Shifting Waters

In popular imagination the sea appears as infinite, stands in as the sphere of sublime experiences and unseen possibilities. It lies out there, stretching beyond the horizon, beyond what one can grasp. From there, one might enter other spaces, charter unknown territories and take off into every imaginable direction. At the same time, everyday practices often reduce the sea to an in-between, to a minor zone spanning the void between more significant places, an inconvenience between points of departure and points of arrival – an offshore reality to be traversed in as little time and with as little effort as possible.

These two seemingly oppositional movements – one pointing towards the sea, towards an infinite horizon; the other one looking away, dismissing the negligible in-between en route – are echoed by the tidal rythms of maritime economies: They seek to both expand and shrink the strengths and thicknesses of the sea. Out there, out of sight, the waters are churned up by 80 percent of all industrial goods getting shipped across the oceans and squeezed by ever more claims staked, boundaries drawn and resources raided.

Despite the global rise of sea levels, there are unprecedented numbers of claims of land masses above water at high tide, aiming not for the land itself but for laying claim on the offshore sovereignty surrounding these islands, significantly reducing the reach of international waters. In addition, a battle is raging over land masses extending under sea level. Entitled to jurisdiction over the seabed and subsoil of the continental shelf, 34 countries worldwide enjoy expanded offshore privileges of seabed mining, adding another maritime layer of restrictions to the more traditional offshore bands of the ‘territorial sea’, the ‘contiguous zone’ and the ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’.

This flaring ‘sea grab’ closes in on the expanses of the open sea, its farers and dwellers from all sides and all levels. When aiming to harvest the waters, why not then expand this theatre yourself? In October 2010 news made the round that the Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan is considering the ‘crazy plan’ to build a second Bosphorus, that is to build a commercially operated shipping canal running in parallel in order to divert a large part of the passing oil trade and container vessels and thus supposedly ease the strain on the international waters of the natural Bosphorus. Plans, that in the language of the news would render the resulting island of Istanbul a second Manhattan.

'Sea of Marble' takes the sea as a mirror, as a plane to engage with the ‘other’ of such tidal manoeuvres. So that when addressing the shrinkage of the seas we can divert our attention toward what gets expanded through this shrinkage as well as toward what shrinks in the ongoing expansion of the oceanic reach.


Peter Mörtenböck & Helge Mooshammer

Peter Mörtenböck is professor of Visual Culture at the Vienna University of Technology and visiting fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. His recent practical and theoretical work has focused on spatial conflict, urban informality, models of networking and relational theories. He has been Visiting Professor of Fine Art at Linz University of Art (2000) and Visiting Professor of Media Aesthetics at the University of Paderborn (2002). In 2008 Peter Mörtenböck has been shortlisted for the Stirling Lecture Prize. He is author/co-editor of Die virtuelle Dimension: Architektur, Subjektivität und Cyberspace (2001), Visuelle Kultur: Körper-Räume-Medien (2003) and Networked Cultures: Parallel Architectures and the Politics of Space (2008).

Helge Mooshammer is director of the research project Relational Architecture at the Vienna University of Technology. He teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London and has been Research Fellow at the International Research Centre for Cultural Studies (IFK) Vienna in 2008. His research and writing have focused on relational architecture, sexuality and urban culture. He has authored Cruising: Architektur, Psychoanalyse und Queer Cultures(2005) and co-edited Visuelle Kultur: Körper-Räume-Medien (2003) and Networked Cultures: Parallel Architectures and the Politics of Space (2008).