University of California, Santa Barbara
United States of America

Allison Schifani is currently working on her dissertation, Biotechnical Ecologies: Urban Practice and Play in Buenos Aires and Los Angeles, in the graduate program in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her ongoing research and writing is invested in the intersections of ecology, biology, technology and urbanity in the contemporary moment. She has presented work on a number of Los Angeles and Buenos Aires-based collective urban interventions.

Junksprawl: Excess and Horizontality in the Buenos Aires Libre Autonomous Network

The horizontally organized Buenos Aires Libre (referred to by members simply by the acronym BAL) is a cadre of new media artists, hacktivists, programmers and technophiles building their own autonomous network, apart from the Internet, in Argentina’s capital city. This network uses line of sight connections via directional antennae to link members and users throughout the urban landscape.

I will be using two key materialities that double as metaphors to examine the work of BAL: sprawl and junk. ‘Sprawl,’ as in urban sprawl, is the material horizontality of expanding urban landscapes and, in the case of BAL, the sprawl over the city of the group’s expanding network. The figural double of sprawl is the technological and organizational horizontality of the network–a horizontality that is both politically and ideologically charged. I will pair sprawl with ‘junk,’ in both its material presence in the form of ‘junked’ materials repurposed by BAL to construct and use the network, and also as excess and redundancy, in a more politically and symbolically charged way. In this latter sense, I want to think through some of the work done and the spaces occupied by the BAL network that are made liminal, peripheral and other by political, informational, and economic systems, in Buenos Aires specifically as well as globally. These in-between spaces and things are recycled and reused by BAL in their attempts to remake and reimagine urban communication. Both sprawl and junk in BAL help construct alternative epistemologies of urban life. I will look at junk and sprawl as simultaneously part of and paradoxically covered over by certain systems–governmental, infrastructural and biopolitical–and, for that reason, sites which have immense potential in the current moment in the BAL network and in urban intervention more broadly.