Tamara Baillie, 'Piraeus' (2021)

Screen Artist

Tamara Baillie

Tamara Baillie, Piraeus (2021), single channel video, stop motion animation, 4 minutes. Courtesy the artist.

About the work

Tamara Baillie explores the movement of water in the port of Piraeus, a strategically located harbour often regarded as establishing the gateway between Europe and Asia, where archaeologists recently uncovered the remains of Athens’ first navy base, established in 493 BCE. 

A port has many identities - as a node for the transit of commodities and bodies; safe harbour for ships; as a gateway between worlds. Baillie maps the port topographically as an ingress defined by the daily tidal flows.

Baillie animates the port’s rhythm with black mineral sand, describing the shape of the harbour with the rising and falling of the ocean as a metaphor for the historic and unending exchange of commodities and bodies at Piraeus. 

Artist statement

Why and how do most maps stop at the water’s edge? How do we determine the boundaries between solid and liquid? Is sea level measured at high tide or low tide? Is that above the highest waves or the lowest? Most measures of sea level use an average based on a series of measurements over time and vertical elevation references are still based on calculations dating back as far as the 17th century. Accurate measurement and observation of changes over time mean sea levels are complex and in the past 30 years, satellites have been increasingly used to make more precise measurements of sea level. 

While purporting to be objective observation, maps are shared illusions, analogues of visible forms, solid lines defining the end of ‘land’ and the edges of ‘sea’. But all of us know this is not how it happens. The land slopes down and slips away under the waves. The tide rises and falls, waves build and break, there are no solid lines marking the boundaries above and below. The constant motion changes with the tides, wind, temperature, salinity, land mass subsidence, geological processes, atmospheric pressure, local gravitational differences, not to mention human interventions in all these areas. Bathyography, the underwater equivalent of topography, lagged behind until recently, limited to vague approximations of single points of depth, relatively unchanged from ancient times until the 1950s when the first ocean floor map appeared. As of June 2020, only about 19 per cent of the ocean floor has been mapped so far, with a coordinated global effort now underway.

What is more timeless than the ocean, the ultimate infinity loop of poetic and political ripples? 

In 2010, an elderly fisherman guided a team of archaeologists to the ruins of an ancient column he had known since childhood and sparked a 15-year project unearthing two ancient naval bases at Piraeus, an area near Athens, still in use today as its main shipping port. In heavily polluted water with visibility often as low as 20cm, the 5th century BC ship-sheds, slipways and the harbor fortifications were identified and catalogued for the first time since their creation. From this archeological record, evidence was uncovered of a shift in the shoreline of 1.5 to 3.5 metres over the last 2500 years.

– Tamara Baillie

WATER RITES is presented as part of Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art.

This project is supported by SA Water, Arts South Australia and the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

ACE tampinthi, ngadlu Kaurna yartangka panpapanpalyarninthi (inparrinthi). Kaurna miyurna yaitya mathanya Wama Tarntanyaku. Parnaku yailtya, parnaku tapa purruna, parnaku yarta ngadlu tampnthi. Yalaka Kaurna miyurna itu yailtya, tapa purruna, yarta kuma puru martinthi, puru warri-apinthi, puru tangka martulayinthi.

ACE respectfully acknowledges the traditional Country of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and pays respect to Elders past and present. We recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land. We acknowledge that they are of continuing importance to the Kaurna people living today.