18:00 SAST

18:00  SAST


Rogue Roots: Magic of Port and Passage

“The freeport contains multiple contradictions: it is a zone of terminal impermanence; it is also a zone of legalized extralegality maintained by nation-states trying to emulate failed states as closely as possible by selectively losing control. Thomas Elsaesser once used the term “constructive instability” to describe the aerodynamic properties of fighter jets that gain decisive advantages by navigating at the brink of system failure. They would more or less “fall” or “fail” in the desired direction. This constructive instability is implemented within nation-states by incorporating zones where they “fail” on purpose.” - Hito Steyerl (2015)

Anchored at the edge of the city the port occupies a space between land and sea, governed by the tides. At times, it is a city built on the surface of water. Other times, its sub-structure emerges to expose slender stilts buried deep in the ocean floor. Something of a mirage, the port adapts to this endless ebb and flow to become a haven, a site of refuge from the turbulent tides.

Ships bearing precious cargo move through, between and from these ports – a global network of gates that open and close, creating borders and portholes rendered both fictional and real. Ports are significant gatekeepers of cities, shaped by the growing need for economic, social and political security.

In an increasingly competitive global economy, a particular network of ports are endowed with favourable customs regulations, affording them significant geopolitical and economic breaks. Goods destined for museums, galleries, markets, public streets and private homes are boxed up and stowed away in the holdings of these freeports, lying dormant until they assume their instrumental positions.

As the port tilts further towards tools of statecraft, the line between land and sea becomes imminently apparent. Freeports are no longer tensioned by land and sea alone, but by the relations of agents on either side of the port, and across oceans. Pushed to the threshold of system failure, opportunities arise to reimagine the tensions that anchor these ports.

Extraterritorial, extralegal, extrastatecraft and extrachimerical, the port exists in this “extra” space between land and sea, presenting new spatial and relational arrangements, alternative histories and projections of our futures.

Jiaxin Yan Gong
Unit Lead
Yan currently works between design research at the GSA and practice as an architect and associate at the Johannesburg-based practice, UrbanWorks. Her interest focuses on the epistemological framing of how African cities are understood through their written history and architecture’s ability to surface alternate re-readings of histories and futures of the city. This is investigated through the intersections of legislation and practice and the disparities that these reveal. She often draws from her personal experience as a second-generation Chinese immigrant in South Africa as she endeavours to locate herself in familiar yet uncertain ground, in search of a reality that complies.

Ruth Manda
Unit Assistant
Ruth is a landscape architect at GREENinc Landscape Architecture + Urbanism where she is involved in projects in South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho. She is also chair of the Gauteng region of the Institute for Landscape Architecture in South Africa (or ILASA). She has a keen fascination for terrain vague or “wasteland” – this includes: landfills; vacant urban land; and extractive and toxic landscapes. She is interested in their locales and their potential within the urban setting through adaptive reuse. She explored this fascination through her Master’s dissertation which focused on the adaptive reuse of quarries through minimal landscape design.

Thandeka Mnguni
Unit Assistant
Thandeka is inspired by black bodies’ experience in space and architecture. Her research focuses on land and land ownership patterns where she looks at how the land can be claimed or reclaimed through alternative land claim processes. These are explored through ways of image-making, sound collection and video. She believes one of the ways to understand a society is on a taxi ride as this is where most community members discuss socio-political issues. She was born and bred in a township called Daveyton in the East Rand and raised by her grandmother, who instilled cultural values and traditions in how she engages with her surroundings.


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