Border Bumping (2012-2014) is a work of dislocative media that situates cellular telecommunications infrastructure as a disruptive force, challenging the integrity of national borders.

As we traverse borders our cellular devices hop from network to network across neighbouring territories, often before or after we ourselves have arrived. These moments, of our device operating in one territory whilst our body continues in another, can be seen to produce a new and contradictory terrain for action..

Running a freely available, custom-built smartphone application, Border Bumping agents collect cell tower and location data as they traverse national borders in trains, cars, buses, boats or on foot. Moments of discrepancy at the edges are logged and uploaded to the central Border Bumping server, at the point of crossing.

For instance: a user is in Germany but her device reports she is in France. The Border Bumping server will take this report literally and the French border is redrawn accordingly. The ongoing collection and rendering of these disparities results in an ever evolving record of infrastructurally antagonised territory, a tele-cartography.

Julian Oliver: Border Bumping from Techne Institute on Vimeo.

Further information

Border Bumping is a work by Julian Oliver commissioned by the Abandon Normal Devices Festival as part of their 2012 Mobile Republic program. It was then further developed with the assistance of the Techne Institute, University of Buffalo in New York State, as part of a short residency.

Border Bumping Components

Cell Tower Infrastructure Research

This component involves the artist engaging in extensive field research at a national border. Sweep scans for cell towers are performed whereby their unique CellID, signal strength, country code and network code (owner) are noted. Of particular interest is finding elusive 'stealth cell towers'; towers disguised as other objects, like lamp posts, bricks or church steeples in order to recede from view.

This collated data is then used to annotate maps of the region and presented in the form of tele-cartographic maps.

At work on the U.S./Canada border. Photograph by Matt McCormick

At work on the U.S./Canada border. Photograph by Matt McCormick

The Map

Designed and developed by Till Nagel and Christopher Pietsch, this map displays the borders as they are 'bumped' by border crossing events. It displays other information sent in from users by the smartphone application, such as cell tower ID, signal strength, onwer, country code and mobile network code. A demo of that map with European bump events can be viewed here (note, best in Chromium or Chrome).

Stealth Cell Tower Archive

This contains both printed and digital archives of cellular infrastructure otherwise undocumented by the companies and corporations that control it. Much of the time cellular infrastructure is disguised, resulting in 'stealth' cell towers dressed as other objects, such as palm trees, bricks or flag poles. Acting as a wireless access point, audiences can read the archive and further contribute to it using a web interface. The initial archive was developed by Chris Pinchen and can be found here.

Application for Android Smartphones

Android smartphone owners were invited to directly download and install this application for use when crossing borders by foot, train, car or boat. Not for use with airports! This application was developed by Julian Oliver specifically for the commission.

The application is archived here, but is not intended to be used until a time that the project server is restarted for another campaign/festival.

Source Code

The source code for the Android Application can be found here, available for use under the General Public License v3.

The Caravan

The first iteration of the project involved the modification of a caravan into a mobile cartography bureau. This travelled around several locations in the UK and functioned as an installation in itself. A touch screen interface invited audiences to engage with the map as it is being updated with border deforming bump incidents.

Touch screen interface to Border Bumping map

Front mounted directional GSM antenna, used to seek cell towers otherwise hidden from view

At work annotating maps with discovered cellular infrastructure


Project Concept: Julian Oliver
System Architecture: Julian Oliver
Communications and networking: Julian Oliver
Android Application development: Julian Oliver
Stealth tower research and archiving: Chris Pinchen
Map design and development: Till Nagel, Christopher Pietsch

Commissioned by

Supported by