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“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.


Steyerl, H. (2015). Duty-Free Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 03 December 2021].

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