Recordings for the Birds: Finding our way from Antwerp to Istanbul through Jules Verne
Finding our way from Antwerp to Istanbul through Jules Verne
As part of an evolving Protocol of Arrival, Seed Journey fires up a small stainless steel bread oven to bake flatbread made with the most recently acquisitioned grains. Smoke signals are sent from the bread oven signaling our arrival and inscribed in these clouds of smoke are messages (translated into morse code) from farmers we have encountered along the journey. On this particular day as we approached our winter port in front of the MAS museum in Antwerp, we released the following message,
.-- . / -.. --- / -. --- - / -. . . -.. / -- ..- ... . ..- -- ... / - --- / -.-. --- -. ... . .-. ...- . / ...- .- .-. .. . - .. . ... --..-- / .-- .... .- - / .-- . / .-- .- -. - / .. ... / - --- / .--. .-.. .- -. - / - .... . -- .-.-.-1
Captains Johan and Børre Petersen were delighted to see the fired oven on deck and recalled a vignette from a Jules Verne story:
"A very rich man needed to cross the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Liverpool as part of a wager he had set to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. He missed his sailboat in New York, but he found a steamer heading to Bordeaux. The man tried to convince the captain to take the boat to Liverpool, but the captain refused. So he bribes the crew to mutiny and make course for Liverpool. Against hurricane winds and going on full steam, the boat runs out of fuel after a few days. The man is determined to win the wager, so he buys the boat for a very high price from the captain and has the crew burn all the wooden parts to keep up the steam."2
"Your Bosphorus - their Bosphorus", continued Kéraban shaking his fist towards the south. "Fortunately the Black Sea is there, and it has a coast line not exclusively for caravans. I will follow that road. I will circumambulate it; and you will see the faces of your officials, when I appear upon the heights of Scutari, without having thrown my paras into the box of that set of administrative mendicants."3
A few days after our arrival in Antwerp we visited curator, Nav Haq at M KHA to discuss our upcoming exhibition in their INBox. While touring the museum, we encountered a map of Istanbul on the wall. Nav describes the piece being connected to a work of the late Turkish artist, Hüseyin Bahri Alptekin, who was inspired by a Jules Verne story about a stubborn business man:
"...two men were in Istanbul going to meet a business associate. Upon meeting the business associate, they were invited to his home for dinner on the other side of the Bosphorus Strait. Just before they were going to cross the Strait a tax was imposed on all vessels. Enraged by this new tax, the businessman decided to take his associates to his house by traveling seven hundred leagues around the perimeter of the Black Sea so that he wouldn't have to pay the small tax."4
Alptekin initiated the Sea Elephant Travel Agency as a "floating laboratory" that followed the travels of Jules Verne's stubborn tobacco merchant, Kéraban, around the coast of the Black Sea. Alptekin intended to gather artists, curators, musicians, architects, historians and scientists to board a boat leaving from Istanbul, following the route of Kéraban and anchoring back in Istanbul again after making a full circle around the Black Sea, stopping at ports of Varna, Constanta, Odessa, Sevastopol, Yalta, Rostov, Novossibirsk, Sochi, Batumi, Trabzon and Sinop. It was planned for the boat to take off in August 2003, and sail for two months. Unfortunately, the project was never realized.
Finding our way from Antwerp to Istanbul through Jules Verne is part of Recordings for the Birds (RFB), a collection of stories gathered during Seed Journey which serves as a means of documentation – one that mirrors the slowness of our wind-powered vessel and the long march of domestication of plants through trial and error, not to mention chance, whereby certain varieties became reliable foodstuff. RFB is a framework reliant upon chance, improvisation and engagement with strangers encountered along the journey. It is a telling of a story through other stories.
1 — "We don't need museums to conserve varieties, what we want is to plant them," a message from farmer, Johan Sward in Oslo.
2 — From Jules Verne, Twenty-thousand Leagues Around the Sea. As Johan recalled this story, I was reminded of Simon Starling's Autoxylopyrocycloboros
3 — Excerpt from Kéraban the Inflexible, by Jules Verne.
4 — Another excerpt from Kéraban the Inflexible. This lesser known Verne story. Reminds me of Francis Alys' Loop.