School of Art, the building and removal of the Penal Colony "Los Merinales" in Seville are brought up as part of the operative chains that accomplished the hidden work behind the agrarian reform program known as the Inner Colonisation. The concentration camp was used to confine prisoners of the Spanish Civil War for more than twenty years in order to exploit them, in extreme living and labour conditions, to build the tunnels and channels of the vast irrigation network.



While the comparison of the prisoners building the tunnels with the distinctive underground activity of ants is anything but an anecdotal coincidence, this first materialisation of The Marching Ants series highlights an episode of presence and disappearance within the infrastructural. The barely remembered penal colony of Franco's dictatorship was an ephemeral camp of disposable people, a one-use only temporal complex of buildings, barracks and services, prior and essential to the agricultural industrialization of landscape.



In the project carried on at the WSA, the border of the colony complex is outlined also as a liminal, ephemeral operation, this time whithin the contemporary ecologies of the screen. Outlined as a dashed line mechanically set in movement, the silhouette of the colony becomes a physical marquee selection, a flow of lines meant only to highlight, temporarily, a soon-to-be transformed fragment of the whole.

The resulting installation displays both the mechanical Marching Ants, together with the mechanisms that put them in movement. As a site-specific project developed for the workshop, the installation mixes found materials, such as wood remainders, with basic labor related tools used to put in movement the dashed line rods: painter rolls, electrical screw terminals, nails and motors.

Find other notes on this Marching Ants series here: http://abelardogfournier.tumblr.com/tagged/marching-ants

And two close-up gifs of the front and rear sides (original videos courtesy of Elham Soleimani):