Waterline investigates the events that weave together ecology and international maritime commerce by exploring the relationship between barnacles and cargo ships. It focuses on the historicity of aesthethics, techniques and matter in its method of research and utilizes the red colored surface on ship hulls as an inter-scalar vehicle.
Cargo ships, travelling long distances on the planetary scale, carry not only commercial load but also biological mass. Among them are barnacles which are locally also known as atırgana. Barnacles, clinging to the bottom of ship hulls, increase the weight of the ship and cause friction which slows down trade, raises fuel consumption, leads to corrosion and, consequently, shortens the life of the ship. Hence, they are deemed an undesired species by seafarers.
One of the methods widely used to fend off these creatures is to paint the ship hulls with biocides which are commonly red in color. Prior to the invention of biocides, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, wooden ship hulls of the Royal Navy were covered with sheets of copper for the same reason. The color of the biocides used today is an aesthetic representation of this material history.
Biological mass is not only carried on surfaces but also in ballast water which is used to regulate ships’ balance and depth of immersion. Ballast water, in which many organisms—including barnacle larvae—reside, is adjusted by pumping aboard seawater or discharging it in different regions according to the weight of the changing cargo. It, consequently, causes a transfer of living beings across long distances which are frequently categorized as invasive species in their new environments.
The red painted surface of the ship’s hull is a sign of the presence of barnacles in the water and marks the underwater section of the ship. It shows the relationship between cargo and ballast water—the ship’s limit of submergence. It is a threshold that emerges at the dynamic border between the ship—a technical object—and its environment—a space where different actors are in contact. It makes visible the complex relationship between ships, water and living beings, with ballast water and its resident organisms on one side, and beings that form masses and threaten colonialism-based international commerce on the other, and, thus, constitutes the main axis of the video’s narrative.
As part of Istanbul Unbound: Environmental Approaches to the City, the birbuçuk collective presents the 29.9 km video program, a close reading of contemporary Istanbul through videos produced by individuals and collectives actively involved in art, academia, and social movements. The videos, which focus on the city’s history, culture, wildlife, metaphors, symbols, and ecological transformations, explore the city in the framework of political ecology and point to the striking contrasts therein. The videos are an exploration that extends from the common spaces to the invisible borders of the city, which is rapidly expanding eastward and westward of the 29.9 km long Bosporus that embodies a geographical, political, and cultural separation as well as a union.
Since 2016, birbuçuk works with the coordination of climate change and energy economist / performance artist Ayşe Ceren Sarı, environmental scientist/artist Serkan Kaptan, and curator Yasemin Ülgen.
Produced within the scope and with the support of the Istanbul Unbound: Environmental Approaches to the City conference held at the Istanbul Research Institute in April, 2021.