Caballos de Vigilancia (Surveillance Horses)
The exhibit consists of three life-sized fake dead horses, installed on a pasture across the street from the US Border Patrol sector headquarters in Marfa, TX. Made for a group sound-based exhibit in and around Marfa, each horse was a listening post that had it’s own soundtrack related to the unique social and economic environment of the region.
These horses are an homage to a very peculiar sort of surveillance that occurred during World War I. At that time, many horses died on the battlefield. At night, special troupes of camouflage artists would dig a trench to a dead horse, remove it, and then replace it with a fake, hollow dead horse. This dummy horse was then used as a listening station from which the Allies monitored and reported back about enemy maneuvers. Horses were not the only hollow dummies used on the battlefields. Fake trees, fake dead German soldiers, fake craters and fake tanks were also employed as outposts for enemy surveillance.
Marfa was a major cavalry base during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to serving during the Mexican American War, some of the regiments stationed in Marfa were later sent to Europe and Africa, where they doubtless benefited from the work of the ‘camoufleurs’ as the camouflage divisions were called.
Marfa also happens to have a long history of border patrolling and surveillance, alongside its history of ranching. The horses, and the audio inside them, reflect the unusual ways these disparate economies intersect. They allude to the town’s cavalry and ranching history, as well as its history as a border patrolling sector headquarters. These horse’s unfortunate status suggests the growing obsolescence of the horse as a working animal, as ATVs and helicopters are increasingly used in both ranching and border patrolling operations. Customs and Border Patrol also employ the remote observation TARS blimp (tethered aerostat radar system) for counternarcotics surveillance — operating near Marfa since 1989.
Border Patrol Radio Sample
Where the Heck is Marfa Texas