Sea change: a new show at Antwerp’s MAS Museum tells the story of two port cities

Birds eye view of cargo yard next to water
A new exhibition, 'Port City Talks', just opened at the MAS in Antwerp, exploring the similarities and differences between the Belgian port city and Istanbul.
(Image credit: Gemeentelijk Havenbedrijf)

Situated at the crossroads of two continents, for centuries Istanbul has served as a gateway from Europe to Asia. Similarly Antwerp has been shaped by its proximity to the water, slowly but surely establishing itself as an international port with a rich and diverse cultural framework. Of course, despite the two port cities' parallels, they are also profoundly different, each possessing their own unique characteristics. It is exactly these similarities and differences that a new exhibition called Port City Talks, at Antwerp's MAS museum sets out to explore.

Curated by Turkish architect Murat Tabanlıoğlu as part of Brussels' Europalia Arts Festival, Port City Talks gathers new works by a team of emerging digital artists who have each created a piece that explores Istanbul and Antwerp's links to the water. Encompassing video, film, photography and installations, the exhibition, Tabanlioğlu says, was a team effort: 'Normally artists make their own exhibitions, they have total freedom. Here we are thinking together. I am not saying to them 'make this photograph, make this picture', they bring their own style and freedom but we are playing for the same team. This is very important. For them it's a new way of working, which is not very easy for an artist.'

The result is a conversation-starting show that demonstrates how both port cities are evolving and adapting to life in the 21st century. In the centre of the darkened exhibition space, a white labyrinth-like series of intersecting corridors is described by Tabanlıoğlu as a 'building within a building'. While the new digital works are displayed within these dazzlingly bright tunnels, laid out to mimic the shape of Istanbul's Bosphorus, carefully chosen historical objects from Antwerp and Istanbul's maritime past line the perimeter of the space, lurking within the shadows to create a clear contrast between the past, present and future.

Displayed alongside dozens of other historical artifacts, is the Byzantine chain of defense, whose impressive, heavy iron links were used in the middle ages to protect the harbor of Constantinople or Byzantium from enemy ships.

In the digital space, highlights include a series of slow motion films shot by Emre Dörter and Elif Simge Fettahoğlu that capture Istanbul from the air. Shot using a drone, the soundless, slow-moving footage offers an unusually serene view of Istanbul's bustling sea and road traffic as the camera floats above ships, bridges and winding highways. 

Wall with photos cast from projector

Curated by architect Murat Tabanlıoğlu, who was also the curator of the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale's Turkish Pavilion, the show is part of Brussels' Europalia Arts Festival.

(Image credit: Francois de Heel)

Collage of photos

Port City Talks shows new works by a team of emerging digital artists, who have each created a piece that explores the two port cities' links to the water.

(Image credit: Francois de Heel)

Corridor with photo lined walls

Part of the exhibtion is Ali Emir Tapan's 'Nowhere' - a video installation that opens with the sunrise over the Marmara Sea. As the horizon appears, the sea and the sky separate, and the lights that looked like the stars and the moon in the sky reveal themselves to be the lights of Istanbul's rapidly expanding building projects.

(Image credit: Francois de Heel)

Sepia lit photos on column

Taking a different tack is Refik Anadol, who has created a data sculpture that projects the tonnes of data gathered regarding the position of vessels in Antwerp and Istanbul onto three adjoining walls to create a constantly changing, immersive installation that tells a story about the ports and their increasing numbers of visitors.

(Image credit: Francois de Heel)

Small wooden model of room

In the centre of the darkened exhibition space, a white labyrinth-like series of intersecting corridors is described by Tabanlıoğlu as a 'building within a building'. Inside this structure, shaped loosely around the Bosporus, more works are on display.

(Image credit: Tabanlioglu Architects)


'Port City Talks. Istanbul. Antwerp.' runs until 24 January 2016 at MAS


Hanzestedenplaats 1
2000 Antwerpen, Belgium