Piraeus Jetties Works
An 'archaeology' of finds in the Customs offices and containership jetties.
The work is constituted as a data repository containing 8 Customhouse archive photographs (provided by Customs officers), 126 photographs of the fuels analysis laboratory, 78 photographs of the laboratory for imported foods, 25 photomaps (two of them provided by the Army's geography department), 1 map, 11 informational texts found on the internet , 5 scanned contract documents, 14 architectural drawings of the buildings, 10 documents from the chemical laboratory, 12 fuel pump mechanical drawings, 30 photographs from the Cosco company files.
An essay on the place starts with imaginary transportation there; in this case to the specific port of Piraeus, Greece. An essay of this sort would be an attempt to reproduce the port's 'architecture'. Such an essay is thus not just a text but is already preparing a transportation, shaping a way to design 'existing' things. The construction of a transportation needs its architecture. An artistry of reproducing space is then required for this essay. I could never write about this port without a certain form I had to give to it. I project the port to the concept of infrastructure: if the port is a place of infrastructure, we can imagine the representation of the port as a particular description of its functions. Infrastructure describes, in a technical way, the function of practical matters while these functions are not noticed; we cannot fix our eyes upon infrastructure. Infrastructure was though the starting point of this 'archeology' of the port that I undertook.
An infrastructure can always be described as a specific manner of forgetting. When it works 'properly' its function is not recorded. If a port is at first the construction of infrastructure then a port is not a place per se. What is visible in a port depicts what is uninteresting about it as an infrastructure. As an infrastructure a port just specifies a way of importing: arranging a flow of incoming goods. My 'archeology' for contemporary Piraeus used two types of archives and two types of entries, through which a capture of this invisible part of infrastructure was performed. The first archive consists of views from the infrastructure 'itself', after checking in situ installations of storehouses, offices and chemical laboratories established to control the quality of imported goods. The second archive gathers collected entries (images and information) from one of the port's most recent stories as described on the internet.
By visiting the infrastructure 'itself' I record a particular void. Nothing obvious is itself infrastructure. Entering the most secret places we still do not see what constitutes an architecture of the infrastructure. And do we discover something about the future of the port infrastructure when we have a description of the contracts, the rules and the dates that will define a main part the port during the next 35 years? Do we now see where a core of the port could be hidden? If the port is identified with its sophisticated infrastructure? No, the port becomes invisible. To look at the infrastructure perhaps marks a particular way to be blind. Focusing on it is an oxymoron.
The 'archeology' of Piraeus port works is divided into two sections; the first one results from a speculation on some places visited with special permission, and the second presents a sample of data concerning areas of Piraeus port not open to me.
The first part was thus produced after permission was obtained to enter prohibited areas of the port's bureaucratic infrastructure. I was not in Greece when I was asked to work on this Piraeus project. Always intrigued though to see hidden aspects of the port, I decided to engineer a look into the Customs' bureaucratic infrastructure via a remote visit sought through a letter explaining my purpose, signed in my capacity as a professor. I then charged K, an architect and photographer, to enter areas of the port that could only be accessed for such a 'scientific' purpose. We obtained the required special permission from the Ministry of Finance and my collaborator was guided by an officer into the Customs sheds, where in some cases she was allowed to take photographs. I then asked her to return to photograph some specific areas I felt to be of key importance. I thus worked from a distance, as a collector selecting from the abundant material K was uploading everyday in this flickr set . The chemical laboratories controlling the petrol's quality, their chambers and the specific equipment were particular finds of the port's contemporary archeology I decided to develop; I wanted to construct archeological finds out of the Customs area and the chemical laboratories. This was the first purpose of this work. These chemical laboratories and the fuel research engines are, in 2008, particular places and objects belonging to an ongoing archeology of petrol power. Outlining a presently unformed archeology was my first move towards depicting the infrastructure of the port.
The second part of the work concerns a short study that couldn't be done in situ and required a different approach. An internet investigation was undertaken in order to obtain information about the impressive container-handling area of the port, granted now to the China Ocean Shipping Company (Cosco) and not easy to visit. Cosco is to take over container operations at the important jetties II and III of the port under an agreement signed in summer 2008. The collection of photographs and texts on Cosco, found on the internet, constituted a small archive of entries describing the submission of bids and the Euro 3.4 billion deal reached between the Chinese state company and the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) to 'upgrade and run the port facilities' for 35 years. This part of the archive work forms a separate archeology referring to the future of the port. The 'Chinese' area of the port resembles an 'island', as in practice it no more directly depends on the Greek Port Authority. This dismembered part of the port tells of the importance of storage strategies, about the growth of stacking and storage areas and especially about the character of the space used for intermediate transactions related to containerised goods. This type of storage area represents a sophisticated use of the island space, constituting new 'heterotopic' enclosures. The distribution of merchandise arriving from long-distance voyages requires classification, control and possibilities for rearrangement of the imported goods. The information I have obtained about this particular area of the port simply explained how this area was made over and then isolated from the rest of the port. Another 'invisibility' was constructed through this second archive, the information on this story being found through the internet. The result here is yet another archive created from those obvious elements that created a further cloaking of the infrastructure. There was no possibility of 'entering' here, no on-the-spot photographic evidence, with all information being recovered from the internet except that related to the contract between the Piraeus Port Authority and the Chinese company, which was given to me by the Ministry of Finance.
Published in Port City Safari, Silvana Editoriale, Milano, 2009, edited by Claudia Zanfi. Copyright Aristide Antonas, with the collaboration of Katerina Koutsogianni and Yannikos Vassiloulis.