Port Cities

Between Land and Sea: a living hub for transnational institutions and practices

Ports are the condition of possibility for the sea to become a defining element of human history. Ports allow land and water to compenetrate and shape each other. The sea as a protagonist and not a prop, Fernand Braudel’s sea as an agent of human transformation—that sea is unimaginable without the port. Ports are at once port-cities, stretches of inhabited land that project towards the water. Ports are structural in-between, liminal spaces: a nexus of contradiction, hybridity, and transformation. They are a space of collectivisation of difference, and a space of struggle over that difference.

The Sea has been the great connector of lands, with their peoples and their histories. No place such as Sicily – with its Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Arab, Normand and Spanish dominations – better enshrines this. But the sea is equally the great divider. Separating wealth from poverty, inclusion from exclusion. It is a sea that many try to cross only to find invisible walls, rejection, and in some cases death. Nowhere is this more evident than in the stark separation of the Mediterranean’s Northern and Southern shores.

Port cities embody contradictions.

Familiar/Uncanny—In the history of ports, we find united the projection towards the outside and the construction of an inside. Safety and danger, the familiar and the uncanny. The city, in the mythological reading of Jan Patočka, is the foundation of the familiar, of that which makes us feel at home. And this space coexists, always already, with its exterior, with the absence and denial of control, with the foreign and the disturbing. The port remains in tension between opposites and allows for their dynamic relation and interpenetration.

Self/Other—In this sense, ports are the epicentre of the interplay between self and other. Human communities are defined by a logic that is both inclusive and exclusionary, as each boundary draws a dividing line: it identifies the us, the space of solidarity, and that which is foreign. Ports are the door to the other par excellence and hence they are also the premise for the construction of the self: we define our identity against those we cannot identify with. And yet ports also embody the excess of the other, its capacity to denude and transform all fictional identity.

Goods/People—From ancient trade routes to colonial violence all the way to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, logistics has represented both an apparatus of control and the condition of emancipation. It is no coincidence that the simplified alphabet – a common good of the people – was first devised in two merchant cities: Ougarit and Byblos. As waterways bridge the distances, ports foster new technologies to bridge human differences, exploding the dialectic between the human desire to connect, the economic imperative to exchange and the political aspiration to control.

Controllers/Controlled — It is in no way insignificant who exercises control over human connection and what political space is powerless in the face of economic exchange. Logistics are the promise that frictionless movement of goods, capital, and information enables the forms of control and measurement that ensure these fluxing demands will be satisfied in a timely and efficient manner. But greater connectivity is achieved at the cost of erasing all obstacles that stand in its way, be they human flows, urban fabric, or environmental elements. The space of logistics is therefore defined in relation to the power that operates it, the power that delivers the promise. And that power, albeit too often unknown to itself, lies with the workers, fishermen, migrants that operate and daily oil the machine of international trade and consumption.

Land/Sea — Port cities lie between the land and the sea. They are the starting point of our project: a political encounter and a programme of original artistic and theatrical productions developed and presented between Palermo, Tunis, and Bremen, acting as a bridge between Europe and the Maghreb and between the South and the North of Europe.

At a historical moment when humanity is facing unprecedented planetary challenges, artists, activists and citizens need to invent new ways to come together across borders and develop transnational and solidarity narratives. BETWEEN LAND AND SEA engages more than 50 artists, workers, researchers, migrants, fishermen, farmers and citizens to develop concrete transnational alliances, narratives and practices of solidarity to withstand future crises and disasters, such as desertification, conflicts arising from growing economic inequality, rising sea levels, displacement and global migration.

This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site.